MDI youth sailors to be safety pioneers

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Special sailing helmets will be available to participants in Mount Desert Island Community Sailing Center sailing programs beginning this season, thanks to a $4,000 grant from the Hattie A. and Fred C. Lynam Trust.

Sailing HelmetThe Lynam Trust provides grants and scholarships to MDI nonprofits through Bar Harbor Trust Services. The helmets are made by the Swiss company Forward Sailing.

“… these are really cool, not dorky helmets.” – Glenn Squires

“It’s become apparent that sailing is a contact sport,” Sailing Center director Glenn Squires said. “You can have head impacts from booms, or there are situations where if one boat flips over, a kid can get hit in the head with a mast from another boat. Every year, we’ve had concussions. Fortunately, MDI High School is so on top of the concussion issue.”

The first time anyone saw helmets in sailing, Squires said, was in the last America’s Cup. “The game has changed a lot with high-performance catamarans and trimarans,” he said. The idea of wearing helmets for competitive sailing “kind of trickled down. US Sailing is talking about it, too.”

Fran Charles, manager of the Northeast Harbor Fleet and sailing coach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gave Squires the idea of providing helmets for MDI sailors.

“At MIT, we have had a number of student athletes who have received very serious head injuries while sailing,” Charles said. “A few of our sailors have not only had season-ending injuries but also had to withdraw from the institute because of relentless headaches and the inability to concentrate after getting injured. Combine these facts with our growing awareness of repetitive head trauma and its long-term effects on health, and it leads to an easy decision to be more proactive in reducing the likelihood of these sorts of injuries to young sailors.

“A helmet only makes sense. Although there is no objective data, we think it will evolve as it has done in hockey, bicycling, skiing, etc. The youth will probably lead, and eventually it will trickle up to the adults. Youth are also welcome to wear their bike helmets sailing if they prefer,” he said.

Helmets are now required for both the MIT varsity team and recreational dinghy sailors on the Charles River. “The pushback has been minimal, and the varsity team fully embraced it, having witnessed injuries,” Charles said. The team has seen no injuries since implementing the helmet policy.

For the MDI High School team, which practices at the Sailing Center, a helmet policy has not yet been instituted. “We’ll talk with Coach George Deans and Athletic Director Bunky Dow once we get going with coaches meetings,” Squires said.

“The helmet will be just another piece of gear besides their dry suit and life jacket,” Squires said. “They’ll add another layer of warmth in the spring and fall. There’s space underneath for a neoprene head warmer. And these are really cool, not dorky helmets.”

The Turbo 420s used by the spring high school and fall club Sailing Center teams are also modified from the standard 420 design with safety in mind. The booms rest four feet higher, Charles said, and they’re made of “the lightest possible alloy extrusion, which reduced the weight of them from 9.3 pounds on stock booms to 6.8 lbs on the Turbos.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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