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A Buoying North U Racing Clinic in St. Pete

Wed, 03/27/2024 - 18:25
The consensus among all those who attended was that the recent North U racing clinic in St. Petersburg, Fla., had been a game-changer. From left are Ellen Talbot, Natalia Belneva, Sarah Alford, Cordelia Boise, Mary Ann Eddy, Cecilia Ward, and Sinead FitzGibbon.
Kristen Berry

A dozen women from the Breakwater and Shelter Island Yacht Clubs recently took part in a racing clinic given by North U in St. Petersburg, Fla., that, according to Cordelia Boise, Sarah Alford, Sinead FitzGibbon, and Cecilia Ward, upped their games.

Boise, a Breakwater member who had taken the clinic last year, promoted the trip. “I’d always been a sailor, but not a racer,” she said over the weekend. “I found it to be a game-changer.”

Asked in what ways, she said, “Well, for example, I had a fear of the starting line, of possibly colliding with another boat, and I had a fear of the same thing in rounding marks. Now, thanks to the instructors we had, I have an appreciation for handling those situations — we can stand our ground. . . . There’s sailing, going from point A to point B, and then there’s racing . . . trimming the sails . . . tactics . . . we kicked it up a notch.”

There were nine boats and 40 women, from all over, in the J/70 fleet — small, stable keelboats that measure 22 and three-quarters feet — each with three to four crew members and an instructor. “The first thing our instructor, Andrew Kerr, said to us,” said Ward, “was that he didn’t care if we won on the final day, that the only thing that mattered to him was that we learned how to be a better racer.”

“I had no race experience,” she continued, “and I must say I wondered how I’d operate under high-stress situations. Actually, I learned that I operate quite well! It was a surprise. . . . Not only did the clinic help my sailing, but it improved my racing by a billion percent. It was awesome.”

“It was wonderfully intense,” said Alford. “We learned how to trim the sails, how to maximize the wind . . . tactics and strategy. . . . Sailing is physics and physical,” though, she added, “J/70’s don’t require a lot of muscle. I own one, and so do some other Breakwater members — the club owns two.”

FitzGibbon said she went down to St. Pete “somewhat terrified,” but that by the end of the week she had learned she could “take charge of a boat,” that she could “load the sails, make sure they’re trimmed, handle the rigging. . . . The instructors were excellent, some have raced at national and international levels. It was a very structured program that allowed us to take on more responsibility each day as the instructors gradually pulled away. We learned how to be on our own.”

Other Breakwater members, she added, had offered her the use of their J/70s to practice with in the past, “but I’ve always demurred — it was as if they were handing me their babies. No way would I take someone else’s boat out. But as I was pulling into the dock on the clinic’s final day, I thought, if ever the offer is made again, I’ll say, ‘Yes, thank you.’ ”

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