by Kate Berube
In a summer marked by steamy, stormy weather here on the Eastern Seaboard, the last weekend in July miraculously gave way to clear blue skies, sunshine, and idyllic 75-degree temperatures. It was a welcome sight for over a 100 young sailors, their families, coaches, and boats in tow, as they arrived on the shores of the Great South Bay from across the nation this past Friday for the 2021 C420 South Shore Championship. The three-day junior sailboat racing event, hosted by the Sayville Yacht Club, was organized by Doug Shaw, SYC Regatta Chair and former Commodore, who could hardly believe his good fortune. “Everyone keeps mentioning the perfect conditions here, and how lucky we are. I mean, we really couldn’t have asked for more.” The Sayville Yacht Club is no stranger to the competitive racing circuit, as the 120-year-old charter is steeped in tradition and has a reputation both nationally and internationally for excellent small boat sailing.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, Club 420 is junior racing aboard a 420 dinghy. Each 420 holds a two-person team comprised of a skipper and a crew under the age of 22. The skipper stays to the back of the boat and is responsible for driving and watching the main. The second sailor, the crew, controls the jib and trims the sails, all while balancing precariously off the side of the boat on a trapeze wire. There’s constant communication between teammates, plotting how to best overtake the other boats. It is fast, furious, and exhilarating. “There’s nothing else like it,” said Terrence Byrnes, 17 of Sayville. “You can’t get this feeling from any other sport.”
Due to the inherent danger of racing in open water and relative age of the competitors, coaches and racing staff are required to be out on the water should anything go awry. But with the beautiful weather, the odds favored smooth sailing. The success of events like this weekend’s Regatta are contingent on a multitude of factors, a majority of which rests squarely with Mother Nature. The daunting task of planning for things outside of your control falls to the Sayville Yacht Club’s stellar Race Committee, an all-volunteer group who perform impressive feats of logistical acrobatics to ensure the races go off without a hitch. Nearly everything, including the course, start location, and number of races that will be held, is determined by the direction and force of the wind and as such is subject to a moment’s change throughout the day.
All this occurred under the eagle-eyed stewardship of Principal Race Officer George Becza, who stayed on the water throughout the event. Marked by orange inflatables, this weekend’s race course was set up as a trapezoid, where half the fleet sail on the outside of the trapezoid while the other will sail on the inside. They all end up at the same finish line. “The upwind leg is really all about tactics, your experience, and being able to maximize the conditions,” explained Shaw. “The finish line gets hairy. You have to call off those racing team numbers, and they’re coming in heavy!”
The aggregated scoring in C420 racing is cumulative throughout the season, racking up with each regatta. The points from each team’s best three regattas are added, and the team with the lowest overall score is awarded the Triple Crown. As the South Shore Championship is the last regatta of the 2021 season, the winner of the Triple Crown would be determined at the close of racing on Sunday evening.
Byrnes and partner Finn Capozzi, 14 of Bayport, flying the SYC racing team flag, readied their boat on the shore outside the clubhouse early Sunday morning as more sailors arrived. Capozzi squinted into the rising sun, looking out over the competition. When asked about the stakes of this weekend’s race, Capozzi replied, “Am I worried about the race?” He laughed, “It’s fun.” Both teens pushed their boat through the sand to the water’s edge and took off, joining dozens of white sails growing smaller by the second as they headed toward the starting line. In the end, Nick Buddington and Liam Gronda of Annapolis took first place here at the SSC but the Triple Crown went to Cordelia Burn and Sarah Moeder of Bay Head Yacht Club.
Be on the lookout for the upcoming profile on members of the SYC’s youth racing team as they battle for the Sears Cup.
Photos by Ted Cremer and Kate Berube