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On the Harbor: Jr. Sabot National Championships light up our waters

By LEN BOSE

Not going to lie, I truly enjoy writing this harbor column, and as I headed out to the harbor aboard one of Newport Harbor Yacht Club’s coaching boats, which was so kindly lent to me without hesitation by NHYC race director Laurel Dinwiddie to observe this year’s Jr. Sabot National Championships, I was overwhelmed by all the Newport lovin’. After nine years of reporting this event, I went straight into my routine by heading to the coach boats and asking people like Mark Gaudio, Cameron MacLaren and Adrienne Patterson who I should be focusing on in the race. Gaudio has always directed me toward the new and upcoming sailors with the greatest passion. MacLaren seems to find the participants that are demonstrating the most sportsmanship on the water. And, while observing Patterson, you quickly notice the love she exudes for our sport and how infectious she is; the kids just soak it all in and leave her with a smile and the drive to compete...priceless. There is outstanding work by these coaches, and I hope you give them a “well done” the next time you see them at the club or on the water. 

On the Harbor Jr. Sabot Kingston on sabot

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Photo by Tom Walker

Young sailor Kingston Keyoung in his sabot

I also did a little homework before heading out onto the harbor and had noticed that Chase Decker, sailing for BCYC, had good results in the qualification round on the first day of sailing. What I missed was that his brother, Read Decker, who was doing even better. My mistake that I did not interview both of them during the break after the first day of the championships. My sincere apologies go out to Read. I learned that Chase sails a Corsair sabot and has been sailing now for six years. When I asked him how he was doing after the first two races he replied, “It’s going okay, wish I was doing better though.” I then asked about the starting line, which side of the course he wanted and how he felt about his boat speed. “I wanted middle boat then right side, of course, top right. I was not on the line enough and I need to push the line more aggressively. My boat speed is pretty good, I need to improve my starts,” he said. I asked how he determines which part of the starting line he wants to be on? “I see my angle from the committee boat, then see my angle from the pin to decide where I want to start on the line.” Interesting to note that the two brothers tied for 5th in the Gold fleet and only 10 points out of first. It will be fun watching these two growing up...reminds me of the Pickney and Mayol brothers.

The next person I noticed was Sophia Devling, and by watching her sail, it brought back lessons I learned about the race course. After rounding the weather mark in the second race in 5th place, Devling rounded a little wide and with good speed to dive down below her competitors, who were sailing a little higher to keep their air clean. Devling had clean air and showed great patience staying on starboard jibe, the whole run, then sailing into the lead. I asked her what she was thinking about during this run. “I just wanted to stay on starboard because I knew the current was pushing me to the mark,” she shared. On this race course there are two marks to choose from, referred to as a leeward gate, whereby the racers decide which one they would like to round. While sailing downwind, I asked Devling why she picked the left mark as we look at them. “I felt that there were more righties and more pressure on the right side of the race course.” Working her way back toward the finish, a competitor who selected the opposite gate, hooked into a left wind shift and appeared to be crossing her to take the lead. When asked why she did not try to cross him, she felt that it was best to tack in the left shift. Keeping in mind that she still had a chance to win if the wind went back to the right, Devling knew she still had second place. As it worked out, the wind did shift back to the right and she won handily. For the second year, I noticed some amazing patience from this sailor who was focusing on consistent finishes. When I asked Devling what she concentrates on to stay consistent, she replied: “Not taking any big risks, just trying to sail my boat well...finding the pressure.” Last year, Devling finished 20th; this year her 10th goal was accomplished.

On the Harbor Jr. Sabot boats lined up

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Photo by Len Bose

Junior sailors aboard their sabots in the harbor

It always amazes me to see the same family names stay on top of the leader boards generation after generation. This is how I noticed Aidan Malm, whose father Jamie has been one of our harbor’s best sailors for many years. When I asked Aidan how his first day was going, he replied: “Alright, it could be better.” Malm sails a Phoenix sabot that had been passed down to him from his brother and was originally sailed by his mother. I asked Malm about his observations from the race course. “Whether you won the boat or you won the pin you had to win aside. There were two shifts coming down both sides of the course and if you missed one as I did, you would get passed. I had a really good start at the boat and I missed the shift to go out right, thought I would find a small lefty closer to the mark. The kids to the right got a puff and got to lay-line before I did.”

Malm felt his boat speed was pretty good, yet he planned on concentrating more on finding that first wind shift. When asked what his thoughts would be returning to the race course that day he said, “Keep my head in the game stay level headed, hopefully, I will get to the top.”

On the Harbor Jr. Sabot Kingston

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Photo by Len Bose

One of our harbor’s “blue diamonds” – Kingston Keyoung

I found two blue diamonds out on the harbor this last weekend, just like the one the old lady threw back into the ocean. First is Kingston Keyoung, who is 10 years old and has been sailing out of BCYC for the last two years. When I asked him what type of sabot he sailed, his reply was, “I’m not sure.” His goal for the championship was not to get last and when I asked about the starting line he said, “I start on starboard and then tack onto port.” It gets better. How did you decide which leeward gate to round? “I liked the right gate because everyone else was going to the left.” Without a doubt, Keyoung is a diamond and plans on returning next season. “I like the competition, it’s just a fun sport,” he said. It does not get any better than that and he will be a competitor to keep an eye on in the future.

There is one award I am always interested in which is the Jessica Uniack Memorial Trophy awarded to the Outstanding Junior Sportsman. Previous recipients include Becky Lenhart, Charlie Buckingham, Megan Kenny and Madeline Bubb, just to name a few. I heard the story as soon as I got on the water that a participant noticed that a competitor was left distraught and broke down crying, because she was unable to reattach her rudder before the start of the third qualification race. “People were just going past me and just looking, then a girl stopped and asked if I needed any help and I said, yes. She came and put my rudder in for me. Her name is Maddie Nichols,” said Olivia Corzine, who was sailing in her first National Championships. “This helped Corzine get through the first day and she ended up having a great first Nationals experience,” said Coach Cameron MacLaren.

On the Harbor Jr. Sabot Scott and Maddie

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Photo by Melinda Nichols

NHYC Commodore Scott Mason and Maddie Nichols, who was awarded the Jessica Uniack Memorial Trophy for Outstanding Junior Sportsman

I will call the parents of kids to introduce myself and ask them if I can interview their child. When I reached Maddie’s mother, Melanie Nichols, I could feel the pride of her daughter’s sportsmanship in the inflection of her voice. Melanie was also quick to say her other daughter, Siena Nichols, had won the Iron fleet and she was on her way to the awards presentation. I talked to Maddie the following day, and she explained the situation to me over the phone. “I noticed a girl whose rudder had come out and she had just entered the starting sequence and I thought she would have enough time to put it back in place. When I came back around, I noticed that she was drifting backward, struggling with the rudder and crying. I asked her if she was okay, and she said, no. I then asked If I could help her and she said, yes, so I grabbed her boat and popped the rudder back in. I told her good luck, because I felt really bad for her, and didn’t want her to be sad during Nationals. Nationals is supposed to be fun. So, I thought I would go to help her.” You have to love this story, it puts a smile on your face, right?

I asked Maddie why she likes sailing. “I like sailing because of the different techniques you have to learn, and I like to learn. Two weeks ago, I moved up to C1 fleet which encouraged me to do better in Nationals.” She went on to tell me that she qualified for Bronze fleet this year and was only one spot out of making Silver fleet. “I did better than I did last year; last year I was last in Iron fleet,”  Maddie said. This year, Maddie finished 10th in Bronze fleet, but the way I see it, she is the true champion of our harbor. I hope each one of you shows her that harbor lovin’ she has so convincingly earned.

Sea ya!

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Len Bose is a yachting enthusiast, yacht broker and harbor columnist for Stu News Newport.