Each year a number of Fleet 50 folks volunteer with the Northern Virginia Special Olympics sailing program. Read Joe Warren’s excellent write up of the sailing and the generous involvement of many of our fleet members here!
Special Olympics sailing was very different than last year. We didn’t have one Monday night canceled due to thunderstorms or threat of them. Last year thunderstorms caused two cancellations and we got soaked just after launching another night. Each year the weather pattern is different. This was the year of dry heat and mostly light winds; but we
had quite a blow on June 13 with 15-20 mph winds and 8-15 another Monday. The program consists of seven Monday nights, a regatta on the river on Saturday, and a concluding regatta the following weekend at St. Mary’s college sailing center. Saturday racing is exciting for the athletes because we go out on the river and longer courses are set up—much better than the cove. Unfortunately, the Saturday, July 23 regatta was canceled due to a heat advisory. Actual temp was more than 100 and the heat index was 110.
I sailed with Katy Ward and Sarah Landin. This was the fourth year Katy has sailed with me but the first for Sarah. Safety officer Marjorie Gray sailed with team Warren most of the time. Athletes Samantha and Paul Park and safety officer Maryann Gallagher sailed with Team Gallagher. Sue Humphrey skippered Red’s boat most Mondays; she also was safety
officer on occasion. Danny was with her most of the time and Brigit Haislmaier two days.
Also making an appearance was Allan Rogers sailing in his much newer boat. He came in first when his boat was on the course. Red Fehrle/Sue Humphrey and I have participated six years, and Frank longer.
While we sailed fewer races than the two-to-three planned each Monday, it was clear that team Gallagher got the most first place finishes. We typically used a triangle course in the cove due to limited space. In some races Susan and I were abeam of each other. The key factor was getting around the marks while keeping clear air—not easy considering
that we often caught up to the many Hobies, and rounded with them. Team Gallagher managed to get the inside lane several times. Several finishes were within one-two boat lengths.
What also helps in keeping competition exciting is sailing with athletes in different boats who are at the same level. Last year the rules changed for level 2—the athlete had to steer the entire race, from preparatory signal to finish. Previously they could steer for part of the race usually after the start—at least 50 % of the time. All Lightnings this year and last year at St. Mary’s sailed at level 1—the athletes control the jib only; the safety person, or unified partner (skipper) can advise, but can’t handle the jib unless a safety issue arises. Level 3 means the athlete must steer the entire course and control mainsail in a competitive regatta such as St. Mary’s.
It’s this rule change that made the concluding regatta last year at St. Mary’s regatta so exciting. Last year was the first year that we used a new launch ramp–concrete with a walkway next to the ramp for easy guiding of the boat. A new boat house/sailing center made it easy for the three Lightnings to be rigged side by side. These improvements were courtesy of a generous gift to the school by a sailor. Much better than the old situation of a loose gravel ramp–and no tying up at a dock overnight praying there would be no storms.
Lauren Leavitt (who has sailed about 9 years and is a level 2), first year sailor Brigit Haislmaier and safety officer Allen Flanigan sailed with me. Lauren enjoyed handling the jib since good jib work was essential to good performances. Katy and Sara sailed with Red, while Sue Humphrey was safety officer. Rose Pleskow and Paul Park sailed with Frank, and Brittany Smith was safety officer.
On Saturday sailors were greeted with a mild temperature in the mid 80’s and a southwest breeze coming up the St. Mary’s river of 5-10 kt Excellent conditions. All races on our course were windward-leeward; we usually did 3 legs except when winds were stronger. Sunday was similar except that winds were closer to the 10 kt. It was the best two-day
wind conditions in years we were told.
All races were very close. In one race team Warren was able to gain the inside position rounding the leeward mark and finished a few boat lengths ahead of team Gallagher. In the 4th race team Gallagher and Warren were side by side the entire downwind leg with team Fehrle just two lengths behind. During several roundings of the windward mark all
three of us were within two boat lengths. This close racing made for a detailed discussion of rules, which applied on every leg.
We got in six races with one throw out before threatening clouds and a rain storm ended racing on Sunday. Final results: winning the gold medal team Gallagher-6 points; the silver went to team Warren-10 points; and bronze to team Fehrle with 11 points.
The Lightning sailing was just a small part of a much larger sailing event. The race organization was very professional starting races on time while using two different courses. What a lovely place to sail!