300 Sailboats race in Optimist New England Championship.

By Dom Nicastro
Gloucester Daily Times
July 12, 2001

Rockport's Sandy Bay will be full of sailboats next week - more so than ever before.

Up to 300 young sailors will be racing their Optimist prams as the Sandy Bay Yacht Club hosts the Optimist New England Championship.

It's the first time the Rockport yacht club, which has an Optimist fleet used to teach sailing and for racing, has hosted the event. Event coordinator Jacob Fiumara said it will be the largest single class regatta the Sandy Bay Yacht Club has ever held. It's also larger than any single class regatta held by any Cape Ann yacht club.

Sailors age 8-15 from all over North America and the Caribbean will arrive Monday afternoon at Rockport's Granite Pier from which the regatta will be held. There are far too many boats to be sailed out of the yacht club site in Rockport Harbor. The first round of 10 total races begins Tuesday at 11 a.m. Races continue both Wednesday and Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

The young sailors will be competing in four different age and skill levels, some of which may be further divided into several flights within the category. Six or more races will be conducted at once across the bay.

The Opti, of which 150,000 are sailed by youngsters world wide, is an eight-foot, single-sail pram sailed by one person.

Depending on the weather and sea conditions, boats can "capsize on a regular basis," according to Fiumara. The young sailors "Know they're going swimming when they go sailing," Fiumara added.

The Sandy Bay Yacht Club will have 15 of its own sailors competing next week. They are: Heather LaCombe (sail number 5492), Isaac Dann (5485), Eliza Ehrlich (5497), Hannah Hoerner (7541), Inga Aprans (5515), Courtney Battistelli (5499), Joanna Clark (5519), Naomi Delphin (5581), Alex Levin (5502), Kagan Longval (5155), Lee Lyons (5500), Caroline Seamans (5512), Andrew Williamson (5501), John Williamson (5504), Max Lott (5521), and Tim Greely (5483).

Gloucester's Annisquam Yacht Club features three sailors competing next week: Melissa Lehman (10297), Evan Cooke (4283), and Kelly Cooke (8947).

Those Sandy Bay sailors are on the Sandy Bay Yacht Club Racing Team, but their results will be tallied individually.

Sailing as a team in Optimist dinghies is of great value to young sailors, Fiumara said.

"The kids learn a lot about teamwork," he said. "It's definitely a good thing for these kids to learn to sail in an Optimist boat. On their first day out, we put these kids by themselves in a boat with a life jacket and a whistle, and they're sailing."

The majority of competitors, Fiumara said, will be in the 11-13 age range, although neophyte sailors and 14-15 year olds will be on hand as well. The top 30 experienced sailors are top-notch competitors. Social events and award ceremonies will be held throughout the four day event.

Best on-shore viewing sites will be at the end of Bearskin Neck, the end of Granite Pier (where parking will be difficult as that is where the boats will be launched each day), Front, Back and Old Garden Beaches and the Headlands at the mouth of Rockport Harbor.

More than 50 trophies will be presented at Granite Pier Thursday at 3:30 p.m.