Sailing at Oakcliff is like going to camp but in all the best possible ways. That is, if your summer camp had all the toys you ever wanted to play with and you actually got to play with them. Think Space Camp but rather than just look at the suits and ride the G-force simulator on low setting, you get to launch the rocket for a slingshot around the moon. I’ve had many summer days stuck inside a steamy cabin waiting for the rain to stop. At Oakcliff, when it rained we kept sailing.
Prompted by ODP and Leandro Spina, we pulled together a last minute trip with some of the country’s top youth talent to let them test their mettle in the 49erFX as part of Oakcliff’s Triple Crown Qualification Series. As soon as we got to the beach and peeled the covers off, the sailors were giddy with anticipation.
The crew was hyped. The carbon FX mast takes time to get tuned up. The teens blasted music while setting pins and added turns to to find Paris and Helena’s “sweet spot” numbers from the Rio 2016 Olympics. Having that secret sauce added another level of froth to the sailor’s already bubbly mood. Top US boys 29er sailors Ripley Shelley and Severin Gramm (Miami, FL) couldn’t wait to get on the water. “Let’s just go out and figure it out. Do we have to wait for everyone else?
Brown student, Nathan Housberg, made the trip down from Newport to join Robyn Lesh , High Performance Fleet Manager at Oakcliff. Both sailors took the leap from the collegiate dinghy to the skiff and have been peppering in a fair bit of keel boat and match racing lately to pad their resumes.
Our first session on the water offered perfect skiff conditions: flat water and breeze 12-14 knots, shots building to the upper teens. After a few up/downs in Long Island Sound the entire fleet started to show signs of seasoned skiffies. Tacks began to smooth out with fast and flat exits and both helm and crew dropping to the wire simultaneously.
It’s built in the mission of Oakcliff to raise the caliber of sailing in the United States and they’re definitely on to something. The Oakcliff RC knew 6 was our magic number. The fleet was wary. Maybe for keel boaters and other sit down sailors six races is adequate to get a nice sweat in and crack a few cold ones, but for skiffs six can quickly feel like four too many.
Here’s my debrief on races 1-6 on Saturday. R1-Drag Race. R2- Shit Show. R3- Start On Time. R4- We’re Really Racing. R5- Light Air Dinghy Racing. R6- Skiff Moding…We Made It!
For these new FX sailors, Saturday’s full set got all the wobbles out and we ended the day with plenty of lead changes and actual racing. It may have take a few to get there, but the sailors de-rigged in total confidence in their handling of the boat.
Opti All-Star and rising 29er skipper Bella Casaretto paired with 470 crew Ian MacDiarmid and the two quickly adapted to the dynamics of double trapping. Bella found a high mode that couldn’t be matched upwind, raising the level for all. Harry Melges IV and Finn Rowe (Lake Geneva, WI) put on a lake sailing 101 clinic on the final day of racing, as the wind died and shifted in patches off of the Sagamore Bluff in Cold Spring Harbor.
It’s a special experience to spend time in a new place with the purpose of sailing. And sailing only. All those walks down the street for ice cream or bagels paved deep connections and friendships among all the sailors, followed by YouTube videos and America’s Cup watching in the bunkhouse.
“Without Oakcliff I would never have gotten the chance to get in the skiff,” admits Housberg who has a full summer ahead of him between laying the tracks for a Marstrom 32 program and the 29er Worlds in Long Beach, California. And that sentiment of gratitude was shared by all. I can tell, because I watched them pack the boats away tired and full of both pride and appreciation.