you can’t blame the youths

you can’t blame the youths

Pretty much all my monohull sailing friends looked at my with confusion when I told them we were headed to Racine, Wisconsin to cover a major championship.  "What lake is that on?" they asked, perhaps assuming that, like Zenda, Wisconsin, the home of Buddy Melges, Racine is on some dinky water surrounded by vacation homes.

Well, it turns out that the beach in front of the Racine Yacht Club is a white sound beauty, resembling the Gulf Coast of Texas far more than it does any lake I’ve seen.  This is big water – Lake Michigan is almost 80 miles wide here – and aside from not having to rinse salt off your gear, it might as well be an ocean.

We’re here all week for our first ever live video coverage of a major catamaran buoy race, with a mixed fleet of some 75 boats, though principally we’re here to see what racing in the exploding North American F-18 Class is like.  This one is here to stay, and it’s highly likely that the US will soon see the 100-boat fleets so common in Europe and Australia. Be sure to check out the Racine thread here for up-to-the-minute news, pics, and videos, as well as links to our live video coverage when the rain stops and the racing starts, and go the event website here.  Over to Jeremy for a great story on getting kids high on speed…


The F18 North Americans here in Racine, WI are gaining speed. Everyone is making last minute adjustments, polishing boards, measuring sails and weighing boats… typical regatta prep. The Racine YC is ready and everyone here has been bending over backwards to make sure everything is set for Clean and I to live feed from the racecourse.

While cruising around, meeting everyone and getting the inside scoop on the conditions and the intricacies of Lake Michigan, I ran across JC and the 3 young blond dudes of Team Towhead. JC has been placed in charge of the Viper youth sailing program, and from watching him with the kids, he’s a natural! He’s patient, and when it comes to cat sailing, he knows it well. Daniel Hearn, the Catamaran Racing Association of Wisconsin (CRAW), Director of Junior Sailing agrees, “He’s the cool teacher that you want to pay attention to because he’s cool.” CRAW and JCs programs aren’t just ‘youth’ sailing, these is family sailing, the parents are involved.

CRAW has four Open Bics that it drags around to every regatta with the express purpose of getting youth on the water, and Daniel is the guy in charge of making sure the boats are ready to go. “We are a case study for the book “Saving Sailing”, and the book was more a confirmation of what we were already doing than instruction on how to do It.” adds Daniel. This is the 3rd year of the Bic program and CRAW has seen a spike in participation. Daniel Comments, “We’ve attracted people that say, ‘oh I can bring my kid?’ People invite their friends, and all of the sudden we have more interested people.”

CRAW also owns a RIB that they use for a chase boat and they fund the entire program through raffles, regatta sponsorship, and dues. One thing that has helped this Youth Sailing Program reach new heights is the fact that they have a dedicated core of serious volunteers. They don’t waste money on trophies for every event, they keep score and offer trophies at the end of the season. The several hundred dollars that they save goes directly into the youth sailing program.

What about a pro and outstanding sailor like JC coaching? Surely anyone that races a sailboat could benefit from having a one-on-one, personalized coaching session from this guy. Daniel laughs, “I think the parents are jealous that the kids are getting coaching from JC.”

Mischa Heemskerk, world-champion catamaran sailor from the Netherlands, is running a similar program based around the Hobie 16 with a kite. “Through our Hobie Cat dealer in the Netherlands, we organized several sponsors so we can have ten Hobie 16s sailing, We’ve got 20 kids that we have trained for 3 years in the program. At the Hobie Europeans in Germany, which is very competitive, I was coaching them for the last 5 days, we got a gold and 2 bronze medals.”

No matter how good the youth program it boils down to the motivation of the parents, and Mischa’s inspiration to get into catamarans racing was his father. “I started as a youth myself at the age of 8, when I sailed with my father. In those days it was normal to sail with your father.” Mischa’s goal is to coach the kids the right way to sail a cat from the getgo, but he’s stoked to , “…see the program advance, the learning curve of the sailors and most of all the excitement of the kids.”

Carrie Howe, crewmember of US Olympic Yingling team, and Mischa’s Crew has sailed everything. She’s an outstanding sailor that can hold her own on anything that floats. She has worked with youth sailing aboard Extreme 40 Catamarans and adds,” We tried windsurfing a bit, but with cats you can ride along with the kids, you can take the tiller back if you need to. I learned cat sailing on the extreme 40, and there’s plenty of room if someone needs to take this tiller” JC adds, “We had an extreme 40 at an Opti Event and we took out all the kids, their parents, and the race committee, and just seeing the smiles on those kids faces was an incredible experience.”

Even with the smaller cats like the Hobe 16 or F16, there’s plenty of room for the coach to sail with the students. The program that Carie, Mischa and JC have worked with aboard the Extreme 40s has spread their love of fast sailing to tons of kids. And think about it, sailing with one of these top sailors as your own personal coach aboard an incredible machine like an extreme 40? Sounds pretty good to me.

Carrie gets excited when talking about the 40 program, “The Extreme 40 platform we’ve taken over 300 kids sailing. Mischa’s steering so it’s safe. We take eight kids at a time, and once they sail it; they sail Optis usually, they’re like ‘this is the cool boat.’”

Fine examples of people that are getting out there an working for the good of sailing. Good on ya all.