Races Down to the Wire

 Matt Newman and Michael Clarjen
Breakwater Yacht Club members, including Matt Newman and Michael Clarjen, above, made up about half of the fleet. Daria Deshuk

    A fleet of 24 boats contending in the North American JY-15 championships sailed 10 races mostly over windward-leeward courses in Sag Harbor over three days last weekend with Paul-Jon Patin of Forest Hills, who has world Sunfish and Interclub Dinghy championships to his credit, emerging as the victor.
    Steve Kelley of Sayville, the principal race officer, who oversaw three races on Friday, four on Saturday, and three on Sunday, said he was surprised to hear it was the first time Patin would have his name inscribed on the perpetual JY-15 North American trophy.
    “For him not to have won before shows you that we had very good sailors,” said Kelley, who competes year round in these quick yet relatively comfortable 15-foot mainsail and jib craft. “I’ve always had a special feeling for these boats — they’re very easy to work with. I started my kids crewing when they were 6. They’re in their 20s now.”
    Nine of the races were contested over tactically challenging upwind-downwind courses. Kelley tried one triangular course (an upwind leg with port and starboard reaches), “but the wind wasn’t heavy enough and they couldn’t plane off — the sailors didn’t like it.”
    As aforesaid, the fleet, with a due south wind, got in three races Friday afternoon, “two of them twice around and the last one once around,” beginning at 2 p.m. “There was a very consistent north breeze Saturday morning, Kelley said, “but it became confusing — very, very shifty — in the afternoon, to the extent that it became an unfair contest. I had to cancel one of the races. . . . We got in three races on Sunday and were done by noon.”
    The runner-up to Patin, by a relatively narrow margin, was Bill Nightingale, who won the North American championships two years ago, and placed second last year. Nightingale’s wife, Julie, was his crew.
    The Nightingales were atop the leaderboard by the end of the first day, with a third, a first, and a third. Patin and his crew, Felicity Ryan, were fourth at that point.
    “This is dinghy racing, the real deal — you get so much bang for your buck,” Bill Nightingale said at a buffet dinner Friday at the Breakwater Yacht Club, which held the races and whose members made up about half of the fleet.
    When asked if she was always aboard in the competitions, Julie Nightingale said, with a laugh, “He doesn’t do nearly as well when I’m not crewing for him.”
    Her husband said it helped that he was also a boardsailer and thus sensitized to subtle wind changes on the water. He boardsails at Napeague Harbor in Amagansett — “the best place on the earth for windsurfing.” That boardsailing experience was especially helpful sailing JY-15s swiftly downwind, he  said.
    “You sometimes plane on these boats,” he continued, “but the main thing is that they’re fun for anyone who wants to get into sailing. . . . Rodney Johnstone [the JY-15’s designer] is a genius.”
    As it happened, Rodney Johnstone was there that night.
    When asked why he had designed the JY-15, the 74-year-old Stonington, Conn., resident said, “I wanted to get husbands and wives and fathers and daughters sailing together. I wanted it to be something families could do together. And it was a family creation — I designed it with one of my sons, Alan. Since we started — we’ve since sold the company — 3,500 JY-15s have been built. Number 3,504 is here today.”
    When told one of the sailors had said the boat was tippy, Johnstone said, “Any small boat is tippy . . . there are hiking straps so you can lean out. Even an old guy like me can sail them. I still do.”
    Johnstone had spent the afternoon on the committee boat. “I have other obligations,” he said. “Otherwise, I would have sailed today.”
    Asked how the JY-15 compared to the Olympic dinghy, the 470, Johnstone said, “I think the JY-15 is an improvement on the 470. It’s a lot easier to sail and more comfortable.”
    Bill Nightingale’s sister, Sara, who also raced — one of three women skippers among the 24 — said Monday that the series had gone down to the wire. “Paul-Jon was up by 11 points going into the final day, but my brother won the first two races Sunday before disaster [in the form of a bad start] struck him in the last one.”
    That bad start had been the difference, said Patin, who, with Ryan, had wrested the lead with three firsts and a second in Saturday’s racing.
    As for the class, Patin said JY-15s “aren’t super technical, but very simple, and sailors of all sizes, ages, and abilities can compete at a high level in them. That’s where Rodney Johnstone’s genius comes in. He’s gotten younger, by the way, since the last time I saw him. I’d also like to say what a fantastic job Steve Kelley and the club did in putting these races on.”
    Sara Nightingale said that she’d “love to encourage more women to get into this — I’d be glad to teach them. You don’t have to be that strong to sail a JY-15, you just have to be smart.”
    Nightingale said that the Breakwater club, which is on Sag Harbor’s Bay Street, is “quite affordable,” and welcomes new members. “We sail every Sunday afternoon, at 3, at Havens Beach,” she said.
    Breakwater runs a very popular summer program for junior sailors, and, in the fall and spring, one for local high school students — Pierson recently dropped out, though its middle school is represented in the spring. Two of the high school program’s students, Caitlin Cummings and Sam Kramer, both of the Ross School, competed last weekend.
    Of Kramer, who crewed for her, Sara Nightingale said, “He was amazing — a great, great kid. . . . We finished 11th.”
    Lee Oldak, a fellow Breakwater member, who heads up Sag Harbor Community Rowing, and who placed 10th in the championship series, said Monday he hoped more high school kids would turn out for the sailing classes, which are overseen by Tom McArdle at the yacht club four afternoons a week.
    As for rowing, Oldak, who owns the Amagansett Beach Company in Amagansett, said, “I’ve got seven sixth grade kids — six girls and one boy — who are rowing with me now, along with high school students from Pierson, Ross, and East Hampton. We use racing shells — up to fours.”
    Classes are held three afternoons a week and Saturday morning at Sag Harbor Cove.
    Two rowing regattas, he said, were coming up — in Oyster Bay on Nov. 6, and in Riverhead on Nov. 13.