The 3rd Annual Robie Pierce Women’s Invitational and 5th Annual Robie Pierce One-Design Regatta for sailors with disabilities were held May 30-June 2 at American Yacht Club.
By Jan Hodnett
The 3rd Annual Robie Pierce Women’s Invitational and 5th Annual Robie Pierce One-Design Regatta for sailors with disabilities were held May 30-June 2 at American Yacht Club. The regatta is co-run with Larchmont Yacht Club and rotates from club to club annually.
The Women’s regatta, the first and only all-women’s disabled regatta, took place off the waters of Milton Harbor. Specially adapted Ideal 18s were provided free of charge to all competitors.
Jen French of St. Petersburg, Florida, the 2012 Paralympic Silver medalist and the first disabled women to be selected as the Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, won the Women’s Invitational.
In a SSW breeze of 3 to 7 knots, French and her first-time crewmate, Laura Schwanger, took first place with four firsts in six races. Brenda Hopkin and Susan King were second with 13 points. In this tight match, the third-place winners were only two points behind the second-place winners. Tied for third were Judy Kowalesky and Vivien Snyder, and Cindy Walker and Sarah Everhart-Skeels. Donna DeMarest, with crewmate Maureen McKinnon, a Gold Medalist Paralympian, placed fourth.
First-time competitor Snyder said she was so excited that she could have kept going all day long. “My cheeks were hurting from smiling.”
French summed up the weekend best. “Regattas like this are key in helping to encourage more women with disabilities to get into sailing. When the wind came up, we all sailed close together and had a lot of fun. At the end of the day, sailing is all about the fun factor.”
One Close Finish in One-Design Regatta
Tied for first after 12 races, Sarah Everhart-Skeels, Cindy Walker, and Brian Skeels overcame Duane Farrar, the Gold Medal Paralympian, Maureen McKinnon, and Sol Marini based on their five first-place finishes; the other team had four. Skeels noted: “The competition was really good, especially Duane’s team. This regatta is what we need to build our community of adaptive sailors. No one can compare with American Yacht Club and Larchmont Yacht Club; they always do a great job.”
Farrar was one of a growing number of blind racers. “It’s a great experience to enjoy the company of other disabled sailors. I’ll now be energized for the rest of the year. Can’t do any better than this,” he said.
Carl Olsson of Larchmont Yacht Club, a seasoned sailor and last year’s Robie Pierce Regatta winner, and Susan King took third place, with Jennifer French and Laura Schwanger coming in fourth.
The weather was perfect for the regatta — warm, with a SSW wind of 7 to 13 knots and low humidity. Bill Sandberg, Principal Race Officer, said, “Everyone’s performance kept getting better, which is one of our main goals.” Kris Scheppe, a first-time competitor and blind sailor, said, “We did better in each race, so I only wish we had another day to race.”
Part of the reason for the racers’ improvement was Betsy Alison, five-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and the US Sailing Paralympic Coach, who led on-the-water coaching and held a debriefing each day.
An additional highlight to the weekend was French’s inspirational speech to the AYC membership and regatta participants before dinner on June 1. She explained the series of abdominal implants she has had since a 1998 snowboarding accident left her a quadriplegic. They have helped her stand and function better. These operations have enabled her to walk down the aisle at her wedding and helped her win the Silver Medal at the Paralympics in London last summer. Her experiences were the basis of her book, “On My Feet Again,” which she autographed for attendees.
More Disabled Sailors Participating
The number of competitors increased by about 40 percent this year. There were also six first-time competitors, as well as five family teams and six veterans. One of them, Vivien Snyder, who broke her back serving with the Army in Iraq and suffers the effects of PTSD, said, “When I joined BAADS (Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors in San Francisco), it was the first time I had gotten off the couch in a year. As a veteran, I love this regatta, and for the first time since before my last tour I feel pure joy in my heart.” For her spirit, she was given the “Best Newbie Award.”
After the awards were given out, Duncan Hennes, Past Commodore of AYC, and Rob Snedeker, Commodore of LYC, announced that the Robie Pierce Regatta would make a donation to BAADS to help them replace equipment that was recently stolen.
Siobhan Reilly, Event Co-Chair, American Yacht Club, concluded that “Everything about this regatta was good: good weather, good racing, good friends, good party, and a good turnout. We’re excited to race at Larchmont next year.” She thanked Buttons Padin, Event Co-Chair of Larchmont Yacht Club, and his boat preparation team for a great job of adapting the Ideal 18 sailboats for the racers.
The Robie Pierce Committee designed an adaptive seating configuration for the disabled sailors. This year, for the first time, they offered an Ideal 18 with a joystick electronic servo steering unit. This system was available to selected sailors with limited use of their hands and loaned by Boston’s Community Boating, Inc. In addition, sailors with their own servo steering systems were able to use their personal system in the Ideal 18 they were sailing.
There was an able-bodied sailor on each boat who helped with physical tasks, if needed, but did not control the boat.
No regatta can be successful without a large group of sponsors, and special thanks go to Heineken USA, a major supporter since the beginning; Green Mountain Coffee Roasters; and Lucerne Capital Management. New additions are major sponsor Subaru Distributors Corp, Magnum Bars, Gill USA, Thomas Bates Accessories, NASDAQ OMX, and the Sailing Foundation of NY.