Marblehead Junior Race Week 2020

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It probably wasn’t going to happen. Marblehead Junior Race Week (MJRW) had taken place every summer for more than 100 years, but July came and Massachusetts COVID-19 regulations prohibited organized sailboat racing. The MJRW team from Pleon Yacht Club had kept planning throughout the spring, designing protocols with the local board of health in hopes of holding the event, so when the state did green light racing on July 6, two weeks before scheduled start date, they were ready to go with support from the Corinthian, Eastern and Manchester Yacht Clubs.

Only single-handed boats were allowed, shutting out the Club 420s, typically a big part of MJRW, but then, just five days out, local authorities approved multi-person boats and organizers jumped to get the 420s registered for the regatta, held July 20 – 22, 2020.

The event, hosted by Pleon Yacht Club, the oldest junior yacht club in the world, welcomed 138 sailors across two venues to allow for distancing the participants. Optimist championship and green, Club 420, and Laser 4.7 and radial fleets all competed. Sailing conditions on days one and two allowed for full race days across all the fleets. Day three racing was abandoned due to light air and a thunderstorm threat.

The first day of racing started with a typical Marblehead sea breeze from the southeast that clocked right and built into the high teens. In the 27-boat 420 fleet, Pleon’s Dylan Balunas and Gavin Hudson had a solid first day sailing in their first 420 regatta after only being in the boat for two weeks. The fifteen-year-olds played the shifts and kept the boat moving to lead by two points after five races. Day two brought a shifty northwesterly that fought with the sea breeze and left many holes all over the racecourse.

Hingham’s Griffin Beaulieu and Sam Schuhwerk got dialed in after finishing seventh in race six. They went on to post three firsts and a second to win the event overall, and the U20 division with 21 points across 10 races. Balunas and Hudson won the U16 division and finished fourth overall.

The 37-boat Optimist Championship fleet had a topsy-turvy kick off. Marblehead sea breezes often favor the left side and that was the case in race one. Figuring the trend would continue, many of the top boats went for it again in race two, only to find themselves on the wrong side of a persistent right shift. Things settled down for the next two races, but the damage was done for many of the competitors, except Wyatt Wilkinson from Sandy Bay Yacht Club in Rockport.

Wilkinson finished the day with 15 points, leading second-place Hadley Reed from Hingham by 12 points. Day two’s fickle northwesterly demanded both speed and smarts. Twelve-year-old Eliza Corral from Dartmouth, MA had both. Corral put up three bullets and an 11, threw out her 27 from day one, and won MJRW Optimist Championship overall and Blue Fleet by seven points across eight races. Wyatt Wilkinson finished second. Owen Bischoff from Larchmont won Red Division and finished fourth overall. Benjamin Reuter from Barrington, RI won White Division and finished tenth overall.

Niall Kearney, last year’s MJRW Laser winner from Marblehead’s Eastern Yacht Club, dominated this year as well. But, 15-year-old Abbey Grandin from Sail Newport came out swinging in her first Laser regatta. Grandin won the first race and then sailed very consistently in the 19-boat fleet, posting nearly all top five finishes across nine races to finish second overall. Brooks Reed from Hingham took third. In the Laser 4.7s, Natalie Ryder of Nahant threw out a two, winning the event by nine points.

On the 25-boat Optimist Green line, 11-year-old Hunter Opal from Manchester, MA posted nearly all top five finishes to win the regatta. Just four points behind was Pleon’s Enzo Peabody taking second. Ten-year-old Peabody kept it together after snapping a gudgeon in race one. He went on to put up top six finishes for the rest of the regatta, just edging out Pleon’s Maggie Svencer who finished third.

Limited to half the usual number of competitors and governed by extensive COVID-19 protocols, Marblehead Junior Race Week was very different this year. There was no tent, no social events and no food. But there was a sense of camaraderie and normalcy that came from the opportunity to sail a regatta in these challenging times. The smiles were evident, even behind the face coverings.

Source: Christina Pandapas, sailingscuttkebutt

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