When we asked StFYC Junior sailors to “Tell us about a day you’ll never forget”, we were prepared for tales of fun rides in small boats. We didn’t know just how diverse those tales would be. We have Opti kids sailing 29ers and 420 sailors in J/22s. We have an 11-year-old who’s learning how not to capsize, and a 17-year-old reflecting on her fear of capsizing when she was 11. We’ve got Olympic hopefuls and international competitors. We are St. Francis strong.
Summer in San Francisco
One of our first regattas was the StFYC Opti Heavy Weather in 2010 (see the photo to the left of two girls in yellow—that's us!). Our dad made sure we had all our gear—warm hats, gloves, watches, boots, sunglasses, layers of warm clothing and a dry suit. We were up early to load it all into the car, then we hooked up the Opti trailer for the hour-long trek to StFYC. We were nervous the whole way, and our fears worsened as we got closer.
We had heard stories about this event, but nothing could prepare us for the 20-knot winds that were already blowing when we arrived. As 8- and 10-year-old Opti sailors, we were petrified. Within minutes of rounding the breakwater, we wanted to turn back. To us, it was blowing at least 30 knots with 5-foot waves and sharks that would eat us both before the day’s end.
Nevertheless, we sailed to the start and prepared to race. That day we managed to get through the first, then second, then third, and finally the fourth race. Every one of those races was painfully scary, and we came away feeling that we would never want to sail Heavy Weather again.
Flash forward to August 2016. We were now 13- and 15-year-old girls and had just completed a two-year around-the-world sailing sabbatical with our family. We had been exposed to many treacherous conditions, as well as beautiful sailing venues across the globe, and we realized that our day on the Bay those few years ago, seemingly so scary and challenging, was really just another glorious summer day in San Francisco.
We have come a long way, and we’re excited now to keep continuing to grow in a sport we love while feeling grateful to be part of the StFYC community.
Sisters Helen (15) and Teddy (17) Horangic are members of StFYC’s Race Team. They sail c420s together, and Helen also sails a Nacra 15. Both girls have big ambitions and Olympic aspirations for Tokyo 2020. They aim to continue competing at a high level in the c420, while Helen hopes to qualify for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. They are grateful to the StFYC community for supporting their sailing, and continue to enjoy every day of training on San Francisco Bay.
Gnarly Nacra Days
One of my memorable days on the water happened just over a year ago. It was a gloomy February Saturday in Long Beach, but a day I had been waiting for because it was the first day I would get to sail my new Nacra 15. The weekend before, I had traveled to Long Beach to set up my boat for the first time, but there had been too much wind to sail. It seemed to take ages to rig the boat that morning, and when I finally got all my gear on, I was ready to burst with excitement.
We had a meeting with Pete Melvin, who designed the boat. Pete went over tuning adjustments, showing us the major depowering methods, and cat sailing techniques in general. My dad and I went down the ABYC ramp and launched the Nacra. It was blowing a solid 10 knots, and the sun had come out. The first time going upwind, I was so scared to be trapping, and steering a new boat, but I was thrilled by the speed. We quickly reached the breakwall as the wind built to a classic 15-knot ABYC sea breeze, and we bore away. We pulled the kite up, and immediately the boat accelerated. You could hear the foils screech as the speed jumped.
Then, sailing the Nacra downwind with the spin up for the first time was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The boat had so much speed. It cut through the backs of waves effortlessly. The foils brought the bows up, and I had no fear of crashing. Having the hull up and taking the puffs down felt like flying. The steering was so smooth, and the boat responded well. Everything was new, and I loved all of it. I had been looking forward to this for a year and a half, and not one second of it felt disappointing. I knew from the first moment I sailed Nacras that I wanted to continue. I loved the speed, the feeling, the tinkering and technique. That night, I could barely sleep. I was excited for tomorrow.
Charlotte Versavel, 15, is a member of StFYC’s Nacra Team, focusing on high speed racing in the Nacra 15. She and her skipper, Jack Sutter, hope to attend the 2019 Youth Worlds and the 2024 or 2028 Olympic Games in the foiling Nacra 17.
The Joy of Capsizing
In my 11 years, I have sailed lots of boats. When I was 8 years old I started sailing Optis, RS Teras and Open Bics at St. Francis. When I was 10, I was invited to join the Opti Race team and have since sailed in many regattas. I have sailed on bigger boats too, like my parent’s Tartan 4100, Good Omen. In 2015 I went on Uncle Sean’s (Svendsen) Commodore Cruise to the British Virgin Islands on a catamaran. It was really fun. This past summer my family rented a catamaran and we sailed around the Croatian Islands in the clearest water I have ever seen.
But the day of sailing I will never forget is when I sailed on a 29er.
Coach Brent and Coach Adam arranged for the Opti Race team to go out on a 29er this February. A 29er is fun and fast and capsizes a lot. On this particular day, it was very cold on the Bay and there was more wind near the Bridge. In the morning, Charlotte Versavel and Jack Sutter taught us how to sail a 29er. My first time out was with Charlotte as my skipper. When I went on the trapeze I fell in the water a few times but Charlotte made sure the boat did not capsize.
After all the Opti kids had sailed with the pros, we were put on the 29er with each other. My older brother, Antonio Priskich, and Sean Mahoney were the first. They capsized three times, and I laughed a lot from the coach boat. My chance was next with Ben O’Neil as my crew. We capsized three times, then Coach Brent told me to find a landmark and head toward it. Ben was able to slowly go out on the trapeze until he was all the way out and we were sailing fast. Even the coach boat had to go fast to keep up! When we turned to go back, we had one more capsize. Did I mention how cold the water was?
There were many fun things on that day: I got to sail in a boat with another junior sailor and I got to see Coach Brent capsize! I can’t wait to go again!
Marina Priskich, 11, is a member of the StFYC Opti Race Team.
Staying warm in Holland
I've sailed in plenty of cold weather days on San Francisco Bay, where we regularly practice in Optis in Berkeley Circle. But nothing could prepare me for the cold in Holland, where I recently sailed in the Magic Marine Easter Regatta on a tiny lake called Brassemermeer. It was another level of cold. The air temperatures were in the high-30s to mid-40s, and the water temperatures were in 40s. There was even snow forecasted for a couple of days, although that didn't happen, thankfully.
Luckily, I came prepared. Just before we left, my dad and I hit the local Sports Basement to get the warmest inner layers we could find to go under my drysuit. I also had a super thick beanie to go under my balaclava and Buffs—triple layer headgear. I wore three layers of gloves: surgical gloves, then wool gloves, then thick "lobster gloves" that fishermen wear. We also brought heat packs to wear inside my drysuit.
In the end, the regatta was a lot of fun, and not just because I stayed warm. The race committee gave us Easter Eggs out on the water. I made friends with my fellow Team USA teammates. I met kids from all over Europe. The kids from Finland and the Netherlands were especially fun and taught us a bit of their language. I was able to trade one of my regatta shirts for a Team Holland hat.
I also learned a lot about how to play the shifts when lake sailing, something we don't get a lot of practice doing when racing here in California. Another interesting thing was that, when flying out of Holland, we could see the entire country. Can't do that in the US!
I managed to place 3rd out of 73 boats in Silver fleet, tying for second but losing the tiebreaker. Just goes to show that every point counts.
I appreciate all the support from the St. Francis Sailing Foundation to help me go on this trip, as well as my parents for their support in taking me.
Ethan Sargent, 13, started sailing Optis at StFYC at age seven, and has continued to sail there in after-school programs, and at Tinsley during family vacations. He has been racing Optis since he was nine, and qualified to be a part of Team USA for Opti regattas in Palamos (Spain) 2017 and Holland 2018.
Up you Go!
While I mostly sail dinghies, I had been spending more time in J/22s in preparation for the San Francisco Cup. One Wednesday after 420 practice, our junior team jumped into a J/22 to race in the Club’s Wednesday Night Series.
While rounding the windward mark in the first race of the night, the spinnaker halyard unhooked from the kite and was left dangling near the spreaders. I shared a look of complete disbelief with my teammates. Luckily, the race was under a K Flag and we couldn’t use our spinnaker anyway. We finished the race and spent the lapse time before the next one troubleshooting our skied halyard.
We tried to fish it down with our spinnaker pole or lasso it with another line but nothing was working. I took one of our docking lines and configured it into a harness (if one could really call it that) and hooked into the topping lift. My teammates, Nick Dorn and Reid Wishner, began to pull me up the mast. Reaching the spreaders, I felt the topping lift bottom out and tried to stretch for the halyard, which dangled a few feet above me. My skipper, Mats Keldsen, turned downwind as the horn signaled for the next race. The tail on my harness was too long, and I knew I needed to shorten it. I was lowered down onto the deck and I rushed back to the cockpit.
As we began the second race of the night, I retied my harness to shorten the tail and focused on gaining on the boats around us. The current was ripping, and I knew my layline call was crucial to getting the lead we needed to get our spinnaker rigged for the downwind. As we rounded the windward mark, I scrambled to the bow again and hooked into the topping lift. While the boats around us hoisted their spinnakers, I was lifted up the mast, half climbing and half flying. Again, the topping lift maxed out, and I couldn’t be pulled any higher.
Grabbing hold of the spreaders, I pulled myself up. I felt the tension on my makeshift harness release as I free-climbed the final few feet. The mast swayed with the waves as I clung to the shrouds. I reached my hand out for the halyard. It swung just inches from my fingertips. I grabbed it tightly and yelled in excitement, “I’ve got it!” My teammates excitedly lowered me, and the halyard that was clenched in my hand.
We rigged our spinnaker and set it in the next race. Triumphant and shocked at our success, we grinned at each other for the rest of the night.
Mackenzie Berwick, 17, is a member of STFYC’s Junior Race Team and Junior Match Race team, focusing on International and Club 420 Sailing and Big Boat Racing. She and her skipper, Chloe Holder, will compete in the 2018 I420 Worlds this August. She plans to continue her sailing on the collegiate level.