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Young Sailors Take the Helm

Teens compete in the Annapolis Junior Keelboat Regatta

The future of competitive sailboat racing is in good hands, judging from the teenage competitors in the Annapolis Junior Keelboat Regatta.
    “It’s really exciting to move up to the keelboats,” said Kate Riley, 16, a sophomore at Severna Park High and the only female skipper among the seven crews racing. “We didn’t win, but we got better and better and ­finished second in the last race.”
    Nearly 30 sailors from seven local high school sailing teams competed April 23 in the second annual ­Annapolis Junior Keelboat Regatta. Broadneck High School took the trophy from defending champion South River. Other high schools competing were Annapolis, The Key School, St. Mary’s and Archbishop Spalding.
    “The kids are really good sailors, and race-savvy,” said Jeff Jordan, director of JPort Annapolis, which donated the J80 sloops for the one-design race. Participation grew this year to seven crews, up from five in the 2015 competition.
    There are 34 high school sailing programs in the Chesapeake Bay and Eastern Shore region, said Jane Millman, coordinator of high school sail training for Annapolis Yacht Club. Teenagers start out racing International 420s, a light centerboard sailboat.
    “This is a big jump for some of the students,” Millman said of the challenge of handling the larger, heavier 26-foot, 2,900-pound J80s.
    “The best thing is seeing how excited the kids are,” said Paul Jacobs, director of the Annapolis Spring Sailboat Show, which hosts the junior regatta at City Dock. “They are just so jazzed about keelboat racing, versus the dinghy stuff.”
    The competition is intense, thrilling fun — with an edge. The young crews tease, talk smack and razz each other, both on and off the water.
    “We’re all friends, but at the same time we really want to beat each other,” said Will Comerford, 17, a junior skipper at Spalding. “We didn’t win a single one of the six races, but I had an amazing tactician and we had a lot of fun anyway.”

Severna Park High School sailor Kate Riley.

    “The confidence level in these kids is through the roof,” Jordan said. “They think they can do anything.”
    The experience level in this year’s junior regatta ranges from near-neophytes to teens who grew up in sailing families and have been in boats since age five or six.
    “I was really hiking out a lot today, because of all the wind shifts,” said Allison Forsyth, 16, who has only been sailing a year.
    “Sailing is such a unique sport — it’s not like all the other sports like basketball or softball,” Forsyth said. “It’s pretty cool.”
    And, as Millman notes, sailing is a rare coed sport in high school, with boys and girls competing on the same level. That didn’t faze Riley, being the only girl on the helm in the regatta.
    “Yeah, I get teased, but I just tease right back,” she said.
    Riley’s proud parents beamed at her sailing skill. “She’s just embraced this, and now she’s part of the sailing world,” said George Riley, Kate’s dad. “It’s been so great just to watch her get better and better.”
    Jacobs came up with the idea for a local high school regatta last year.
    “The whole point of creating this was, how do we get kids involved in serious sailing?” Jordan said.
    That seems to be working.
    “Several of our students want to go to colleges with sailing programs,” Millman said.