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Young sailors cruise onto South Shore for major regatta

Young sailors practice for this weekend's regatta race

Young sailors practice for this weekend's regatta race in the waters off Blue Point on Thursday. Credit: James Carbone

Young sailors from Los Angeles, Annapolis, Cape Cod and the U.S. Virgin Islands are descending on the South Shore of Long Island this weekend for a major regatta in a sport some say is seeing a resurgence amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The racing at the Sayville Yacht Club in Blue Point from Friday through Sunday is attracting about 200 sailors ages 13 to 22 who will compete in two-person boats called "420s."

The regatta is the last of five legs of a championship series that has seen races in Florida, upstate New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. It is the largest regatta on the Great South Bay since the pandemic hit, said organizer Doug Shaw.

It comes amid an uptick in interest in the sport as families find sailboat racing one of the safer activities amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The skipper and one crew member on a 420 are alone on a boat, on the open water, Shaw noted.

"The whole point of sailing is to create a distance between you and the next person" in another competing boat, Shaw said. "You’re out in the open air, nice breeze. It’s not like wrestling or a game where physical contact is an important part of the sport."

The number of sailors in local programs grew as the pandemic became more under control this year, Shaw said. Sayville’s grew from about 110 last year to 140 this year.

"A lot of the South Shore clubs have seen a real bump in their programs this year, particularly for younger kids" who sail a small boat called an Optimist. "The Opti world has kind of exploded this summer, which is just great."

The racers in Blue Point this weekend range from top-level to those trying to get there, Shaw said.

"I’m fairly confident that in this regatta we’ve got future national champions and maybe even a couple of future Olympic sailors," he said. "They’re not at that elite level yet, but they’re on their way."

The Sayville Yacht Club is the home club of Debbie Capozzi, who sailed for the United States in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

The Great South Bay and the Sayville Yacht Club once attracted major international regattas and local ones too, but racing waned in past decades. Shaw sees the bay is making a comeback, too.

"On the Eastern Seaboard there is no better venue for the racing of small boats than the South Shore of Long Island," Shaw said.

While sailboat racing may be seen by some as an elite, blue-blood sport, organizers are incorporating a social consciousness angle to the regatta — $10 for every sailor participating will be donated to local charities such as a church soup kitchen or an environmental organization.

The donations are being funded by Magnetic Advisers, a financial services company based in Blue Point, and managed through the social impact management website Phin, also of Blue Point. Sailors can choose where to direct their $10 donation.

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