The Maine Maritime Academy sailing team finished in the middle of the fleet after three days of racing Catalina 37 sloops last weekend in the 9th annual edition of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta. BONNIE JOY/JOYSAILING.COM PHOTO

Mariners finish mid-fleet in 9th Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta

CASTINE — For the past eight years, the race committee at the Los Angeles Yacht Club sent collegiate sailors outside the breakwater that shelters the harbor for three days of racing on the wide Pacific in the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup Regatta. Last Friday, the committee decided to start the event inside the breakwater, and it was a good thing.

The weather forecast was ominous as 10 college sailing teams, including the Maine Maritime Academy Mariners, headed for the starting line in a fleet of borrowed Catalina 37 sloops for the first of the day’s three scheduled races. Picking their way through harbor traffic and anchored ships in a building wind, the Charleston College Cougars won the race, narrowly edging the California Maritime Academy Keelhaulers as they would do ultimately to win the regatta. MMA finished fifth.

“The competition was heavy,” Mariner sailing coach Caroline Mcnally said Tuesday morning. “Charleston and Cal are heavy hitters for sure.”

As for the Mariners, throughout the regatta “their boat speed and crew work were spot on,” Mcnally said. “They struggled at the start and on the first beat.”

The first leg struggle was a foretaste of things to come.

MMA sailing All-American Annika Zayac works the foredeck during Sunday’s racing at the Harbor Cup regatta. BONNIE JOY/JOYSAILING.COM PHOTO
MMA sailing All-American Annika Zayac works the foredeck during Sunday’s racing at the Harbor Cup regatta.

As the fleet prepared to start the second race, Mcnally said, the wind picked up, the steering cable on their boat “shredded” and the Mariners were left without steerage, drifting down on an anchored ship. The team showed its seamanship — calmly rigging the boat’s emergency tiller so it could race — but “a big squall came through” packing winds that gusted to 40 knots. With the wind howling, the race committee “called it a day and just abandoned the race,” Mcnally said.

Though the team had been hoping to race in the “bigger water and bigger breeze” outside the breakwater, Mcnally said it was just as well that the race committee move the event into the harbor.

“If it had been outside, people probably would have gotten hurt,” Mcnally said. Some of the teams “were not set up for big weather and big boats.”

The weather on Saturday was much better — sunny skies and moderate breezes — and the committee was able to run five races. All were sailed inside the breakwater.

“I’m not sure why. Maybe they were gun-shy,” Mcnally said.

On Sunday, with six races done, MMA stood fifth in fleet, two points ahead of the University of Hawaii, but the racing was moved outside. That should have helped the Mariners but, instead of big air, they encountered light, shifty winds that postponed the start of the first race.

After the day’s three races, the Mariners stood sixth, three points behind the islanders thanks largely to a poor finish in the penultimate race of the day.

“I wish we’d knocked off Hawaii and taken fifth,” Mcnally said. “I know the mistakes that stopped us and they’re fixable.”

Poor position on the starting line was a problem for MMA, which generally sailed fast enough to pass one or two boats on each windward leg.

“If they could start in the top half of the fleet, they could hang with and compete with those boats,” Mcnally said.

After their return from what the coach called a “fantastic trip,” the Mariner sailing team will turn its attention to the spring intercollegiate dinghy racing season. The first regatta of the season is scheduled for April 2, but the sailors planned to be in the boats honing their skills this week.

As for the future of big-boat racing at the academy, Mcnally is optimistic.

“This is a very young team,” she said. “All but one of them will be returning for the next two years.”

If she’s right, MMA could be a force again if it returns to the Los Angeles regatta next year. The Mariners won the first two Harbor Cup regattas, in 2008 and again in 2009.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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