CASTINE — The Maine Maritime Academy offshore sailing team traveled to Annapolis last weekend to race Navy 44 sloops in the Shields Trophy Regatta and came home empty-handed.
The Shields event brings together sailors from the nation’s service academies for the first big-boat regatta of the fall. This year, eight schools, in addition to MMA, sent teams to the event, held over two days of light airs on Chesapeake Bay. All of them finished ahead of the Mariners.
According to Navy sailing coach Jahn Tihansky, light air limited the fleet to just five races over the two-day event. On Saturday, the breeze barely topped 6 knots. On Sunday, the wind shifted from southwest to north, but again stayed light for most of the day. Adding to the fleet’s difficulties were strong, lee-going tides — flooding on Saturday and ebbing on Sunday.
On Saturday, the fleet struggled through three races sailed over a four-leg, windward-leeward course. California Maritime Academy, which would go on to take home the trophy, won the first two races with Navy taking the third.
MMA sandwiched a fifth, its best official finish of the regatta, between eighth- and ninth-place finishes and stood last in the fleet.
The Mariners began the day Sunday with another ninth, but then appeared to get their mojo working.
The final race of the regatta was sailed over a three-leg, windward-leeward with the best breeze of the weekend and a fading ebb tide. MMA appeared to avoid the worst of a starting line crunch that forced the Coast Guard Academy boat over early, and followed the boat from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point up the course in second place.
On the final beat, the Mariners sailed past the Cadets for what looked like a win in the last race of the weekend, but a major scoring penalty put them at the tail end of the fleet. According to Tihansky, MMA was on the wrong side of the line in the final minute before the start and compounded the error “by not reporting their infraction” to the race committee as required by the rules.
At the end of the day, Cal Maritime sailed off with the Shields victory, finishing 10 points ahead of Queens University from Ontario. MMA finished ninth, 29 points behind the winner, losing a tie-breaker to the eighth place U.S. Merchant Marine Academy team.
The Navy 44 is the largest boat the MMA offshore team generally gets to sail. Now in its third generation, the 44 is 44 feet 4 inches long, has a 12-foot-8-inch beam, the same dimensions as its draft, and weighs in at a comparatively heavy 30,360 pounds.
The Mariner big-boat sailors will likely be back at Navy Oct. 5 and 6 to race smaller Colgate 26 sloops in the Intrepid Trophy match racing regatta. MMA has its own fleet of Colgates, which were used two weeks ago in the Harman Cup regatta.
On the following weekend, Larchmont Yacht Club will host the Storm Trysail Foundation’s Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta.
Last year, the regatta drew nearly 450 sailors from 49 colleges and universities including at least three from Canada and two from Europe.
Over the past few years, MMA has done well at Larchmont, winning the J/44 class in 2012 and the J/109 class in 2011 and missing the top J/44 spot by a single point.