Blockheads made a splash at Bacardi Miami Sailing Week 2017. Of the thirty six J/70 teams that competed, only eight raced without pro sailors, and only ONE was crewed entirely by youth sailors. Say hello to Team Sail22 / Harken Blockheads!

This regatta is only the first of many for which a J/70 will be made available to an all-youth team. The goal is to provide a platform for more teams to qualify for the inaugural J/70 Youth Championship this August. This new initiative is spearheaded by Sail22 with supporting industry partners North Sails, Alpha Ropes, and Harken Blockheads. For Bacardi Sailing Week, our team was represented by junior sailors from Coral Reef Yacht Club.

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From the outset, the experience was a new one for the sailors. They’d never raced a boat this large or with as many crew before. Claudia Loiacono, Bow/Floater,  explained how they got the opportunity, “Our team is composed of high school seniors who have all placed in the top ten at national and international events. As a graduating class, our coach, Fred Moffat, thought it would be a great experience to carry on to college.” Ivan Shestopalov, Helmsman, added, “I couldn’t say no to such an amazing opportunity.”

A large challenge, Claudia highlighted, was their lack of experience together, “The five of us have never sailed together and have probably not sailed with more than one person before.” The sailors had spent most of their time competing in the Opti, Laser, and 420. “We’ve all sailed against each other” said Ivan.

With a new boat and little time to prepare, the pressure was on! Equipped with boundless enthusiasm and willingness to learn, they quickly became familiar with the new platform and systems. In fact, the team “only had two hours to practice the day before the regatta,” according to Claudia, “We tried to figure out who was going to do what and try to understand how the boat worked.” Afterwards, Ivan was optimistic about the short time they’d had, “I think we improved immensely in our boat handling. I believe the biggest thing to work on would be communication as none of us have sailed keel boats extensively before.” Echoing Ivan, Clay Snyder, Trimmer, said, “In practice, we mainly want to focus on getting our boat handling down so in racing we can focus on what we know best, tactics and strategy.”

The team had a great opportunity to work with Will Welles as a tuning partner, where they gained valuable experience in boat-on-boat speed and maneuvering. Off the water, the group was visited by leading coach Steve Hunt. Claudia commented on what she saw as a challenge for the racing to come, “What I’m mostly concerned about is the timing on the starts and boat handling since we’re all used to dinghies which are easier to maneuver and get up to speed.”

Team Sail22 / Harken Blockheads went on to finish 33rd overall, including a regatta-best 17th in the second race. For the record, they managed to beat two professionally crewed teams, a great result for a team thrown into the deep end. More so, the team had achieved their goal of qualifying for the J/70 Youth Championships!

After a whirlwind week, the team is excited to further hone their skills in the J/70, and look forward to practicing as much as possible ahead of the youth champs this August.

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