Sailboat Racing?… Yeah Right!

By Steve Harris

Over the past 15 years, I have enjoyed a lot of great opportunities on the water – I have served on Race Committees for National, World, and International Championships; I have been the Principal Race Officer for National Championships in several classes; I have been PRO for some of the most recognized “big regattas” on Lake Erie – The Mills Trophy Race, Cleveland Race Week, I-LYA’s “Bay Week” Regattas; I have chaired Junior Bay twice; I have been fortunate.

However, as we look to bring more new people into the sport this summer at Buckeye Lake, I find myself reflecting on how I got my start – quite honestly, in a sport in which I didn’t necessarily have an interest.  In the early 90’s, I returned home for a weekend visit to find a 20′ Hunter sailboat parked in my parents’ driveway.  I inquired of Mom, “What’s with the mid-life crisis in the driveway?”  We had sailed recreationally at Buckeye Lake when I was younger (incidentally, it was Mom who was the original sailor in the family, but that’s another story) but we had gotten away from it as my sisters and I grew into our teens and found other interests.  I had done some sailing – not racing – through my work running high adventure programs for the Boy Scouts in the summer.  But sailing was not a passion for me.  Mom’s reply was something along the lines of “Your father bought that at an auction the other day.  And… I guess now we’re also joining the yacht club!”  How little did I know then the opportunities ahead of me.

Well, Dad joined BLYC and started to sail on Sundays with other Club members and “raced” his Hunter 20.  One weekend while I was home visiting, he invited me to come along.  I was apprehensive about racing – yes, I knew how to sail, but racing?  Sounded like more than I was willing to take on – not knowing anything about the rules was enough to scare me off!  But, Dad assured me that it was very casual and “we’d figure it out as we go.”  Well, indeed we did.  It was a good day on the water and, quite frankly, I was instantly hooked.  Me being me, however, I just had to know all about the rules!  It was the early days of the internet and, upon returning home to Dayton, I spent hours searching out the rules, interpretations of the rules, racing tactics, anything associated with the sport.  Granted, Sunday racing at BLYC has never been at the level of intensity as the America’s Cup, but the more I dug in, the more I was, in my mind, preparing for that level of competition.  After all, anyone who knows me will tell you, I don’t like to be wrong – even when I am.  I wanted to know everything I could so as not to embarrass myself.  All in all, we had a good season at the Lake that summer.  I didn’t need (or even try to use) most the information I had amassed.  I found our Sunday racing to be enjoyable and I made a lot of new friends at BLYC.  I, in turn, joined the Club in mid-1997.

In 1998, I took a teaching job in Millersport and moved to Buckeye Lake full time.  Then incoming Commodore Tim Maite immediately started working on me to run for the board.  I was flattered, but I wasn’t initially all that interested.  I enjoyed the Club.  I enjoyed sailing on Buckeye Lake.  But, I really didn’t want to get involved in the running of the Club.  I just wanted to enjoy it.  Well, Tim and others had their motivation in recruiting me.  They needed someone to take the position of “Race, Regatta, & Junior Sailing” on the board.  I was a sailor.  I was a teacher.  I guess I fit the bill.  I ran and was elected to the Board at the “ripe old age” of 29 – the spouses of the other board members at the time referred to me as “Baby Guv.”  Initially, my prime motivation was to increase participation in our Sunday racing.  However, as we got into the season, I found myself spending more and more time focused on the Juniors – particularly the race team.  Over the next three years in that position, and with the invaluable help of many others at the Club, our junior program grew from a team of only two to nearly a dozen.  We purchased new boats for training and racing.  The program was going well.

Running our junior program meant getting involved on the I-LYA Junior Activities Committee as BLYC’s rep.  This opened up more doors and, before I knew it, I was chairing Junior Bay Week in 2006 and was elected to chair the Junior Activities Committee that fall.  That, in turn, led to my election to the I-LYA Board of Trustees in 2007, serving as President in 2011, and then moving up through the bridge to serve as I-LYA Commodore in 2014.  WOW!  All I set out to do was run our “little” program at BLYC.

In this same time period, I was still running our Sunday races at the Club.  In April of 2003, US Sailing held their spring meeting in Cincinnati.  Concurrent with that meeting was a new training course for getting certified as a Race Officer.  Being a bit of an amateur “rules geek” already, I though it a good opportunity to find out what I didn’t know and hopefully improve our level of race management at the Club.  I’ll admit, that day sitting in class, I felt horribly overwhelmed.  I discovered that there was FAR more that I didn’t know than that which I did.  It was eye opening to say the least.  Somehow I passed the test and became certified.  Having that credential led to more opportunities.  In the beginning, I just ran races here at Buckeye.  In that time, we’d host 3-4 regattas each year – a “Shakedown” regatta for the Thistle class in the early spring, an I-LYA Junior Travelers Series Regatta, the Thistle class Lake Erie District “Fall Finale,” and, of course the Snowball.  Somewhere along the line, our friends over at Hoover decided that they needed an “inland guy” to be PRO for Interlake Nationals at their venue in 2006.  It was a great experience and, I’ll be honest, it was really cool to be the PRO for a National Championship.  I then went on to take US Sailing’s Advanced Race Management Seminar that winter and the doors have opened up wide from there – I serve on US Sailing’s Race Officer Training & Certification Committee; I am the administrative Area Race Officer for Area E (Great Lakes); and, I am also the Area E Coordinator, serving as the primary liaison between sailors in our region and US Sailing.  Yea, I’m busy.

So, what’s the point of this long story?  Most of my leisure time today is now spent in the sport of sailing.  It has opened up amazing opportunities for me.  Not everyone who gets involved in the sport will – or will even want to – become a champion sailor, get involved in the management side of the sport as I have, or necessarily even spend that much time.  But, had I not tried racing at BLYC back in the mid-1990’s, my life would be very different today.

Give sailing and sailboat racing a try!  You never know where it may lead…