Sailing into Spring with New Boats and a Goal to Return to Nationals

(Above: Twelve new 420 boats delivered in mid-March 2023.)

The 2022 Abbey Sailing Team had a tremendous spring season. Ranked first in New England they competed in qualifiers for two National championships, the NESSA George O’Day Trophy (Fleet Racing) and NESSA Presidents Trophy (Team Racing). 

The George O’Day Trophy qualifier was hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a sunny May day with the wind gusting to as high as 35 mph. Eleven races were sailed in each division with the fleet planing on the downwind reaches just on the edge of control. The Ravens sailed a strong regatta, finishing a close third behind The Hotchkiss School and Brunswick School, qualifying for the Mallory Dinghy National Fleet Race Championships at the Mission Bay Yacht Club in California. The Abbey team was represented by Nathan Smith ’22 and Liam Barry ’23 in A-Division, Alex Adams ’22 and Felix Cutler ’22 (winning) B-Division, with alternates Mary Adams ’24, Mary Davidson ’24, Becca Healey ’24, Luke Kenahan ’23, Charlotte West ’24 and Ainsley West ’24. Smith, Barry, Cutler, Davidson, and the Adams and West siblings traveled to the National High School Championships, where Portsmouth Abbey was one of 20 schools competing out of more than 600 schools with sailing teams.

At nationals, the team met with Robbie Haines, a friend of Coach Harley and the winner of the Gold Medal at the 1984 Olympics in the Soling Class. He spoke about sailing conditions on Mission Bay and the mental preparation for a major regatta. This was followed by a briefing from Brad Rodi, a collegiate All-American from the Naval Academy, and a local sailor who shared the weather conditions to be expected over the weekend of the regatta. The team had a chance to practice in the boats (FJs) before having a team dinner hosted by parents Jasen Adams, Laura Cutler, Simon and Hilary Davidson, and Jennifer Barry who traveled to support the team in California. Team shirts were supplied by an anonymous donor and coordinated by parents Stacey and Matt West. (Pictured l-r: Charlotte West 24, Coach Jonathan Harley, Ainsley West 24, Mary Adams 24, Alex Adams ’22, Nathan Smith 22, Liam Barry 23, Mary Davidson 24, Felix Cutler 22 and Coach Gregg Dietrich.)

After coming out of the blocks slowly with only four races in the top 10 on the first day, the team gained consistency and momentum and had several competitive finishes on day two, moving their final standing to 15. In the words of Assistant Coach Gregg Dietrich ’74, “Last season was amazing for Abbey Sailing, and through the experiences of competing in 2022 we have been building the confidence and ability of the 2023 team.”  

Adding to the excitement around last year’s success is the addition of 12 brand-new and long-awaited 420 boats this season. The securing of these boats, along with many other programmatic and capital improvements, was made possible through generous unrestricted annual fund contributions.

 "The new boats have allowed the 2023 team to better compete against other teams with similar new boats. It also allows them more time to practice as no minor repair issues arise with a new fleet" said Head Coach Jonathan Harley. The boats arrived at the Bristol Yacht Club in mid-March. The team was there to assist, and preparations began for their first regatta on March 25, where the fleet was blessed prior to launch.

It was a cold, blustery afternoon, but spirits were not dampened as Abbot Michal Brunner read from Matthew 8:23-27, “Jesus got into a boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but Jesus was asleep. They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” Jesus said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?” He continued to bless the new fleet with Holy Water and prayed “God of boundless love, at the beginning of creation your Spirit hovered over the deep. You called forth every creature, and the seas teamed with life. Through your Son, Jesus Christ, you have given us the rich harvest of salvation. Bless these boats, their equipment and all who will use them. Protect them from the dangers of wind and rain and all the perils of the deep. May Christ, who calmed the storm and filled the nets of his disciples, bring us all to the harbor of light and peace. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Sailing the new 420s for the first time against East Greenwich were Quinn Brighton ’23, JoJo Kamdani ’23, Jancy Grayson ’24, Liam Barry ’23, Luke Kenahan ’23, Mary Davidson ’24, Mary Powell ’23 and Becca Healey ’24. It was a close loss with the Ravens falling two races to three. The 2023 season has continued to be challenging thus far, with the Abbey team experiencing similarly close losses to teams that are known to be strong along with their wins.  As Coach Harley often says, “Every race sailed is just practice for the next race.” With many more to go, optimism remains. “We will continue to compete with the best New England teams the rest of the season."