Blind sailors compete in Match Racing World Championship

Great Britain surged to an early lead Friday, the first day of racing. Photo: Chris Garbacz/SEAS.

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – After several days waiting for the wind to pick up and the fog to clear out, five teams of blind sailors from the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Israel were finally able to commence the Blind Match Racing World Championship Friday.

The British team, with skipper Vicki Sheen at the helm, emerged as the early leader after winning all of their matches.

“I think the conditions were absolutely lovely,” she said. “The wind strength was perfect. There was a little bit of wave action and disturbed water, but it was really, really lovely sailing.”

The dominant team, which includes Lucy Hodges and Liam Cattermole, only practiced together in the boat for three days before Friday’s contest, and Vicki credited the Blind Sailing UK program, which they all are part of, for their seamless teamwork.

She also noted the remarkable performance of her opponents.

“The teams have all come on amazingly since the last world championships two years ago,” she said. “There is less variation between teams, everyone’s on the pace. The training all the teams are doing and the clinic last week have really paid off.”

Principal Race Officer Rich Reichelsdorfer echoed that thought.

“What I was really excited about was how well the Canadians and the two U.S. teams have improved from the Worlds two years ago,” he said. “It’s really encouraging to see them sailing so well. The scores don’t show it but they’re doing really, really well.”

USA 2, skippered by Mark Bos, finished the day without any wins but with more than their share of goodwill.

“We had a very rough start but in the last race we were able to reverse things and we all came in with smiles on our faces,” he said. “We had a steep learning curve today.”

That might be partly because the blind teams didn’t get any practice time, thanks to unfavorable weather Monday and Tuesday, so today’s race was effectively their practice run.

Using today’s positive ending as a springboard, Mark said he’s confident that tomorrow will be a different story.

“I’ll try to hold the line a little bit better,” he said. “We’ve learned how to work together as a team.”

After spending so many days on standby because of bad weather, sailors wore out midway through the second match of their second round robin.

“Sitting around for an eight-hour day, watching fog – it’s tiring,” Rich said.

Saturday’s racing will begin with the second flight of Round Robin 2.

After so many days of windless, foggy inaction, Friday’s near-perfect weather was the big story of the day.

“Conditions were just about perfect,” Rich said. “I have not seen it blow consistently out of the north ever. It stayed at 10-15 knots all day.”

The steady wind from the north made some changes necessary, however. The blind races were moved to the South Pier area, where the women were originally slated to race and the women were relocated about a half-mile farther out. The result was a stunning view of both races from the shore.

“There would have been too much bounce back from the waves up at North Pier,” Rich said.

The day, which ended with a community-wide brat fry to raise money for the adaptive sailing program at SEAS (Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan), raised everyone’s hopes for another successful race day Saturday.

“I’m a little bit cautious,” Rich said. “The forecast is calling for easterly winds at 10 knots, and easterly winds tend to die.”