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Terry Did It

The scope of people's lives impacted by the humble and generous Terry Kohler is astounding. My life is changed because of him and the people of the Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan (SEAS), which he founded.

I grew up as an enthusiastic recreational sailor, but was stricken 13 years ago by ALS, a progressive, fatal disease that causes paralysis of all voluntary muscles. Now a functional quadriplegic who can't speak, eat, walk or use my hands, I thought my sailing days were over.

In 2015, SEAS learned of my longing to go sailing and, with Terry's support, SEAS, Harken and I worked to find ways to not just get in a boat but to sail it. We adapted a Sonar with a swiveling seat, headrest, and bite switches connected to an auto helm for steering and highly sensitive touch switches to trim with a Harken Rewind winch.

I can now leave my power wheelchair at the dock and sail solo. I am not bound by walls or stairs, I have the freedom of the open waters of Lake Michigan. For those who take for granted the ability to go outside and move, imagine life contained within a few rooms suddenly liberated through sailing.

The adaptive sailing program at SEAS has served 5 other people with ALS this year, giving all of us and our families something to look forward to, to enjoy, and to share. None of this would have been possible without Terry Kohler.

Thank you, Terry, for changing lives in so many ways. - Steve Heronemus

New President/CEO announced for NMSF

Dear Friends: It’s an amazing year of growth, awareness and public support for America’s National Marine Sanctuary System. President Obama created the world’s largest marine protected area and reignited the sanctuary designation process. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation – the System’s not-for-profit partner and chief advocate – is ready for this exciting future as well: Tomorrow, the NMSF Board of Trustees will announce that Kristen Sarri will join the organization as President and Chief Executive Officer on October 24.

Kristen Sarri NMSFKris joins our NMSF team after nearly 20 years in senior positions in Congress and federal agencies including the Department of the Interior, Department of Commerce and the Office of Management and Budget. While her experience is diverse, the consistent threads across all her roles are a deep involvement in shaping ocean and environmental issues, strong strategic and operational management skills, wide-ranging expertise in the legislative and regulatory sectors, a track record of success in engaging disparate stakeholders and – most of all – a passion for the ocean and the critical importance of sanctuaries in the ocean’s healthy future.

Kris’s mandate is to set a transformational strategy for NMSF’s future. While that’s no simple task, she will be building it on an auspicious foundation. Among its accomplishments in the past six months, NMSF had its best-attended, most successful Capitol Hill Ocean Week conference and Ocean Awards Gala event; distributed its largest-ever pool of Hollings Grants funding; and launched a new digital presence including an online call-to-action advocacy tool to seamlessly rally public support of sanctuary priorities. If you participated in any of these efforts, we thank you for helping us achieve these successes.

Our web/media announcement about Kris is below. In the coming weeks, Kris will share updates on priorities and goals but, as a starting point, we wanted to share her vision in her own words:

“The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is dedicated to conserving what we cannot see:  critical habitats, cultural resources that tell our histories, living labs for science and education and significant natural resources that support coastal communities while connecting the public with the outdoors. We have an extraordinary opportunity to unite all those who would contribute to and benefit from this alliance – a potential partnership spanning policymakers, funders, communities, industries and other stakeholders, supported by our chapters, friends groups and all individuals passionate about the ocean.”

We deeply appreciate your support and involvement with NMSF in the past and look forward to even more opportunities to work together in the coming year.

Best, Robert J. Trainor Chair, Board of Trustees

It's a new year at SEAS

I hope some of you enjoyed the knot tying class we held in December. I understand that we are holding another one for the Boy Scouts so they can get their merit badges. Next week Tony and Whitney will be doing a splicing class. I am looking forward to it, it’s always fun to learn some new skills. We have something going every month until the season starts so keep your eyes peeled for something you might like. We had our second meeting with the board members to finish up going over our strategic plan. It has been a really good exercise defining our focus and making sure that we are working more closely with our fellow organizations. SEAS is going to be taking a more active role in adult sailing education to complement what Youth Sailing does. Over the next few of years we will be adding keelboat instruction, cruising, navigation and bare boat certification. The boat rental program will be primarily focused on the adults that have come through youth sailing. The rental price is $50 for two hours or $500 for an unlimited pass, and we will have special deals for yacht club members to take advantage as well. Also if you volunteer you can earn a free rental-details coming soon.

We are going to concentrate on servicing Sheboygan and its surrounding counties for our instruction and boat rental program, while taking a more regional approach to the adaptive programming. Of course we will still be supporting blind sailing as we fell into being a national leader in this area. This summer we will be holding a blind fleet racing event. In fleet racing there are sighted people on board. That might be a bit too exciting otherwise.

Lisa, Matt and Geoff met with some folks from South High and Geoff will potentially be having some kids that are interested in the marine industry come and help out with the boat maintenance. These are paid internships and will possibly be expanded to North and Central Highs. We will continue working with at risk youth. Jason Berdyck has started a boat building program for the Scouts. They are building quick canoes, which is a simple design and the kids get to keep their boats.

We are, again, in the process of designing the boat storage facility. When it is up and running we will have work areas for both SEAS and the Scouts to do boat building. We hope to start up a Build to Teach program which is STEM based. Our goal is to be in the new building next fall. God willing and the creek don’t rise.

Speaking of which, Whitney just walked in and showed me a bunch of pictures of the Youth Sailing building which was hit by a car last night and has considerable damage. I suppose that is one way to get a door facing the parking lot, maybe not the preferred way. It was a hit and run so they may be on the hook for the damages if the police are not able to find the culprit. As Denice Cornell said, “It’s turning out to be an interesting day.” I hope yours is interesting as well, but maybe not that interesting.

Leslie Kohler

Oh what fun it is to sail...

Well, it’s the end of the year and pretty soon the sun will be taking a turn back toward us. Rather, of course, we will be taking the turn that brings our side of the world to the sunny side. We were extraordinarily blessed with a warm a delightful fall. None of us can complain that winter started too early this year. The bets are out on whether we will be having a cold or warm, wet or dry winter. Juju Senfft is certainly looking forward to snow as she didn’t grow up with it. I myself prefer snow to cold so I vote for warm wet winter, but not everyone likes the snow. We are inclined to want to call our snow days during the summer as we love to get outside, and on the water, when we have perfect days. So much for a discussion of the weather, everyone agrees that summer here is too short. This is definitely the time of the year when we get ready for all the stuff we shove into our too short boating season. At 4 years old we are really starting to look like a real organization. We are developing real long term plans and figuring out what we need to add to the programming to make ourselves more relevant to the community. The team in the office is strong; developing programs, and community outreach.  Matt Wierzbach and Whitney Kent are figuring out how we work more closely with Sheboygan Youth Sailing Center so that our programming is complimentary, while developing a better understanding of who our audience/clients are and how to better serve them. Lisa Hartman is taking on a lot of the responsibilities I had shouldered previously while doing an awesome job with community outreach.

Geoff Rudolph (Fleet Maintenance Director), along with Jason Berdyck and Tony Orlebeke, have their plate really full and are still making plans for our new boat building. They are doing a great job working with the limited space they currently have and dealing with an extraordinary repair list. One of the things they discovered was that the trailer that we use down on the waterfront had a bunch of rotted wood and rust issues, so they have been rebuilding it. We had a few bad incidents with the boats this last summer which added another level of complexity to the usual maintenance. Also they still have to get Katie, our new adaptive boat, ready to be launched in spring. We really appreciate all the boat guys do as we couldn’t do anything without them. Juju and Whitney jump in to help with the boats as well. We did get our industrial sewing machine repaired so that we can do the easy repairs to our sails, saving on repair bills.

There will be a number of classes over the winter, taught by various members of the team. Please see what we are offering and join us, and let us know if you have ideas to make what we do better.

I wish all of you the most blessed of Holiday Seasons, Leslie

Adaptive Sailing Fund for #GivingTuesday Global Day of Giving Nov. 29

After two days for getting deals – Black Friday and Cyber Monday -- #GivingTuesday is a day for giving back. Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan (SEAS) is creating an Adaptive Sailing Fund for #GivingTuesday, a global giving movement that has been driven by individuals, families, organizations, businesses and communities in all 50 states and in countries around the world.  

The Adaptive Sailing Fund allows us to provide our team with the necessary equipment to safely set up a sailboat and provide an experience on the water for individuals with challenges that may not have thought sailing was a possibility. This past summer we sailed with 90 people through our adaptive program, including five clients with ALS. SEAS is making strides towards the vision of “Boating for Everyone.”


SEAS has joined #GivingTuesday this year to share the experience of sailing. The benefits of gaining confidence on the water reach beyond the adaptive sailing community. Our pristine fleet is used to provide safe and empowering experiences to all those who dream of taking to the water. Our goal is to see 100 people with adaptive needs have a chance to get on the water each year. We thank our partners on the lakefront, Sheboygan Youth Sailing Center, Sail Sheboygan and the Sheboygan Yacht Club for helping us in our endeavors.


A donation to SEAS allows us to continue in our vision of “Boating for Everyone” with the highest quality equipment and instruction.


As one of our sailors with ALS put it “We can’t change the fact that we have ALS, but the sailing experience has sure helped us adjust our sails.”


Those who are interested in joining SEAS’s #GivingTuesday initiative can visit to make a contribution to our ADAPTIVE SAILING program.  For more details about the #GivingTuesday movement, visit the #GivingTuesday website (, Facebook page ( or follow @GivingTues and the #GivingTuesday hashtag on social media.

Giving Tuesday - Why give to SEAS

We don’t feed the hungry or provide shelter for the homeless so why donate to SEAS this holiday season?

We empower people. Through our adaptive program we challenge those with special needs to accomplish dreams they never thought possible. As one of our sailors with ALS put it “You can’t change the direction of the wind, but you can change your sails. While we can’t change the fact that we have ALS, but the sailing experience has sure helped us adjust our sails.”

Confidence on the water translates to life, and the benefits are not only to our adaptive sailing community. Our pristine fleet is used to provide safe and empowering experiences to all those who dream of taking to the water, regardless of their motivation.

A donation to SEAS allows us to continue in our vision of “Boating for Everyone” with the highest quality equipment and instruction.

Please Remember SEAS on giving tuesday


Blind Sailing - How do they do that?

Let us explain how acoustics are used to help the blind compete in sailing.

Thank you to Liz Baylis and WIMRA for video production.

Announcing the new director of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

It gives me great pleasure to announce that John Armor has accepted the position of director of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS). I am delighted that John will be serving at the helm of a program that advances place-based conservation among iconic natural and historical resources.  

Since May 2015, John has performed the duties of acting director for ONMS, providing the strategic vision for the program and overall policy direction for the system of 13 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments. That system now encompasses more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters.


During his time as acting director, John oversaw some of the most dramatic advancements in place-based conservation in the history of our organization. The designation process has been initiated for two new sanctuaries in Maryland and Wisconsin. Two additional sites, one in California and another in Pennsylvania, have been added to the nomination inventory. As of this writing, another nomination for a site in Alaska is under review. In addition, the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones sanctuaries more than doubled in size with the latter being renamed as the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. In August, President Obama announced the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument from about 140,000 square miles to almost 580,000 square miles. Under John’s leadership, ONMS has continued to advance sanctuary science, enrich our understanding of maritime history, and promote stewardship among new communities.


Before working in the role of acting director, John served as deputy director for Sanctuaries for more than two years, where he oversaw the day-to-day administration of a program that includes more than 300 people working across five time zones and $50 million a year in annual spending.  In 2012, John was selected as a participant in NOAA’s Leadership Competencies Development Program. During this time, he served as senior policy advisor to the assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management at NOAA headquarters and deputy director for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.


Earlier, John led the Conservation Policy and Planning Division in ONMS, overseeing a highly complex expansion of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. He brings extensive experience with the permitting and regulatory side of national marine sanctuaries, having served for eight years writing regulatory actions and advising leadership on permitting and policy decisions.


Prior to coming to NOAA, Mr. Armor worked for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in the Fort Myers regional office.  There, he worked to implement the State of Florida's wetland and estuarine protection and sovereign submerged lands programs.


Mr. Armor has a bachelor’s degree in marine science from the University of South Carolina and a master’s degree in environmental science and policy from Johns Hopkins University.


I am pleased that NOS has found such an excellent example of leadership in John Armor.


Thank you,


Russell Callender, Ph.D. Assistant Administrator NOAA's National Ocean Service

Tributes to Terry Kohler:

Two wonderful tributes to Terry Kohler from longtime associates, Tom Whidden, President of North Technology Group and Peter Harken, owner of Harken. Dear North Team, It is with great sadness that I write to tell you that Terry Kohler died peacefully at home yesterday afternoon.  He had not been really well for the past few years, having struggled with circulatory issues, cancer, heart issues, and if that wasn't enough, he had a fairly violent car accident last spring.  I can tell you that Terry's sharp and brilliant mind was fully there until the end, and as he said, the body just wasn't keeping up.  He and Mary had lunch together yesterday, he ate it all, and then passed on.

I began working with Terry in 1987 after the America's Cup in Fremantle.  He was so passionate about North and all of the things that we were about.  When we would come to him with aggressive or wild ideas he would always say, "What took you so long".  He was the biggest supporter for all kinds of technology, having graduated with a few degrees from MIT in record breaking time.  He particularly liked Minden and our 3D product and technological manufacturing system.  He also pushed us to get into the mast and rigging business so that we could influence and control the aero package, or as he coined the phrase, "The Engine Above the Deck".

Terry's business acumen and discipline served North Group well at exactly the right time.  When Lowell wanted to sell North to a good owner, Peter Barrett found Terry.  Terry was first passionate about sailing but secondly passionate about making North a more business-like company.  He helped put controls in place that Lowell probably wouldn't have considered.  And he was insistent on using computer technology and communication systems that were well before their practical time.  He was always right that a decentralized global company with so many people worldwide needed it.  And I always loved our board meetings although we learned quickly to give Terry decaffeinated coffee.  He definitely didn't need caffeinated!!  And of course he fired Jay 30 times but always quickly hired him back!!

Terry has been very generous to the sailing community worldwide, and particularly women's sailing.  He really loved women's match racing, having supported the last US women's Olympic team, and virtually all match racing events and participants over the past ten years.  And one of his greatest legacies will be the Sail Sheboygan Sailing Center and the nonprofit SEAS (Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan).  Sheboygan, Wisconsin is now an internationally recognized sailing center thanks to Terry's vision, leadership and generosity.

Personally, I will miss Terry's guidance in so many ways.  The great news is that Terry's daughters are still shareholders of North Technology Group.  I travel to Kohler, Wisconsin twice a year to give their board an update on our activities and results.  I will do so next month.  We will miss Terry's bigger than life presence but his passion for North will live on with his daughters, Leslie, Danielle and Michelle.

We all used to say "long live Terry".  He was a fantastic owner, partner, and friend for North.  North will be forever a great company, in large part because of Terry's ownership and leadership for the past 30 years.  Terry's influence will be felt for many years to come.

Kind regards to you all,   Tom


Terry, what a great friend and friend to our company. He's the type of friend that I cannot remember the years I knew him. Terry was a very direct man, and you always knew were you stood with him. You stood well if you were straight with him whether he liked what you were saying or not, but any waffling or sucking up and you were toast! I really liked and respected him to the fullest and conversations with Terry were never dull and always informative on whatever subject, didn't matter, the man was always full of information. Our company has been involved with quite a few of Terry's projects that he funded like SEAS, the fantastic organization that gets disabled people of all kinds sailing and racing, like the blind and totally incapacitated, simply amazing. He totally funded the women’s match racing program for the Olympics including the boats or there would not have been a woman's match racing in the games and then he was treated badly after the succeeding Olympics dropped the woman's program only after one shot and all the boats around the world and work were worthless. We all were shocked, but Terry never flinched, he's the man that doesn't delve on the wrongs that’s been done to him, but only looks forward and simply says, "Let’s get on with it!" Those are only two examples of many of his generosity to the sailing world. Man, he was a good one, the best, I'll miss him big time.---------Peter

Dave Perry Shares Experience Coaching Blind Match Racers

Recently I was fortunate to have the opportunity to run a North U Match Racing Clinic for the vision impaired sailors preparing for the 2016 World Sailing Blind Match Racing World Championship, being held at the Sheboygan Yacht Club in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, September 21-25, 2016, and sponsored by Sail Sheboygan and SEAS. Four teams participated, coming from California, Canada, Great Britain, and a team composed of sailors from Massachusetts and Sheboygan. Though each team had a sighted coach, they race with no sighted person on board. Truly amazing!

The clinic was in the Sonars they are racing in the Worlds, with three sailors to a boat. The skipper is required to be 100% blind, and the two others can have varying degrees of vision impairment. They had some goggles I could wear to experience what their vision ability was like. One common view is like looking through wax paper. You can make out shades and rough shapes, but there is no clarity. The other is like looking down a straw, but the straw is in a different place in each eye. They can see what they see clearly, but it is tiny. And they have no depth perception. Plus, if they lose sight of it, it takes them a while to search around to find it again.

They use two marks to form their starting line, each making a unique sound, and a windward mark with its own sound. They sail the traditional match racing course (W-L-W-Finish), but use the pin end of the starting line as the leeward mark. Each boat has a noise maker which makes a different sound on each tack.

In addition to the sounds of the marks, they have watches that beep and vibrate, and they are talking with each other as normal, so their world onboard is very loud! This is just one of their challenges. Another one is keeping track of where they are. If they lose track of the marks, they can get quite lost. And of course they need to be able to maintain the point of sail on which they want to sail. All this while trying to beat the other boat across the finishing line!

We spent most our time talking boat handling, speed and match racing tactics just like at all my other match racing clinics. We brainstormed ideas to address their challenges, and we had solid three hour training sessions on the water filled with drills, practice starts and races, and lots of feedback. We did a session about the Sonar on the dock, and we simulated the prestart and sailing the course on land, using the marks and doing the walk-throughs in real time. On the water, they were good at sailing the correct angles, the skippers feeling the wind on their heads, the angle of heel, and hearing the boat go through the water, and the trimmers feeling the actual sail and the angle of the boom.

What I loved the most was that every sailor and team was committed to improving, and to sharing their own experiences for the benefit of the others. Everyone’s attitude was that they were a group of sailors trying to get better at sailing and match racing, and their vision was just part of the puzzle to solve to become more successful. Each one of them loves sailing and being out on the water, and the challenge of racing. No different than any of us who love the sport.

To go sailing and racing, all these vision impaired sailors need is an invitation or some support from someone to be included in that person’s sailing experience. My experience with this racing community could not have been more positive. I encourage others to seek out the same positive experience by reaching out and including them as well. It is truly a win-win situation!

Great Britain takes gold

Skill, teamwork on display during Blind Match Racing World Championship




At the end of an abbreviated, jam-packed two-day regatta, Great Britain took the gold in the 2016 Blind Match Racing World Championship.

The British team (Skipper Vicki Sheen, Liam Cattermole and Lucy Hodges) won all but one match over the two days. The only team that could best them was Team Canada (Skipper David Brown, Brian Arthur and Laura Cammidge) who took a race off of them in the Finals, but it wasn’t enough to pry away the crown. USA 1 (Walter Raineri, Kris Scheppe and Scott Ford) took the bronze after a spirited Petit Final series with the Israeli team.

And though the scores don’t reflect it, Team Israel (Skipper Elad Rosenzvieg, Zohar Halevi and Yaniv Elimelech) and Team USA 2 (Mark Bos, BJ Blahnik and Matthew Chao) both showed great improvement in skill and technique as they continue to develop as competitive match racers.

Vicki, who is eager to bring blind match racing to new countries and sailing communities around the world, was gracious in victory and ready with a bit of sass for her Canadian friends.

“I put that team together by connecting the Canadians, David and Brian, with our British teammate Laura,” she joked. “That’s just not considerate, is it, for them to take a win off of us?” she said with a wry smile.

Chairman of Blind Sailing International and a three-time gold medalist in the Blind Match Racing World Championships, Vicki said she thinks the sport has an important role to play worldwide.

“You don’t need a fleet of boats, it really develops the sailor’s skills, it’s a flexible format – it’s really the way forward,” she said. “We’re excited to expand the discipline to other countries; they have got visually impaired sailors but they haven’t thought about match racing. We are working to change that.”

David Brown said he and his teammates continue to learn with every sail.

“Given that we haven’t sailed together on a team before we came here, we really came together as a team quite well,” he said. “It’s a team effort – you need everyone doing their job to make it successful.”

Para World Sailing Technical Delegate Sir Henry Sleutel said the entire event exceeded his expectations despite the weather problems.

“It was two days of perfect sailing,” Henry said. “In the race when David Brown beat Vicki Sheen, that was really something. Great sailing in very difficult conditions.”

Henry also credited the local organizations that took the lead on the logistics of the event: the Sheboygan Yacht Club, SEAS and Sail Sheboygan.

“This is such a fantastic club with so much knowledge,” he said.

Umpire Piero Occheto agreed, pointing out the army of volunteers who turned out Friday night to help with a fundraiser brat fry, which drew hundreds of people and raised more than $5,000 and awareness for SEAS’ adaptive sailing program.

“It’s not easy today to find as many volunteers as you have here,” Piero said. “Even in big events.”

“That’s how you see what a community you are,” Henry said. “It’s really fantastic.”

About halfway through the day’s racing, a member of USA2 experienced a medical issue that ended the team’s participation. Even that, however, went exactly as it was supposed to, Henry said, from the immediate response of fellow sailors, race officals, and coaches to the arrival of medical personnel.

“It was perfect,” he said.

Skipper Mark Bos was checked out medically and returned to the venue.

In the end, Henry said, the sport of blind match racing brings out the best in people.

“You see people sitting, talking, laughing, smiling” he said. “Then you see what sailing is.”

Thank you! Brats 4 Sail exceeded expectations

The Brats 4 Sail brat fry, held Friday night at the Sheboygan Yacht Club, was a success by any measure. Thanks to our sponsors and the hundreds of people who came out to eat and drink, dance and ooh and aah to the spectacular fireworks show at the end of the night, SEAS raised more than $5,000 for our adaptive sailing program.

Those funds will be used to grow the adaptive sailing program, which makes the possibility of sailing a reality for children and adults with a variety of disabilities.

Outreach and Administrative Director Lisa Hartman said the first order of business will be to build on the foundation that's already been established. The program has a robust blind sailing program and has commissioned a specially constructed seat that's installed in one SEAS' 23-foot Sonars for adults with severe physical limitations.

"We definitely want to do a lot more outreach to different types of organizations during the off season of sailing so that we can grow the program and include other disabilities," Lisa said.

To make that happen, Brats 4 Sail was a great start.

"It was phenomenal for our first time," Lisa said. "Not knowing what to expect, people just came out to support the program and find out more about what was going on. And also to enjoy some music. Everyone I talked to was so happy with the turnout."

The Johnsonville Big Taste Grill, which took up a large chunk of the Yacht Club's parking lot, was a big draw for attendees, as was King Solomon, a popular reggae band from Milwaukee. The evening was punctuated by a spectacular fireworks show off South Pier, by Bartolotta.

The overwhelming support for Brats 4 Sail already has organizers thinking about next year.

 "People were asking if this was going to become and annual event so need to seriously think about what we’re going to do," Lisa said.

One possibility organizers are considering is to turn Brats 4 Sail into a memorial fundraiser in memory of the late Terry Kohler, an ardent supporter of International Women's Match Racing and benefactor for the local sailing community, who died Sept. 20.

SEAS would like to extend another thank you, to all those who sponsored beer for the evening, for their continuous support:

  • Arms-R-Us
  • Jason and Heidi Bemis
  • Bronson Construction LLC
  • Jerry Gapinski
  • Jake's Cafe
  • Joe and Cindy Leitner
  • Edward and Karen Lutze
  • Mayer Law Firm SC
  • Curtis and Sue Roberts
  • Stump Eliminators
  • John Zechlinski and Karen Lutz


03 02 01 00 25 45 22 7

Random scenes from the Brats 4 Sail fundraiser Sept. 23 to benefit SEAS adaptive sailing program.


Highlights from Day Three

Take a look at Friday's race from the point of view of two leaders: Epic Racing's Stephanie Roble, USA, and Anna Östling from Sweden.

The long wait is finally over

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.”

Blind match racers challenge the women

Sailors stuck ashore due to fog in Sheboygan

Canadian Elizabeth Shaw was one of the sighted skippers of the Buddy Melges Challenge, the 3rd event of the 2016 WIM Series and also the Women's Match Racing World Championship, who were challenged by Vicki Sheen, British skipper from the Blind Match Racing World Championship in Sheboygan. Photo: Niklas Axhede/WIM Series.

Fog and lack of wind continue to cause problems for the Buddy Melges Challenge, the third event of the 2016 WIM Series and also the Women’s Match Racing World Championship. In the difficult Thursday conditions, Principal Race Officer Rich Reichelsdorfer couldn’t get any racing at all going. 

“It looked good for a little bit around midday, but then the fog rolled in again,” he said.

However, there is one category of sailors in Sheboygan right now that don’t care at all about the fog. As a matter of fact they don’t even care about darkness. They’re simply ready to go match racing in any visibility conditions. Who are they? The blind sailors from five nations who are in Sheboygan for their Blind Match Racing World Championship, run parallel to the women’s event. But unfortunately they need sighted people to put out their buoys, set a proper course and umpire the racing, so they weren’t allowed to race on Thursday either.

Instead of match racing on Lake Michigan, the sailors gathered Thursday afternoon at the Sheboygan Yacht Club courtyard. There the blind sailors through land exercises demonstrated and gave the sighted women sailors some insight into how their match racing works. First of all the blind sailors have the same course, the same umpires and pretty much the same set of rules as the sighted women sailors. And they are sailing the slightly different Sonar boats instead of the Elliott 6Ms. The really big difference is that they use a number of different sounds to mark their racing course, as well as to describe what tack each boat is sailing on.

The sighted sailor, who thinks it’s enough of a problem to sort out the normal sound signals from the committee boat, may have become just a little bit more confused during the demonstration. The blind sailors are forced to keep all the following signals in mind:

  • Two signals from the buoys marking the starting line, one of which is also the bottom mark.
  • A special sound from the weather mark.
  • Two different sounds from a tweeting box in each boat, signalling whether the boat is on port or on starboard tack, in order to know who’s supposed to give way.

To distinguish all these signals is hard for any sailor on a shore demonstration, but proves even worse out there on the water. An experience some of the sighted sailors got as they, with completely black goggles covering their eyes, went out to sail practice races against a blind team led by British skipper Vicki Sheen.

“Your world is what you feel underneath you, and with your fingertips," she said. "You’re feeling everything through your hands and through your body, since you’ve got such a reduced visual sense."

For Canadian sighted skipper Elizabeth Shaw, the practice race against the blind team was, if we may call it so, an eye-opener.

“We had the two marks beeping, we had the tweeting boxes going off on our boat and on their boat, and then there was a fog horn going off, and then there was a bit of noise within our boat and motorboats going around. It got very confusing, very quickly,” she said.

“It’s pretty incredible what those athletes are able to achieve and focus on. Everybody has a job on board, it’s just like what we do, but you take away your sense of sight,” she said.

So the day was not completely wasted, as the blind racers earned new respect from the top women match racers at the World Championship.

The weather hoaxed Sheboygan sailors

2016 WIM Series third event delayed by endlessly shifting winds


“If you don’t like the weather in Sheboygan, just wait 15 minutes." The local proverb has probably never been more appropriate than during Wednesday, when racing in the Buddy Melges Challenge, the 2016 WIM Series third event and also the Women’s Match Racing World Championship, should have kicked off. Result: No racing at all.

“We started two matches, but the breeze didn’t last more than 15 minutes at a time,” said Principal Race Officer Rich Reichelsdorfer.

A warm front with strong winds, thunder and heavy rain passed Sheboygan early Wednesday morning, leaving behind not only very unstable conditions, but also occasional fog. The very challenging weather conditions really put the regatta organizers to the test.

After an hour’s postponement in the foggy morning, the sailors were sent out on Lake Michigan, just to learn that wind shifts of 90–180 degrees made it impossible for the race management to set a proper course. A few matches got into starting sequence, but none could be sailed all the way to the finish. Sailors were sent ashore again to wait, and at 3 p.m. Rich Reichelsdorfer canceled all racing for the day.

“We’re expecting a new front within just a few hours, so it’s better to get all set before that front arrives” he said.

For Samantha Norman from New Zealand, the difficult weather in Sheboygan was no surprise. She won the very first edition of the Buddy Melges Challenge, back in 2009, and finished runner-up behind Australian Nicky Souter the year after that.

“I think it was pretty similar conditions the last time we were here. Nice and foggy with shifty winds and big waves,” Norman said, still happy to be back on Lake Michigan for some match racing. “We haven’t matched up against these girls for a number of years now, so we’ll just do our best out there and we’ll see what happens."

Given the circumstances, the double round-robin will now have to begin Thursday instead, followed by quarterfinals, and then the semis and the final matches over the weekend. There are no plans yet to change the event format.

“No, we’re still early in a five-day regatta, so we’ll just wait and see,” Rich Reichelsdorfer said.