Six teams representing Australia, Italy, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States competed in the IFDS Disabled Sailing World Blind Match Racing Championship, held at the U.S. Sailing Center Sheboygan, Wisconsin on September 10-14.
The regatta was raced in Sail Sheboygan’s evenly matched Sonar fleet with sounding systems that indicate which tack the boat is on, as well as Homerus Autonomous Sailing System marks that each give a unique sound for the competitors to track. All three sailors on the Sonar are blind with a sighted coach following in a RIB during the actual race. The coach is not allowed to communicate with their team until after the match has finished.
Conditions were less than ideal on Wednesday with racing canceled due to strong winds and large waves signaling a cold front that dropped the temperatures for Thursday’s racing.
Racing on Thursday began with the competitors sailing relatively conservatively as they began to feel out their competition and the unfamiliar conditions of Lake Michigan. Racing was made complicated by three to four foot swells that would distort the sound made by the Homerus marks as well as shifty winds.
Friday brought more cool weather and some light rain with a 5-10 knots and a settled sea. Competitors began sailing more aggressively and there were some close matches. The first round robin was completed with Vicki Sheen and the British team undefeated after five races, Kylie Forth and the Australians were one race behind at four wins and Danilo Malerba’s Italian team come in third with three wins. The other Italian team skippered by Luigi Bertanza is in fourth followed by David Brown and the Canadians and Kris Scheppe for the United States in sixth.
Saturday saw light breeze but a beautiful day of racing as two round robins were completed for the Category 1 teams (those who can see only light contrast or nothing) and a single round round robin for the Category 2 teams (those who have some limited sight). For both classifications, the skipper must be Category 1.
The Semi-Finals and Finals for the Championship were held Sunday. In the Category 1 Final, Kylie Forth, Ryan Honshooten and Erin McGlew (AUS) came from 0–1 down to take three straight wins and the title from Luigi Bertanza, Alberto Prudenzano and Enrico Sosio (ITA). Meanwhile in Category 2, Vicki Sheen, Lucy Hodges and Liam Cattermole (GBR) took the clean sweep beating Danilo Malerba, Alessandro Malipiero and Elisabetta Bardella (ITA) 3–0 and in an impressive display of sailing remain undefeated throughout the entire competition with 10 straight wins.
The event was put on by a collective group of organizations. Sail Sheboygan, the Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan (SEAS), and the Sheboygan Yacht Club have headed the racing aspects with amazing shoreside support provided by the Lions Club and Rehabilitation Center of Sheboygan (RCS) and others. The event also coincides with the launch of an adaptive sailing program in Sheboygan ran by SEAS which has purchased a set of the Homerus marks to continue training blind sailors for future events.
Report by Matt Wierzbach. Photo by Chris Gribble.