Patrick Whitmarsh, Kevin Richards and Joe Penrod won the inaugural American Sailing League Championship off Pier 39, and with it a check for $10,000. The trio sailed Team Harken to a convincing win that saw them take the last five qualifying races leading up to the one championship race sailed for all the marbles Sunday afternoon in strengthening breeze into the low 20s. The event featured the 18-footers, as well as an exhibition event for junior sailors in 29ers picking their way through all the traffic in that busy part of the Bay.
Although five boats lined up for the weekend’s racing, only four made it to the start of the championship race when Archie Massey’s Team Cabot Cheese broke its prod prior to the penultimate qualifying race. Then, before the sequence for the championship race, the field of four was further reduced when SwitchTeam capsized, shredding its main in the process.
That left Chad Freitas’ skiffsailing.org, Team Harken and Team Natural Blues to fight it out for the $10,000. skiffsailing.org took the start of the race and worked inside to escape the flood, rounding the top mark in first, a lead they would hold for the next three legs of the four-lap course. Team Harken kept it close, gradually making gains on each successive leg before slipping inside the leaders at the second leeward mark rounding. Coming back up to the starting gate, which also functioned as a limiting gate to keep the boats close to the spectators on Pier 39, the two boats were deadlocked. skiffsailing.org kept to their inside avoid-the-flood strategy, while Team Harken punched out toward Alcatraz. When they met again at the weather mark, Team Harken crossed 4-5 boatlengths ahead and never relinquished their lead.
Between receiving a ceremonial prize check on the stage at the end of Pier 39 and signing t-shirts, the team members gave their thoughts on the event. Whitmarsh, a bookkeeper at Quint P.R. in Redwood City by day, who’s sailed the boats in Australia before, was excited about the event’s prospects. "I think it could be really fun in the future if it gets going," he said. Penrod, an Alameda County Public Defender, said the prize money will be going back into the Skiff Sailing Foundation with which almost all the competitors have some affiliation, including the 29er teams. "It was really cool to have the kids out there on the 29ers — they’re the next generation." Richards, a Civil Engineer specializing in water issues for the East Bay Municipal Utilities District added that the money would either go for new equipment or a trip to Australia to match up against the best 18-ft skiff programs.
With two title sponsors — Cabot Cheese and Switch Clothing — a VIP lounge, announcers, and good pace to the schedule of events, organizers Jeff Causey and Tom Loughborough, plus the 30 volunteers they had working for them put together a pretty remarkable first go and seemed to have the logistics nailed down. Time will tell if the American Sailing League will turn into something with staying power.