The first weekend of June, I sailed in the Robie Pierce One-Design Regatta for sailors with disabilities. New York’s Larchmont and American Yacht Clubs have jointly run this event that draws sailors from all over the East Coast of the USA and Canada to race on the clubs’ Ideal 18s. Fifteen teams competed this year. The boats sail with two sailors with disabilities along with an able-bodied (AB) sailor to help out and be a safety officer.
Competitors who are amputees, paraplegics, quadriplegics, as well as those with neurological issues, vision-impairment and fully blind sailors competed. This was my first time sailing in the Robie and I was the AB for my good friend Kory Breitel who suffered a stroke five years ago and Julian Klus, who had never sailed before. Even though Kory lost the use of his dominant right arm, he has trained himself to use his left arm to drive his car and a boat along with being able to shoot pistols competitively. Watching Kory excel on the racecourse while joking around in the boat with us was a great way to spend the weekend. I expect we will see Julian on the water again as he got hooked on sailing.
For me, I it was truly inspiring to be part of the regatta. Helping Kory was only part of it. I got to see life-long sailors continuing to compete even after suffering great physical setbacks. One site I will never forget is watching the blind helmsman turning around and looking astern as he drove downwind. As a sighted sailor, I always look where I’m going, but for the blind sailor he could steer a straight course by feeling the wind on his face. And did I say, he was ahead of us? Kudos to all the race organizers and volunteers for making this great event possible.
While the weather didn’t cooperate on Friday and Saturday, Sunday allowed the Larchmont Race committee to run two races before the wind built over 18 knots, which forced the fleet back to the dock. In the very light and shifty first race, Kory caught the last puff and passed two boats just before the finish to take first. In the second and final race, he finished third. Those two scores were good enough to win the regatta, which put the cherry on top of a great event.
Named after Robie Pierce, a disabled sailor himself and a driving force in sailing with disabilities in the U.S., this regatta was conceived by the Flag Officers of the Larchmont and American Yacht Clubs to be run jointly by the Clubs and hosted by each on alternating years. 2009’s inaugural regatta at American Yacht Club drew 22 teams sailing in specially adapted Ideal 18s. 2011 saw the inauguration of the first all-women’s disabled regatta.
For those of you who never had the pleasure of meeting Robie Pierce, he was a wonderful man who worked tirelessly to bring adaptive sailing to a larger group. He was a sailor who battled MS for over 30 years and his illness fueled his passion to create new adaptive sailing and training opportunities. Leading the way, he continued to sail after being diagnosed and was most proud of winning the World Disabled Sailing Championship in 1993. According to Buttons Padin, a co-chair of the event, “We lost Robie in 2017 and though we promised Robie that we would never call this the Robie Pierce Memorial Regatta, he did agree that we could toast him each year.”
Article lead image credit to Maureen Koeppel.