Helly Hansen Junior Crew Gets a Taste of Big Boat Sailing

Three days of "big boat" sailing at the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta in Annapolis have four local youth sailors chomping at the bit for more.

Sailors are a superstitious bunch, and the same goes for the youth sailors aboard J/105 More Cowbell. During a race on Saturday, bowman Andrew Hiller was hungry, and reached into the pocket of his PFD to grab a snack, but his team wouldn't let him. "The fruit rollup was in his PFD when we were winning the race," says skipper Kate Riley. "So, it was staying there until we finished that race."

Riley (16) is one of four Annapolis YC Youth Sailors selected by coach Jane Millman to the Helly Hansen Junior Crew. Ben Podlich (15), Andrew Hiller (14), and Annabelle Hutchinson (17) round out the squad. The Junior Crew sailed, with Millman and another adult aboard, in the18-strong J/105 class. As they head down to the boat on Sunday morning to complete the regatta, Podlich carries a brand new box of fruit roll ups in his bag.

“I chose four kids who love to sail first, and love winning second, because I think that’s a recipe for success,” says Millman. “I chose Ben because he has a goofy side to him, but when it’s game time he’s really serious. Kate is a good driver and very focused. She’s handling a really large boat, compared to a dinghy, well this weekend. I chose Annabelle because she has a positive attitude to bring to the team, and if things are going wrong I can count on her to keep our morale up. Andrew is a part of the team because, even though he’s the youngest on the team, I see a lot of keelboat sailing in his future and I want to start him young.”

Pendleton Alexander, an AYC member who was speaking at a conference this weekend, made the opportunity possible. Alexander handed over the keys to his race boat with full confidence in Millman and the AYC youth sailors. Strategy in a keelboat fleet is vastly different than the experience in dinghies, and the four youth sailors enjoyed the change of pace. “It’s fun, even though it’s been difficult getting used to the boat,” says Podlich.

Helly Hansen NOOD Sailing Regatta in Annapolis Junior Crew
The Helly Hansen Junior Crew continued to work on boat handling and communication during Sunday's racing, earning two mid-fleet finishes, and climbing up in position.Paul Todd/Outside Images

The Junior Crew all sail on different teams, though Millman coaches them all. “Having to communicate every last thing has been challenging but also really helpful,” says Podlich. “It’s something we’ll be able to use again.”

Tactics on long-leg races are a change from the small dinghy races the Junior Crew sailors are used to, where starts are the most vital aspect of any race. “The races are long enough that, if you mess up the start, it’s not a death sentence,” says Podlich. “You can only work back from it. We had a not-great start yesterday, but ended up catching five boats by the end of the race. It wasn’t the best race I’ve ever had but I was happy with our performance.”

They finish the regatta in 11th overall, with one 7th place race finish on their scorecard. For these four youth sailors, the Junior Crew is an early step onto the path of their adult sailing career. “You don’t get to stay in a dinghy forever, or stay in high school forever,” says Podlich. “It’s the future for all of us, and it’s a great opportunity to get to sail keelboats as early as we are.”