There was a clear and present theme that spontaneously tied together the two very different speeches of US Sailing’s 2018 Rolex Yachtswoman and Yachtsman of the Year Award recipients.
From behind podium in the Model Room of the New York Yacht Club’s 44th Street Clubhouse, the message from both champion sailors was clear: greatness comes not only from oneself, but from a much larger base of support.
Take Erika Reineke, for example, the outstanding young Floridian sailor and byproduct of Lauderdale YC’s high-powered sailing program. Reineke’s family came late to the sport of sailing, nudging her into South Florida’s cutthroat Optimist dinghy scene at an early age. Reineke says she hated it, but her mom’s cookies got her though tough times and tears. Eventually, she caught on to it. When exactly the switch flipped she cannot say, but she does recall one particular trophy presentation as wide-eyed White Fleeter that could have been the moment.
There she was, sitting on the floor along with all the other kids, waiting for her participation trophy at the annual end-of-season junior sailing banquet. On stage helping pass out the hardware was local Olympic 470 silver medalist Morgan Reeser, his own silver hardware from Barcelona reflecting in bright light beam.
When she had the chance to meet him, all she could muster was the coy smile of a young blonde sailor, and an “OK…thanks,” before dashing outside to play tag with the other kids. That moment, that medal, she realizes now, was a jagged point of inspiration.
Then there’s her Boston College sailing college coach, Greg Wilkinson, who for five years dished out tough love and practical wisdom. To be named the Female College Sailor of the Year is a big deal. Four years is remarkable, but there was Reineke and Wilkinson, together atop the heap, year after year. Reineke still holds dear the worn-paper notes Wilkinson would pass to her between races; nuggets of knowledge that led her to one college sailing victory after another, notes that helped simplify her focus and separate emotion from pressures encountered on the racecourse.
Now she’s the charge of Malcom Page, the new big-time boss of the US Sailing Team. Despite a gold medal at her first international event in 2017, there’s a lot of work to do, and a lot of sailing miles between Florida and Tokyo, but her talent is innate and the path is clear.
She’s young-there’s decades between herself and Yachtsman of the Year, Peter Duncan, a world champion of the J/70 class and top Etchells helmsman. Duncan, of Rye, New York’s American YC, has been at the game for a long time, racing with his family early on, alongside the family dog. A Long Island Sound water rat of sorts, Duncan took to the casually early on and taught sailing as a summer sailing job through college. He went on to a lucrative career in New York real estate, kids, family and all of that, but the Etchells was his entre to top-level racing. It’s kept him there as well, and now that he’s an empty nester, he’s free to dive in deep. He’s dabbled in other classes – Melges 20 and Melges 24- but the J/70 is the new demand on his attention. Between late 2016 and 2017, he says, he racked up more than 100 days of sailing with A-List crews to get him up to speed.
One of those sailing days, he recalls, was an inglorious tuning session in England. Smitten with blistering speeds downwind on the Solent that day, he’d neglected to notice one well-marked and well-known shoal and bricked the boat at full pace.
Live and learn.
The team that ultimately got Duncan to the dance at the Audi J/70 World Championships in Porto Cervo, Italy, last year were Jud Smith, the white-haired sailmaker from Marblehead and Yachtsman of the Year, who did bow and strategy, and the dynamic duo of Willem Van Waay and Victor Diaz de Leon. Van Waay, says Duncan, is the best trimmer and overall enthusiast he’s ever sailed with. It’s widely known in the class, that if you can tap Van Waay, you’re guaranteed a place at the front of the fleet. Same goes for his protégé Diaz de Leon.
Beyond acknowledging his sailing teammates, Duncan concluded his remarks to the Rolex luncheon attendees with a nod to his family; a wife that understands his commitment to win sailboat races, and the kids understood he had to do his thing. Like Reineke, he acknowledges, he is nothing, without the mountain of support that holds him above the rest and allows him to strive for excellence.