Flying a Hull at Oakcliff

A partnership between the Oakcliff Sailing Center and the U.S. Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider is primed for success.

Sailing World

Oakcliff Nacra 17

Nacra 17 training at Oakcliff Sailing CenterUS Sailing Team

“Puff in 3, 2, 1, here it is.”

Our windward hull floats above the water, and all of sudden, it’s quiet. We carve down a few degrees. “Hold here.”

Just before our windward hull touches down, I hear, “Come up here.”

The hull flies higher as we carve up, preserving the silence.

John Casey is guiding me through steering the Nacra 17 downwind. It’s a warm day on Long Island Sound, and the breeze has built just enough to gently fly a hull. In the distance, another Nacra 17 and a few 49erFXs head back toward the beach on Oyster Bay.

The presence of Olympic class dinghies on Long Island Sound will soon be commonplace, and Casey, along with other members of the U.S. squad have been enjoying the new digs for the past week. It’s the official grand opening of the Oakcliff Sailing Center as US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider training grounds, and there’s a palpable enthusiasm in the air.

"We like to say that people come here with dreams, and we give them the tools to achieve those dreams," says Dawn Riley as she gives me a tour of the sailing center on 4 South St., which now has eight each of the Nacra 17, 49er, and 49erFX on the beach a short walk away from the facility.

The availability of Olympic class boats at Oakcliff, through the generosity of the Lawrence family, will help the U.S. team reach their medal goals for Rio and beyond, explains Josh Adams, managing director of U.S. Olympic Sailing, from a red truck emblazoned with American flags and US Sailing Team banners at the opening ceremony. “We’re trying to improve domestic training here in the U.S. and build the base of Olympic class sailors,” says Adams. “The more Olympic class sailors we get, the better we’re going to do at the Olympics, and the more we’re going to be able to sustain performance.

The grand opening

“By having three fleets of boats here, we have a camp, a place where we can do a lot of training with our team sailors, but almost as important, this is a great venue for young, talented sailors in the U.S. to get their feet wet in Olympic class sailing.”

Earlier, on our walk down to the beach, Adams explained to me a few more specifics of the partnership. “By and large, the boats are going to live here, they’re going to sail here, and they’re going to race here. There are four different types of sailors who will benefit from this: the high-end team sailor, then you have development team sailors who are our future talent coming along, then talented sailors around the country who are identified as promising Olympic sailors, and then the sailors who come through Oakcliff who will get exposure in the boats.”

Riley expanded further on that notion: “We’re very happy to have this training center which—before we could help people achieve their dreams of doing the America’s Cup, of running a business, of sailing around the world—now hopefully we'll be helping people go to the Olympics and win medals.”

Already, the U.S. team athletes are seeing the benefits. Team members Paris Henken and Helena Scutt, freshly back from a first-place finish in the 49erFX class at CORK, are racing against seven other female teams at the 49erFX U.S. National Championship on Oyster Bay this weekend. Casey and skipper Sarah Newberry used one of the Oakcliff boats in Europe earlier this year, and this weekend, Oakcliff will host an additional five Nacra 17s for the Nacra 17 Nationals for a grand total of 13—the biggest domestic gathering to date.

In a blog posted on the day of the center opening, Newberry notes, "Thanks to all of the work that U.S. Sailing and Oakcliff Sailing Center have done, this week John and I are in Long Island, to train with the U.S., Canadian, and Puerto Rican teams. On Saturday we will race in the first ever Nacra 17 US National Championship. The fleet is filled with some of the best young multihull sailors in the country, many former Olympians, and all-around sailing greats like Enrique Figueroa, Bob Merrick, Robbie Daniel, and my personal favorite, John Casey.

“There is so much talent and energy here, and it is so incredible to be in our element—working hard in the boat park and on the water—while being surrounded by other people who love this sport as much as we do.”

That passion, along with a well-executed partnership between Oakcliff and the U.S. team, will go a long way to flying a hull in Rio.