Since 2001, we’ve presented a Junior All-Star list of high-achieving young sailors from around the United States. Many of these sailors have become collegiate All Americans, Olympians, and champions in a variety of classes. There are many sailing opportunities for young people today thanks to dedicated parents, forward-thinking yacht clubs, and managers of high school sailing programs. Most of these young people get to know each other as they race throughout the country and the world. These are friendships that will last a lifetime, and the competition helps build skills and character.
In order to create our list, I review the results of dozens of junior regattas, consult with coaches, and look for special achievements that stand out. In truth, our list could easily number over 100 sailors. Here, we present five sailors who represent an impressive cross section of junior sailing in the United States today.
Nic Baird, 16, grew up watching his father, Ed, earn a Rolex Yachtsman of the Year title, win multiple world championships, and drive Alinghi to an America’s Cup win. That’s a big legacy to live up to, but Baird and his older brother, Ty, have been building their own strong resumes. In 2013, Baird won the U.S. Junior Singlehanded Championship for the Smythe Trophy and finished in the top 10 at the Laser Radial North Americans, Cressy Nationals, U.S. Youth Sailing Championship, and the Orange Bowl.
Baird started sailing Optimists out of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) YC and now races for the Shorecrest Prep School. His main focus is on singlehanded classes, but he also likes the 29er and the club’s junior offshore boat, the Frers 30.
He credits his family for his success: “My dad has shown me what is possible in the sport of sailing along with my mom—they have given me their total support. My brother, Ty, has been my training partner.” Looking ahead, Baird says, “I hope that joining a sailing team will be a major part of my college experience.”
Jack Barton, 18, of San Anselmo, Calif., won the U.S. Triplehanded Championship for the Sears Cup for the second consecutive year in 2013 with crew Sammy Shea, Alex Moody, and brother Sam Barton. Barton understands that improving is a process: “No matter how good you get at sailing, there will always be more to learn, and there is always someone in another fleet who can beat you. That’s motivating because it shows there’s no end to what you can achieve if you’re a truly dedicated sailor.”
Barton started sailing Optimists at the age of 6 and has since focused on Lasers and J/22s. His home club is the San Francisco YC, and he also crews on a Santa Cruz 37, Tiburon.
Looking ahead, Barton would like to get more involved with match racing, and he hopes to attend the California Maritime Academy next year. When asked about his mentors, Barton says, “My father has always inspired me; seeing his success in the sport has motivated me more than anything.” However, he does mention an unfortunate incident when he was 9: “I sailed a Mercury with my dad. One race he let me skipper. I couldn’t find a hole at the start and ended up sailing through the side of the committee boat—a 17-foot Boston Whaler.”
Casey Klingler, 17, races out of Larchmont (N.Y.) YC, and she’s on the Hotchkiss School Sailing Team. She was part of the team that finished third at the 2013 Mallory Cup. In 2013, Casey and her crew, Fiona Walsh, also traveled to Limassol, Cyprus, where they placed 11th at the ISAF Youth World Championship in the Girl’s International 420. Meg Gerli sailed with Klingler at the 2013 International 420 Worlds in Valencia, Spain, where they were the top female U.S. team.
Klingler started sailing Optimists at age 7. Both of her parents are active sailors, and she races a J/70 with her father. Her grandfather, Butch Ulmer, is one of America’s most accomplished sailors. Next year, Klingler will join the sailing team at Yale. “I decided I wanted to go to Yale when I was in eighth grade,” she says. “It has the right combination for me of challenging academics and a very competitive sailing team, with a great coach.”
Klingler credits her coaches with her growth in sailing: “Steve Keen has been great at teaching me technique and keeping me focused on fitness. Elizabeth Kratzig really helped me with teamwork. Zach Leonard has helped me learn to maintain mental toughness during regattas.” Leonard will be one of Casey’s coaches at Yale.
Elena VandenBerg, 18, races out of the Annapolis (Md.) YC, and she’s the co-captain of the Archbishop Spalding High School Sailing Team. She, too, started at the age of 7 in an Optimist, and currently prefers one-design racing. “My favorite boats are Club 420s and J/105s—the fleet on the [Chesapeake] Bay is very competitive.”
Vandenberg has been racing for the past four years with Lilli Salvesen, of Annapolis, and also with Amelia Hardy, from Richmond, Calif. Junior sailing is an important part of her life. “I have had the opportunity to travel to a lot of amazing places and meet a lot of new friends.”
Her hard work has paid off: She finished 11th out of 102 Club 420 teams at the 2013 Orange Bowl and in the top 10 in the Club 420 at the Buzzards Bay Regatta, the Club 420 North Americans, the U.S. Youth Sailing Championship, and the U.S. Junior Women’s Doublehanded Championship. Next year, she’ll attend Stanford and plans to sail on the team there. When asked about her inspirations, she says, “Adrienne Patterson is the one person who really stands out. She got me really excited about sailing, worked with me during my transition from the Opti to Club 420, and helped me get to the next level.”
Duncan Williford, 18, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., sails out of the Lauderdale YC. The club has worked hard to build a strong junior program, and Williford shows that the effort is really starting to pay off. Williford also races on the St. Thomas Aquinas Sailing Team.
With his crew, Matthew Mollerus, Williford won the 2013 U.S. Youth Championship in the 29er class with eight first-place finishes in 14 races. The duo also placed ninth at the 29er World Championship in Denmark last summer. He likes the 29er for its high performance and fast pace, and looking ahead, he’d like to race a 49er and eventually reach the Olympics.
Williford credits his twin brother, Christopher, as the person who has been most influential in his sailing (Christopher was on our 2010 Junior All-Star list): “We started sailing together and have pushed each other every day since.”
As for motivation, Williford says, “Sailing is special because you’re given the opportunity to compete internationally at a young age. There’s no better motivation than knowing you’re competing against the best in the world.”
For an embarrassing moment, he recalls an Opti green fleet start: “At 30 seconds to go, I accidentally ran into the back of Christopher’s boat, knocking him in the water. He still ended up winning the regatta, but I earned myself an honorary mention at the awards.”
All-Star Honorable Mentions
Lindsey Baab, Cat Feder, Henry Fernberger, Haddon Hughes, Marion Lepert, Charlie Lomax, Luke Muller, Maximo Nores, Ravi Parent, Dana Rohde, Nicholas Sertl, Carolyn Smith, Kristopher Swanson, Allie Toppa, Wade Waddell
This article first appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Sailing World. Click here to read more from Gary Jobson.