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Rising Stars of American Sailing

Top juniors sailors are excelling across many classes today and Gary Jobson highlights his All-Star Juniors

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Kay Brunsvold and Cooper Delbridge
Kay Brunsvold and Cooper Delbridge finished second in the Nacra 15 at the Youth Sailing World Championships in Oman. Lloyd Images

American sailors excelled at the Youth Sailing World Championships this past December in Mussanah, Oman. The impressive performances inspired me to revisit our Jobson Junior All-Star ­recognitions, which we introduced in 2001. Our roster of 141 All-Star ­candidates (ranging from 13 to 18 years of age) reads like a Who’s Who of top sailors over the past two decades. In 2001, Andrew Campbell, Molly Carapiet, Clay Johnson, Paige Railey and her brother Zach were on the list. Since that first year, many others continued on to amazing careers, including Olympic sailors Caleb Paine, Charlie Buckingham, Stephanie Roble, Thomas Barrows, Joe Morris, Annie Haeger, Briana Provancha and Graham Biehl.

Others have won national championships, including Harry Melges IV, Vincent Porter and Taylor Canfield. Two-thirds of the sailors were selected as All-Americans in college. In 1921, the Sears Cup was created specifically for young sailors. Once upon a time, there were few high-level events for American youth sailors, but today there are dozens of major events across the country, which only makes our final selection all the more challenging. My quest to embrace a cross section of talented American sailors started with a list of more than 400, and here we present the finalists. Like those who came before them, I fully expect we’ll be reading about this year’s All‑Stars in the coming years, so let’s get to it.

Kay Brunsvold, 18, of Sarasota, Florida, and Cooper Delbridge, 18, of Englewood, Florida, finished second in the Mixed Nacra 15 class at the Youth Sailing World Championships in Oman. Brunsvold, who has been racing for eight years, recently explained her routine leading to the Worlds: “I practiced four days per week. This was two days in the Club 420 and two days in the multihull. It was about 20 hours per week.”

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Brunsvold credits her improvement to her coach of the past four years, Nicholas Lovisa. “He has kept my passion for sailing alive,” she says. “He became my Club 420 coach and inspired me to take my sailing to the next level. He made the practices serious and yet fun.”

Brunsvold teamed up with crew Cooper Delbridge a few months before the Worlds. “We worked hard developing our skills in the short time,” she says. “I love high-­performance catamarans like the F18s and F16s. The more I sail, the more meditative it becomes to me.”

Brunsvold has been accepted to the University of South Florida and plans to race with the team and continue sailing after college. Delbridge also plans to race in college but says, “The ‘where’ is still up in the air.” Remarking on the ­second-place finish at the Worlds, Delbridge says: “Kay and I never had any experience at any international events before. Our training squad here in the States and the progress we were able to make through our own self-­motivation helped our performance.”

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Delbridge is philosophical about racing sailboats and says: “The best feeling in sailing is when a race ends up as close to perfect as possible. I know that hitting every wave, shift and maneuver just right is nearly impossible, but there is nothing better than feeling the edge of that threshold.”

future stars of sailing
Clockwise from top left: Noah Zitter, Sophie Fisher, Katherine McNamara, Ian Nyenhuis, Vanessa Lahrkamp (center), Kyle Pfrang, Anton Schmid, Chapman Petersen, Noah Nyenhuis. Illustrations by Guy Parsons

Vanessa Lahrkamp, 18, and Katherine McNamara, 18, grew up sailing out of American YC. They have been racing for 10 years and started in Optimist dinghies. Last fall, they were the first American sailors to win the International 420 Women’s World Championship.

Lahrkamp and McNamara placed third at the Europeans and second in the 420 class at the Youth Sailing Worlds in Oman. The pair have had a rigorous schedule that includes sailing on Long Island Sound in the fall and spring, training in Miami in the winter, and competing in Europe in the summer. It’s a full-time ­schedule of racing and training, and their dedication has made a difference.

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McNamara explains her philosophy: “Winning is always the primary motivator,” she says. “Every day on the water is different. I’ve met some of my best friends along the way, and despite the fact that we are competitors on the water, we always manage to have a good time off the water.” 

Lahrkamp credits her coach for her improvement: “Steve [Keen] taught me how to deal with nerves and pressure.” In the fall, she will attend and sail for Stanford University. “I want to compete at the highest level of college sailing,” she adds. “I would also like to sail the Newport to Bermuda Race with my father.”

McNamara will attend Brown University this year, and looking ahead, both sailors aspire to compete in the Olympic Games after college—the 49erFX intrigues them both.

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Charlotte Leigh, 19, of Miami and Sophie Fisher, 17, of Newport, Rhode Island, raced together in the female 29er Youth Sailing World Championship and placed second. Both sailors talk about the importance of practice.

“Leading up to the Youth Worlds, we were actually pretty limited when we could train,” Leigh says. “We made the best of the time we did have, though. The amount of time I think about sailing has to count for something too!”

Fisher says she sails the 420 about six days per week for her high school sailing team throughout the spring and fall terms. In the summer, she spends most of the time in the 29er. When asked about her feelings after winning the silver medal at the Worlds, Leigh says, “Our teamwork and friendship will be far more memorable than the medal.”

Fisher will attend Stanford in the fall and plans to race with the sailing team. When asked about any funny moments on the water, Fisher tells the story of one particular rescue. “I, unfortunately, flipped in the channel [anchorage] during the Newport Folk Festival. We were unable to right the boat because we were too light. A woman passing by with her family saw the situation and jumped in fully clothed to help!”

Leigh plans to continue racing in college, and her motivation is clear: “There’s always room for improvement, and the learning is ceaseless.”

Brothers Noah Nyenhuis, 17, and Ian Nyenhuis, 15, are from San Diego and got off to a slow start in sailing. “It started simply with a picture and a desire to stop sailing Sabots,” Noah says. “Our uncle found an old boat that needed a lot of work, but with the help of our family we were able to get the boat ­sailable. The first time Ian and I tried to sail by ourselves, we capsized and couldn’t get back into the boat. So, we took it to our backyard, laid out a tarp and ‘sailed’ it in our backyard. After that, we just sailed every day after school and put in hours and hours in the boat, and everything just took off from there.”

Looking ahead, the ­brothers hope to compete in the Olympics when they are hosted off Long Beach in 2028. Noah credits his mother for his rise in sailing: “She has done nearly everything in the sailing world and showed us how goals can be reached if we work hard enough and put in the time and concentrate.”

“Every time we have dinner as a whole family, my uncles Brian and Alex Camet are always giving me tips and little pieces of knowledge,” Ian says.

The Nyenhuis brothers placed third in the 29er division at the Youth Sailing Worlds in Oman, and Ian, who is the skipper, says, “It has been a long time since a male 29er team from the United States has medaled.” He credits his relationship with his brother for their success. “We do everything together, from sailing to biking or surfing. I think it is the bond we created that allows us to compete at a high level. We share the same dreams.”

Chapman Petersen, 18, is from Fontana, Wisconsin, and has been inspired by a long list of star sailors from Lake Geneva. Petersen also represents the Lauderdale YC in the ILCA class. He has been at the top of the leaderboard in many classes, including ILCA 6, Club 420, Flying Juniors, Melges 15, C Scow, E Scow, Moth and iceboats. Petersen has been very competitive of late in the ILCA 6, winning the US National Singlehanded Championship and the US Youth Championship, and finishing seventh at the 2021 Youth Sailing Worlds. Unfortunately, a black-flag disqualification marred his chance of reaching the podium, but he says it was a valuable regatta. “Just a couple of mistakes throughout a nine-race series can put you out of the running,” he says. “The experience of a Youth Worlds was the most memorable, passion-filled and fun event I’ve ever sailed.”

Petersen attends the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, and is a member of the sailing team, but his sailing in 2020 was mostly on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. In 2021, he was able to travel and race on Italy’s Lake Garda, on Alamitos Bay in California, and in the Midwest before flying to Oman. At the ILCA 6 World Championship on Lake Garda, he finished second overall. Even though he is very active in the ILCA, he explains his boat preferences lean toward the Moth and “any type of iceboat.”

Petersen says his successes in sailing all stem from a ­combination of many mentors and coaches. “My coach and friend, Erik Bowers, has had the greatest impact on my success in the Laser,” he says. He will be joining the Stanford University sailing team this fall with some ambitious goals: “I want to win the Laser World Championship, College Nationals and the Olympics.”

Kyle Pfrang, 17, of Suffolk, Virginia, won the 100th edition of the Sears Cup in August 2021, representing the Hampton YC. His Sears Cup crew included Parker Moore, Pierce Brindley and Dingkun Li. They had six top-three finishes out of eight races in the 11-boat field. Pfrang adds his name to a long list of distinguished skippers who’ve won the Sears Cup. Like other All-Star sailors, Pfrang is always practicing, but the Sears Cup was not always smooth sailing.

In the fifth race of the series, the Hampton crew finished last. “We tied up the motor instead of using an unreliable cam cleat,” Pfrang says. “We dragged the motor the whole race. Once we fixed it, we were back in the game.” (They were able to drop their worst race.) Pfrang still practices, even in the winter. “When the weather is not pleasant, I convince my closest sailing buddies to go out in subfreezing weather and practice every weekend,” he says.

The Sears Cup was hosted by the Macatawa Bay YC in Michigan in VX One boats.

Pfrang says his favorite boat to race is the ILCA 6. “The maneuverability of the hull and the fast speeds of the boat in all conditions are what draw me to it,” he says. He does admit that sailing a Laser can be painful, but says, “The pain goes away with glory.”

Looking ahead, Pfrang plans to race in college, but he’s a year away from deciding where to attend. “I want to become an All-American in college,” he says. “I want to become a better sailor all around and sail other boats, like the (foiling singlehanded) WASZP, the 505 and keelboats. The first time I foiled, all I could think about was not crashing, but the joy of controlling a flying boat makes it worth all the failures when I do crash.”

Anton Schmid, 14, of San Diego, has been racing for the past six years. He won the Sabot National Championship in 2019, and won the Sabot II Championship in 2017 and 2018 as an 11-year-old sailor.

Schmid teamed up with Peter Joslin in the 29er class, won the Orange Bowl in 2021, and finished second to their San Diego YC colleagues, Noah and Ian Nyenhuis, in the US Sailing Youth Championship. Schmid and Joslin have a goal of qualifying for the Youth Worlds in the next year or two. On his relationship with Joslin, Schmid says, “He has taught me a lot about the sport and helped me break through so many barriers.”

They finished eighth at the 29er Worlds in Valencia, Spain, last summer, but one of the things that intrigues Schmid is boat tuning. “The best part about racing sailboats is being able to change your boat slightly in order to make it go a little faster,” he says.

Noah Zittrer, 18, of Seabrook, Texas, has raced a variety of boats, including Formula kites, Snipes, Vipers, Optimist dinghies and 29ers. He sails out of the Lakewood YC, and the varied experiences have helped him become a private Optimist coach and a kiteboard instructor.

The first time I foiled, all I could think about was not crashing, but the joy of controlling a flying boat makes it worth all the failures when I do crash.

His priority over the past few years has been representing his high school, traveling to Snipe regattas, and racing Formula kites. He says his long-term goal is to qualify for the Olympics in kites but admits his favorite boat to race is the Snipe. Zittrer tells a horrifying story about what happened when he first sailed a kite: “I started kite foiling in Long Beach, [California], at the CISA Clinic. It was my first day on the water.

“I was just trying to get my maneuvers down, and I looked down to see a very large and unavoidable shark. I slammed into it at high speed and fell into the water on top of it. My instincts kicked in, and I flew out of there. The incident was scary, but the worst part was having the rest of the clinic to still do.”

When asked what is the best thing about sailing, his answer was succinct: “Winning.”

Honorable Mentions: Tom Sitzman, Luke Woodworth, Fred Parkin, Thomas Whidden, Robby Meek, Kathleen Doble, Morgan Pinckney, Kennedy Leehealy, Mitchell Callahan, Hamilton Barclay and James Algeier.

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