The “Trux” regatta has been an institution on the college sailing circuit for decades. Until 2014, the Truxtun Umsted Regatta, a four-division event, was held in March at the U.S. Naval Academy. The fleet-racing regatta was moved to fall in 2014 to better accommodate the team-racing focus of the spring college
sailing schedule. Before the seasonal switch, it was known for tough sailing conditions and top-level competition, attributes that align well with those of its namesake.
The trophy was first awarded in 1971 and is named for Lt. Truxtun Umsted, a Navy sailor who graduated in 1959 and passed away suddenly in 1967 after completing a tour of duty on a destroyer in the Mediterranean. Umsted came from a Navy family and a long line of admirals, and was passionate about the water above all else.
Umsted’s two main interests, as stated in the Naval Academy’s Lucky Bag yearbook, were sailing and scuba diving. Even in high school, at St. George’s School, in Middletown, Rhode Island, he was dubbed “Triton Trux” because he was always in the water. He was even a varsity letter winner for the swim team three years in a row at St. George’s.
But it was sailing that he eventually pursued with a passion. While at Navy he sailed on the varsity dinghy team and on Luders yawls for offshore competition.
“Trux was a natural, experienced and enthusiastic sailor for his entire time at the Naval Academy,” says Toby Field, one of Umsted’s roommates at Navy.
“My father was a competitive sailor his whole life,” says Umsted’s daughter, Katharine. “I have a few silver trophies that he got in Rhode Island when he was a kid.” Katharine also sailed when she was in school, at the College of Charleston. “Competing in the Trux was a real thrill,” she says. “Upon his early death, a number of his Academy friends established the regatta.”
Umsted was not only a force on the water, but also on shore, where he was known for being vocal — not just talkative, but also a talented singer. Another of Umsted’s roommates from Navy (who also attended St. George’s with him), Bob “Boots” Ceres recalls being persuaded by Umsted to form a vocal group they called the Gators.
“Trux definitely fit the type-A-personality profile in this role,” says Ceres. “He would fake playing the ukulele, but he could carry a tune, and in fact did carry our group to some limited success, both musically and socially.” Field and Ceres also recall a summer adventure between their plebe and sophomore years with Umsted when they chartered a sailboat from Montauk to Nantucket.
“We were all young and cocky, and, truth be known, a little arrogant,” explains Field. The good naval men decided to try to crash a black-tie fundraiser taking place on a steamer ferry. When the men were spotted climbing the side of the steamer and told to leave, Umsted stood up to the U.S. Coast Guard warrant officer who confronted them.
“There was a slight pause, and then in no uncertain terms, the officer told us what would happen if we didn’t clear the pier in the next two minutes,” says Field. “Since none of us wanted our butts kicked from here to the mainland, we slinked off into the harbor and anchored — Coast Guard: 1; Midshipmen: 0.
“Like many sons of admirals, Trux treated rules and regulations as suggestions rather than requirements. Like all of us in our 20s, Trux was a work in progress.”
Both Field’s and Ceres’ memories of Umsted depict a smart, fun and talented young man who is deeply missed.
“Trux was a true seaman,” says Field. “As a competitive sailor, he won his letter at USNA and his share of trophies. When he joined the fleet, his sailing experience gave him a decided edge over other new ensigns, and he quickly became a superior ship handler.”
The Trux regatta seems to have taken on the persona of the man, Umsted’s character, always up for a challenge, fun and capable — it’s an accurate tribute to his memory.
“The regatta was often cold and windy and developed a reputation over the years as being particularly challenging in a lot of ways,” says Ian Burman, head coach at the U.S. Naval Academy. “It is also the only four-division regatta on the schedule, so it really rewards deep teams that are good in multiple disciplines.”
The four divisions are separated into two divisions of dinghies (420s and FJs) and two divisions of Lasers, full-rigs and radials.
“It was a big deal because it was the first real springtime check-in with all of the top players in one place,” says Adam Werblow, head coach at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “Because Navy has 20 boats, it’s centrally located, and it was at the time of the season that teams were basically itching to get out on the water and race — all of those things conspired to get all of the top guns wanting to come out and play.”
When Mike Callahan, head coach at Georgetown University, started coaching, he looked at the Trux as the “be all, end all” of regular-season college sailing. “I can remember coaching my first few years, sending Laser sailors out there in 30 knots, and it’s freezing cold, and they are just getting killed. It was a real sign of your program: When you do well in the Trux, you feel like you have arrived.”
Recalling my own experience at Trux in my senior year, the event was no different than most college sailor’s memories — windy, wavy and cold — but in addition to that, my skipper had just broken a bone in his foot. His doctor cleared him to sail in an air cast with a trash bag over it, so all I could think about was staying upright so I didn’t send him swimming and his trash bag filled with water.
The wind had really picked up on the last downwind leg of the last race of our set, and everyone around us was capsizing. We were headed down to the finish, so we just had to stay upright a little longer, but to no avail — we flipped over. We righted that boat so fast, though, and luckily my skipper did a good job duct-taping his cast cover.
Many colorful stories from the Trux come from dinghy sailors put into Lasers to help out their team. Yale assistant coach Bill Healy remembers being in this situation when he sailed in the event as an undergrad at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “Adam [Werblow] put me in D-division when it was full rigs, and that was one of those weekends that you don’t want to say you ever cried, but my hands got so cold that when they started thawing out,” says Healy, “it was one of the most brutal moments of college sailing.
“But the sailors that I got to sail against in that event were amazing: Mark Mendelblatt and all of the Navy boys that were just incredible to sail against one on one. It was a fantastically fun regatta with 20 teams, and at that point, Navy was dominant. They had a huge team, great Laser sailors and the sailor of the year, so showing up to their place and sailing against them was really cool.”
Werblow also recalls the first time that St. Mary’s won the Trux, and it all came down to their Laser sailors in D-division.
“The breeze tripled in like five minutes after a race, and Matt Beck flailed his way over to the utility boat — flipping his way over just trying to make it — where all of the extras were, and we put in for Matt Boudreau, a smaller dinghy sailor who could sail a Laser and was quite good in the lighter stuff,” says Werblow. “He had to swan-dive into the water to get to the boat. Boudreau went out and killed it for the final three races of the series — he was like half a leg ahead of everybody — and we won.”
Hosting such a large event is a challenge as well, and when Gary Bodie was the head coach at Navy from 1985 to 1995, many people refer to this era as the heyday of Navy dinghy sailing. It was the first time they completed all 80 races in the regatta. “The first time we completed all 80 races, I wanted to do it my way, and you can always run short races, but I wanted to run long races,” says Bodie. “It was the first time we went over 1,000 points at a regatta — it’s a really cool event.”
The Trux requires great mental and physical toughness — the weather might not be as big of a factor now that it is held in fall, but I’m quite certain Umsted is looking down and smiling at the great competition, adventures and shenanigans held on his behalf.