Here’s a confession: The most laborious assignment I have every year is selecting my Junior All-Stars. I’ve recognized a select few of our junior sailors for 15 years, and while there are literally hundreds of excellent youngsters who go unrecognized, those who make my final roster are truly outstanding.
My All-Star list is more challenging every year because youth sailing is more competitive than ever. The bar is high in Optimist, junior and high-school sailing, and the result is that we have a generation of sailors trained by quality coaches. Their emergence coincides with an exciting high-performance era of our sport, and I’m confident we’ll be seeing more of them in the years ahead.
Let’s start with Luke Arnone, 14, the talk of Mantoloking YC, on Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. Arnone twice represented the United States at the Optimist World Championship, and at the team trials he was the best of 299 competitors. He was 23rd of 275 at the 2015 worlds in Poland. At the Optimist U.S. Nationals in Pensacola, Florida, he was first of 275, and at the Lake Garda Optimist Regatta in Italy, he was eighth of 675 entrants. Think about that for a moment — that’s 675 competitors in one venue. Arnone recalls that early in the Garda regatta, when he capsized, he saw many cameras turned on him. “It was embarrassing,” he says.
Not to worry, Luke. If you’re not capsizing every once in a while, you’re not pushing hard enough.
His coach, champion Laser sailor Clay Johnson, says he’s the real deal. “He’s polite, coachable, well-respected, modest and humble, and works harder than anyone else,” says Johnson.
When off the water, Arnone plays soccer and tennis at the Ranney School, in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. He’s the only sailor in his family, so he’s been dependent on Johnson as a positive influence. “I’m very lucky to have been able to sail in 11 different countries,” he says. “My favorite is Lake Garda because it’s always windy, the view is amazing, and there is so much great food.”
Arnone is now beginning to sail doublehanded boats, and he intends to sail in college, which is a few years off. The Olympics sit atop his to-do list, and at the rate he’s going, he might have a shot.
Dane Byerly, 17, sails out of Lakewood YC and lives in El Lago, Texas. He’s also a member of the Clear Falls High School sailing team, but his milestone accomplishment is winning the US Sailing Sears Cup with crew Howdy Hughes, Collin Scoville and Carson Shields. He also placed third at the high-school keelboat nationals.
He’s obviously savvy in keelboats, but Byerly’s boat of choice is the International 420, in which he races with Robbie Nichols as his regular crew. He raced at the 420 Worlds and Youth Champs. Byerly says he’s had a lot of different people encourage him and train him, including his first sailing coach, Mattia D’Errico, who focused on making the learning process fun. “Scott Lindley was my Optimist-dinghy coach, and he encouraged me to race in national regattas and try out for the USODA National Team,” says Byerly. “My high-school coach is Jamie Gilman, who is helping me with advice on what I should do in sailing in college and beyond. I’ve been lucky to have lots of support.”
Byerly has played football, basketball and lacrosse, but his focus now is on sailing. When asked if there were any parallels between sailing and his other sports, he says playing other sports “taught me how to work as a team.”
Charlie Hibben, 15, of Barnstable, Massachusetts, races out of Wianno YC and for the nearby Milton Academy sailing team. In the offseason, Hibben competes on the school’s wrestling team, about which he says, “Both sailing and wrestling require mental strength.”
During the Northeast’s sailing season, he races a variety of boats, including the Club 420, 29er, Sonar, Beetle Cat, Rhodes 18, Firefly, Wianno Senior and even an International Canoe. He reports his International Canoe experience “did not work out that well,” but he feels he’s become a more rounded sailor because of the different classes he’s tried.
Like many of his peers, Hibben says he spends considerable time watching sailing on YouTube in order to pick up techniques, but he knows that experience on the racecourse is the best way to learn.
“In my first race in a 29er, we won the pin end of the starting line,” he says. “My crew claimed he was unclipped by a windward boat, but I think he forgot to clip into the trapeze. I was the only one left in the boat and capsized.”
Hibben was a member of the U.S. team that won the silver division at the ISAF Team Racing Worlds, and he also finished fourth as a skipper at US Sailing’s Sears Cup with crewmates CJ McKenna, William Cannistraro and Morgan Farber. His most memorable domestic win was the Club 420 New England Championship, which is always a tough event in this talent-rich region of 420 racing.
Stephanie Houck, 16, started sailing at the age of 6 — in an Optimist dinghy, of course — and has been racing ever since. Last summer Houck and her crew Camille White won the US Sailing Junior Women’s Doublehanded Championship for the Leiter Cup, with five firsts in 10 races. A month later, they were the first female team to win a Club 420 National Championship, in Newport, Rhode Island. There were 196 boats in the regatta. “Camille and I have sailed together for two years,” she says. “During our first summer we struggled pretty hard, but something clicked over the past year. We improved our communication, boathandling and tactical decision-making. Camille is an amazing crew. She is extremely athletic and able to learn new things quickly. We would not have succeeded without her.”
Houck races out of Annapolis YC and for the Severn School, where she performs in her school’s musicals when not sailing. She’s also on Severn’s swim team. Her brother Scott, an earlier All-Star, sailed for Dartmouth, so she’s considering attending there when the time comes. “My brother has been the most influential person in my sailing career,” she says. “He is an incredible sailor and scholar. I’ve always striven to be like him. He has inspired me to push myself and strive for greatness.”
Until she decides, she still has more Club 420 sailing ahead, and possibly a go at the 29er, as well as team- and match-racing events.
Jack McGraw, 17, is on the mighty Point Loma High School sailing team, and like most Californians, his first races were in a Naples Sabot. Today McGraw hails from San Diego’s Southwestern YC, where he races Club 420s. He and his crew Dot Obel won the US Sailing Doublehanded Championship for the Bemis Trophy.
McGraw races with several crews during the year, including Noble Reyneso, with whom he won the Buzzards Bay Regatta. The pair placed third in the Club 420 North Americans. At the high-school nationals, McGraw raced with Mercedes McPhee and Johannes McElvain, finishing third in the B Division.
Outside of sailing, McGraw spends time surfing, playing Frisbee and rock climbing. No doubt his Frisbee expertise is beneficial during postponements ashore. Surfing, he says, gives him a better feel for sailing in windy downwind conditions. “It’s also great to get out and do things completely unrelated to sailing to change things up and prevent getting burned out,” he says.
Like many other young sailors, McGraw is frequently logged on to sailx.com, a virtual regatta sailing site. “It has helped my tactics tremendously,” he says. “Now I’m able to picture the race from a top-down view.”
Sam Morrell, 16, is from Road Town, Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. Many great sailors emerge from this Caribbean playground, which is why the Antilles High School sailing team is always a top-tier squad at the national high-school championships.
Morrell started out at the age of 7 in Optimists, and has transitioned easily into other singlehanded dinghy classes. Last summer he won the US Sailing Junior Singlehanded Championship for the Smythe Trophy, sailed in chartered Byte CIIs. He’s a regular crew in keelboats too, with experience racing a Swan 42 and J/70. In fact, he placed seventh as a crew in the J/70 World Championships. He was first at Larchmont Race Week in the Laser Radial, and won the International 420 class at the Caribbean Dinghy Championships in Puerto Rico. His crews include Danny Petrovic in the 29er, and in high-school competitions he races with Amanda Engamen and Gloria Kevlicute. He is also an avid surfer.
Morrell credits his father with being the most influential person in helping him develop as a sailor. He tells me he likes sailing because it has allowed him to travel the world, meet new people and learn “important life lessons.” Next for Morrell is applying to a U.S. college with a competitive sailing team, and if the stars align, sailing a 49er in the Olympics.