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Judy Clagett McLennan, Sarah Everhart Skeels and Dave Perry on the 2021 Clagett

by David Schmidt 19 Aug 16:00 BST August 24-29, 2021
Siobhan MacDonald leads the 2.4mR class after day 1 racing - 17th C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta © Ro Fernandez

One of the coolest aspects of sailboat racing is the sport's ability to be inclusive to people of all stripes, regardless of physical ability, skin color, culture, orientation, economic level, or political leanings. While the International Paralympic Committee made the horribly misguided decision in 2018 to remove Paralympic sailing from the 2024 Paralympic Games Sports Program, this isn't stopping sailors with disabilities from advancing their skills, competing at high levels, and travelling to world-class regatta destinations. Take, for example, the C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta (established 2003) and the U.S. Para Sailing Championships, which are being hosted The Clagett Regatta, in Newport, Rhode Island, from August 24-29, 2021.

This high-level event will feature two days of on-the-water (or shoreside) clinics, followed by three days of racing, and is open to sailors who compete in the 2.4mR, Martin 16, and Sonar classes. The Clagett Clinic and the Regatta are both open to persons with disabilities, while the US Para Championship is only open to Americans. Additionally, participating sailors can also look forward to daily briefings and debriefings with coaches and other opportunities to advance their knowledge base.

Once registrations are completed and vessels launched, racing and clinic work will take place on on the waters of Narragansett Bay between Rose Island and Goat Island. Not only does this racing area help ensure great conditions for the sailors, but it also means that most of Newport will have a sweeping view of this impressive event.

Once the racing has concluded, prizes will be awarded to the winners of both the C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. Memorial Regatta and the US Para Sailing Championship at Sunday's post-racing cookout.

I checked in with Judy Clagett McLennan (JCM), who is the co-founder and president of the C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta, Sarah Everhart Skeels (SES), who is a Clagett Board member (VP) and a former SKUD 18 sailor, and Dave Perry (DP), who is the Clagett fleet- and match-racing coach, via email, to learn more about this exciting event.

Can you please describe the culture of the C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta for readers who have not yet experienced the event?

JCM: As one looks around and experiences the culture of Clagett they find it is professional as only the best is evident. The best PRO available in Tom Duggan, PRO for the Tokyo Olympic Sailing events. The best coaches in Dave Perry (US Match Racing Championships winner, Congressional cup winner, coach and rules advisor for Olympians and Americas Cup teams), Dave Dellenbaugh (tactician and helmsman of America's Cup, author of Speed & Smarts), Betsy Alison (five-time Rolex [yachts]woman of the year and former coach of the US Para Sailing team), Brian Todd (former coach of the Canadian Para Sailing team).

The sailors are all super competitive, and the Clagett aims to help them attain their personal levels of excellence. Some have gone on to podium at the former Paralympic Sailing and World Championships. And there is a feeling of close comradery and a warmth of friendship between the sailors and volunteers, and they all help each other.

SES: The culture is of camaraderie, connection, allyship and fun! Sailors with disabilities and coaches come from all over North America to compete in the regatta.

DP: All the sailors love being there, love trying their hardest to do well in the racing, and love spending time with each other "under the tent" before and after racing. It is a very positive, supportive, yet competitive culture.

How much of the event is dedicated to the clinic, and what percentage is more focused on racing?

JCM: The Clagett is a five-day event. The clinic is two days both on and off the water, and then there is three days of racing. During the race days there is coaching between races, but not during. At the end of each day, each coach gives their own group a debrief.

During the year of 2020, The Clagett pivoted to coaching via Zoom. Dave Perry and Dave Dellenbuagh designed three different multi-week Zoom coaching sessions, which were well attended with folks turning in each week from across the US, Canada, the United Kingdom and even as far as New Zealand on occasion.

SES: Two days of clinic prepare sailors for three days of racing.

DP: Two days of clinic and three days of racing. But the coaching continues throughout the racing, with pre- and post-race briefings and discussions. So, the learning and improvement continues through the entire event.

How are registration numbers looking for 2021 compared to the last few years? Also, have registration numbers remained steady even after the International Paralympic Committee's decision to drop Paralympic sailing from the 2024 Paralympic Games Sports Program?

JCM: The registration numbers are currently not as strong as we wish because we are waiting for the Canadian border to open. We currently have two Sonars, five Martin 16s and 13 2.4mRs. If the border opens before the regatta, the numbers are expected to swell. The 2021 Clagett will also host the US Para Sailing Championship.

Everyone associated were very saddened to see para sailing withdrawn from the Paralympics. The overall sport of para sailing lost some sailors, due to the loss of the pinnacle of competitive sailing, but those who have stayed with the sport are super competitive and wanting to improve their skills for upcoming World Championships whether they be for para sailing or open competitions where those with disabilities compete alongside able-bodied sailors.

The Clagett was gearing up to send a team of "Clagett sailors" to the 2020 2.4mR Worlds in Florida when Covid closed everything down. The next 2.4mR Worlds in North America will be at Davis Island Yacht Club in Tampa, Florida in the fall of 2022. The Clagett will send a team of four sailors, a coach and a team manager. The team will consist of the three podium finishers in the 2.4mR class at the 2022 Clagett Regatta, plus the top finishing sailor who has a Clagett boat grant program boat. The Team Manager will be Bradley Johnson, a former Clagett sailor, a winning Paralympic sailor and a member of The Clagett's Board of Directors.

SES: Everyone who can make the event will be there because most of the sailors couldn't compete last summer due to Covid.

The horribly misguided decision to drop sailing from the Paralympics has not necessarily impacted numbers any more than the ability to travel due to Covid has.

This event continues to be one of the more important regattas for highly competitive sailors with disabilities and one that is also welcoming for those who are newer to adaptive sailing and serves as a great introduction to competitive sailing!

What kind of weather conditions can visiting sailors expect to encounter off of Newport in late August? Also, what are the best- and worst-case weather scenarios?

JCM: The weather in August in Newport can be warm, cool, no-wind or wind, fog or no fog. There will be all sorts of weather and the water temperature should be in the upper 60s and low 70s.

Worst case scenario is we are in the path of a hurricane.

Best case scenario is that we have blue skies and a "Chamber of Commerce" perfect weather.

The Organizing Authority monitors a minimum of four weather apps and are always mindful that inclement weather can pop up at any time.

SES: In my experience, late August generally brings some of the best sailing conditions to Newport. This means 10-15 knots of southwesterly breezes and warm temperatures. This is the best case!

I suppose the most challenging weather conditions would be either no wind or too much wind (hurricanes) and/or thunderstorms.

DP: Newport, like any East Coast venue, can provide any sorts of conditions. The prevailing condition is a light morning northerly and then a beautiful afternoon southwesterly seabreeze.

If you could offer one (or three) piece of advice to first-time Clagett sailors, what would it be? Also, any insights for returning regatta veterans?

JCM: Come, learn, enjoy the camaraderie and you will want to keep coming back. All of our sailors exemplify our motto "Reach for Success" in their own ways as they accomplish their individual goals. The Clagett is open to both disabled sailors as well as able-bodied sailors.

SES:1. Participate in the Clinic so you can understand the sailing area and conditions and learn from some of the best coaches sailing has to offer.

2. You can't win a three-day regatta on day one, but you can sure put yourself in a hole if you take necessary risks, so stay consistent in your race preparation!

3. Come ready to have a great time, met some wonderful human beings, and bring your appetite, too!:)

DP: Come ready to learn a ton. Bring your questions and your issues. Come ready for some fun racing and camaraderie under the tent. And for the "regatta veterans", come ready to inspire and support the first-timers as well as having some fun racing.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

JCM: The Clagett is very mindful of our environmental footprint. Since 2017 the Clagett has been giving out refillable water bottles to our sailors and volunteers. Crystal Spring Water gives us three-gallon bottles that go on two water coolers in the tent so refillable water bottles can be filled. They also give us three-gallon bottles with hand pumps that are on all four coach boats and the two medical boats, so refillable water bottles can be filled on the water.

Fort Adams has a policy of carry in and carry out with all food/garbage. Around the exits of the regatta tent there are recycle and trash cans. All are emptied each night.

We put just the necessary number of support boats on the water to run a professional level and a safe regatta. There is one media boat, four coach boats, one or two signal boats and the necessary number of mark boats depending if we are running one or two circles. We have two safety boats and each circle will have one boat as a crowd-control boat. We have one spectator boat. We do not put extra boats out without a purpose as we are fuel-conscious for both the environment and in deference to our generous funders who support our regatta.

I realize that it's likely too late for readers who are interested in volunteering to help the 2021 event, but are there opportunities for local (and not-so-local) sailors to get involved with the 2022 event? Also, what about fundraising opportunities? Do these exist for the 2021 or 2022 Clagetts?

JCM: We have a dedicated group of volunteers but we are always looking for more. Anyone interested can go online and sign up to participate in the regatta as a sailor, or help as a volunteer. Visit Registration is open right up to the regatta, but anyone registering after July 20 will pay a late fee. If the U.S./Canadian border opens just before the regatta the late fee for Canadians will be waived.

The Clagett is a "bring your own boat" Regatta. We do not supply boats to the sailors.

In an effort to help expand the number of boats, the Clagett started a Boat Grant Program in 2016. We have eight boats in the program. The Clagett Regatta provides selected sailors and sailing programs with a granted boat. This grant provides the selected recipients with the opportunity to experience, train, and race in adaptive sailing events. The grant provides for the use of the boat and equipment for up to four years.

The Clagett Boat Grant Program is open to any North American sailor with adaptive needs with a desire to train and race, or a sailing program that has either an existing program or is looking to create a new program working with adaptive needs sailors.

To help the Martin 16 class, the Clagett put together new rigging packages with the help of New England Boatworks, who supplied line and Harken who supplied the hardware.

Fundraising to support the Clagett sailors and continue with the Clagett's mission will be in two parts for 2021, the Clagett's fundraising event being held September 25 at the Rotunda at Easton's Beach: and as a precursor the Luck of the draw: July 21-28,

There are also additional opportunities to support Clagett programs, the Cause Auction for Team Clagett, Donors can specify that they wish to donate to Team Clagett.

We are also so appreciative to our sponsors, Fiduciary Trust Company International, AIG, The Horace A. Kimball and S. Ella Kimball Foundation, One80Intermediares, among many other private sponsors.

SES: There are always opportunities to volunteer - come down to watch and ask where you can be of help!

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

JCM: In 2016, The Clagett started a partnership with Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay, New York. Each year since, outside of 2020, The Clagett/Oakcliff Clinegatta is a match-racing clinic and regatta where the sailors learn the all-important tactics and rules of match racing. All of which can be used in fleet racing.

SES: This is a one-of-a-kind event that is helping to continue and support the legacy of competitive sailing for sailors with disabilities in North America. Don't hesitate to come down and get involved in whatever way works best!

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