29er US Nationals: A Family Affair, September 2-3, 2006

Skiff sailing is sailing on the edge–sailing fast from the trapeze, on a plane upwind and down. Every mistake is quickly rewarded by a capsize. ts “Senior Division” is for boats with a combined skipper and crew age >50–not an old person’s game.

But at the 29er Nationals, hosted by the Cabrillo Beach YC, Bay Area sailing families enjoyed great success. On day one, skipper John Heineken and crew Matt Noble dominated the fleet, convincingly winning every race. Danny Cayard and Max Binstock finished the day in second place, while John’s sister, Erika and their dad, Paul Heineken, sailed well enough to lead the last race around one entire lap of the course, before the inevitable capsize. On returning to the dock, Paul, a 60 year old physician, injured his knee such that he couldn’t sail on day two.

Having watched the day’s fun from a spectator boat, Danny’s dad, Paul Cayard, jumped into the fray. He volunteered to borrow sailing gear and step into the front of Erika’s 29er. This was a major leap of faith, as it was Erika’s second sailing regatta ever, and Paul Cayard had witnessed her first regatta last month at the Columbia River Gorge where there had been no shortage of capsizes.

On day two the wind again reached 12-20 kts, enough to support Paul’s 200 lb on the trapeze wire. After a number of “teabags” and capsizes, the new father-daughter team found the front of the fleet, consistently rounding the weather mark near Erika’s brother John and Paul’s son Danny. The weather mark rounding bear-away and kite-launch had the excitement of a sailboat race combined with sibling and parental rivalry at its best.

Hopefully, other parent-child teams will experience the thrill of skiff sailing while competing together, although few new skiff sailors are likely to have the on-the-water coaching experience that Erika enjoyed.

Final standings:

1st John Heineken and Matt Noble

2nd Danny Cayard and Max Binstock

1st Woman Skipper and Senior Boat: Erika Heineken with crew Paul Heineken and Paul Cayard

The 29er is the junior trainer for the Olympic 49er, and will be one of the classes sailed in the Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship at Kingston, Ontario, Canada on July 12-21, 2007.