The Kids Are Alright: Sailing’s Next Generation Shines at the Newport Bermuda Race

June 27, 2024

By Mark LeBeau

Poseidon, crewed by the US Naval Academy's offshore sailing team arrives in Bermuda earlier this week. / Photo: Daniel Forster

For over 100 years, competing in the Newport Bermuda Race has been a milestone event for sailors of all ages. This year, the Race’s 53rd edition has become a proving ground for the sport’s next generation. High schoolers, college students, and young adults played pivotal roles on the crews of many competing boats. 

One of the youngest competitors was aboard Monhegan, a J44 in the St. David’s Lighthouse Division which crossed the finish line with a corrected time of two days 22 hours and 56 minutes. 15 year-old Cary Wang says the Bermuda Race has taught him more than anything about the importance of teamwork. “Everyone is coming from different perspectives, and they connect together to build a team,” Wang said. He was encouraged to start sailing early by his parents, and his father, John Wang, joined him on Monhegan’s crew.

Cary Wang at the helm of Monhegan while crossing the Gulf Stream. / Photo: John Wang

Two teams from Canada particularly embodied sailing’s future. Hold Fast Ocean Racing (HFOR), made up of members of Queen’s University’s sailing team, has a mission to make offshore sailing more accessible with a focus on opportunities for women sailors and people interested in the sport who don’t have pre-existing connections. Nova Scotia’s Hard Eight and its young crew finished the race with a corrected time of two days 19 hours and 9 minutes under the leadership of 21 year-old Savannah Taylor. “I hope to play a role in empowering the next generation,” Taylor said.

Canadian boat Hard Eight leaves from Fort Adams with 21 year-old Savannah Taylor as its skipper. / Photo: Daniel Forster

Team’s representing both the US Naval Academy and the US Coast Guard Academy participated in this year’s race. Nick Finucan, assistant coach of Navy’s varsity offshore sailing team says that the majority of the young midshipmen who join his team have little to no sailing experience, but get hooked on the sport and the lessons it imparts.

New York-based training center Oakcliff Sailing is heavily investing in sailing’s up and coming talent. Of the 88 crew aboard Oakcliff’s six boats in this year’s race, 31 are youth sailors. As they deliver the boats back across the Gulf Stream, these young folks will take on roles as skippers, mates, and navigators.

For its own part, the Newport Bermuda Race honors participating young sailors by inducting them into the Stephens Brothers Society. All sailors aged 14-23 who complete the race are welcomed into the society and receive a commemorative pin upon arrival in Bermuda. According to the Race’s Duty Desk, 119 sailors received Stephens Brothers Society pins this year.

If this year’s race is any indication, the future of sailing is bright. As the next generation of sailors prepares to literally and figuratively take the helm, it is all but guaranteed that lessons learned from the 53rd “Thrash to the Onion Patch” will live on for years to come.

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