Landon Cormie heads to North American sailing championships

Sailing prodigy from Vineyard Haven to compete in O’Pen Bic for the fourth time.

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Landon Cormie rides on an O'pen BIC in Melbourne in the 2015 regatta. — Courtesy Bernadette Budinger Cormie

For many sports fans, the day begins with a quick check of ESPN. The usual options pop up: baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer. You hit one and go from there. The problem is, those of us who take that route are missing out on what ABC used to call the “wide world of sports.”

Take sailing, for example. And take 13-year-old seventh grader Landon Cormie of Vineyard Haven.

Landon has been traveling in the world of competitive sailing for five years now, and has a passport stamped with such locales as Argentina, Hong Kong, Australia, and France, in addition to 11 states here in the U.S. He sails small, one-person sailing dinghies — the O’Pen Bic and Opti — specifically designed for his 8- to 15-year-old age group.

Landon is currently enjoying a three-week break from travel and competition. It’s a chance to catch up with school and friends, and relax with his parents and older brother. He’s back at it this weekend, when he’ll depart for Sarasota, Fla., and the O’Pen Bic North Americans, his fourth such event. The event carries possible qualification for a unique 15-and-under competition in Bermuda during the America’s Cup in June. That is heady stuff.

It all started for Landon at the age of 5, when he first took the tiller of an Opti at the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club and discovered the joys of sailing. “I really liked it,” he recalls. “There’s a lot of hand-eye coordination involved in sailing a boat. You also need strength to maneuver the sail, especially in bad conditions. And when you’re racing, there’s the mental part of it, the strategy.”

He took to it naturally, and before long was entering local competitions and getting the attention of racing officials.

At age 8, Landon competed in his first international event, the 2012 O’Pen Bic World Championships in Miami. He has continued globe-hopping for competitions ever since. Most recently, he participated in the Semana Internacional Yachting in Mar del Plata on the South Atlantic coast of Argentina. It was a memorable experience in more ways than one.

“It was exciting,” Landon recalled. “They towed our boats out through the harbor to get to the course. The waves were huge, and there were giant fishing boats everywhere. Our coach was yelling like mad. But we made it.”

As with those other more familiar sports, a lot is required of anyone who wants to advance in youth sailing. It’s an international community that provides age-level competitions and training opportunities virtually year-round. A major time commitment and a healthy work ethic are two essentials. Another is family support.

“As long as he is interested and we can afford it, we’re behind him,” said his mother, Bernadette Cormie. “He has his schoolwork to take care of, and he plays two musical instruments. If he’s 100 percent, we’re 100 percent.”

As Landon’s passion for the sport grew, and as his world expanded, a yearly routine took shape.

In addition to the annual global competitions, Landon is also a member of two American sailing organizations that provide developmental training for young sailors. Many of his fall and spring weekends are devoted to practice in nearby Connecticut, or U.S.-sponsored race events around the country. It’s a busy but structured life.

One thing that makes it all worthwhile is a sailboat called a skiff. Landon can’t race it officially until he’s older, but he’s gotten a taste. During training last fall and on his trip to Australia in 2015, he had a chance to sail this very fast two-person craft, an experience he describes as “life-changing.” As his father, Leigh Cormie, put it, “He got hooked on the speed.”

Landon has seen a future in sailing, and his parents consider that a good thing. “For these kids, who travel and train so much, the skiff is a new challenge, something different. They’ve been sailing the smaller boats for years; this provides a vision of what’s next. You don’t want them getting burned out on sailing.”

“It was a thrill,” Landon acknowledged.

As a finishing touch, Landon was asked to provide a virtual-reality account of a typical race, complete with jargon.

“A course usually takes 45 to 50 minutes to complete,” Landon said. “It’s kind of a trapezoid shape. The start is really important. Everyone’s bunched up, maneuvering to find the wind. You have to outsmart people and maybe bang a corner to get the wind. You can’t cross the line early.

“The first leg is upwind. You may have to haul the main sheet hard. The second leg is the reach, where you have to make a big 90° tack. The third leg is less work — it’s downwind. The last leg is into the wind again. You have to hike out a lot.”

Landon then put it all in perspective. “When I’m racing, I feel good … until I don’t feel good,” he said.

We wish this young sailor and philosopher all the best in Sarasota.