MVRHS sailing competes in first-ever Atlantic Coast Championships

Vineyard pride intact, despite finishing out of top 10 in elite event.

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The Vineyard lineup for the Atlantic Coast Championships. From left: Miles Wolff, Joe Serpa, Henry Kyburg Abbott, Trent Bilodeau and Zach Ward. — Andrew Burr

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) sailing team traveled to Toms River, N.J., on Nov. 9 and 10 to compete against an elite field (to put it mildly) of 19 other schools in the Atlantic Coast Championships at the Toms River Yacht Club.

The Vineyarders clinched a first-ever spot in the national invitational fleet-racing regatta by winning the Arnold Brown in Oak Bluffs six weeks ago.

The weather on Saturday morning was sunny, with clear skies and freezing temperatures. The wind was a light northerly breeze — so light that sailing was postponed by two hours, only to have the wind die off for a second time. Racing finally began at noon in a 5- to 8-knot, shifty, easterly breeze. As the wind shifted to the south, several course adjustments and two major moves were required to complete the nine W4 races in A and B Divisions.

On Sunday, the schools got off to an earlier start under warmer temperatures, and completed nine additional races, with winds 6 to 10 knots from the south-southwest.

The Severn School of Severna Park, Md., won the event by a whopping 106 points over second-place Christchurch, Md. Rumson–Fair Haven, N.J., was third, and the St. George’s School of Newport, R.I., a regular Vineyard opponent and consistently among the top five programs in New England, finished 145 points back, in fourth place.

“Severn winning by 100 points is hard to put into perspective, because you’re going to have a bad race. They just crushed it,” Vineyard Coach Andrew Burr said.

The Vineyarders finished 17th for the weekend. Joe Serpa and Zach Ward skippered the majority of the races in A Division, with Trent Bilodeau on crew in all but two. Ward and Bilodeau sailed to a win in the fifth race, and added an eighth- and ninth-place finish in the next two races. In B Division, skipper Miles Wolff and crew Henry Kyburg Abbott earned a second-place finish, a pair of fourths, a sixth, and a seventh.

Coach Burr and the Vineyarders came to Toms River aiming for a top 10 finish. Although the Purple fell short of expectations, racing against such an accomplished group of sailors was an invaluable experience.

“I expected to do better, no question,” Coach Burr said. “I think we were a little bit off, but just getting into the event against some of the top 20 schools, it’s almost a seminational event, as good as it gets in terms of depth, just incredible, incredible sailors. It was a fantastic weekend. I think they were proud just to be in it, but they knew they didn’t sail up to their potential. Just being with the caliber of racing is going to help them next spring. Sailing is such a mental sport, and confidence is a huge part of it. If you don’t believe that you belong there, or that you are of that stature, you’re not going to do that well. You have to believe that you’re just as good as the other people you’re racing against. For all intents and purposes, when you really look at it, you can make the argument that the Vineyard is a top 30 team in the United States. We didn’t have our best regatta, but we’re an exceptional team.”

The Vineyarders close out the fall schedule with a trip to New Orleans for the Great Oaks High School Regatta at the Southern Yacht Club on Nov. 23 and 24.