Young Sailors Cut Their Teeth in Doublehanded Offshore Race

Young Sailors Cut Their Teeth in Doublehanded Offshore Race

Doublehanded Offshore Race winners Erica Lush and Ariel Nechemia lit flares in celebration of their win. © Lexi Pline / Oakcliff Sailing

Friday, July 17, 2020 (OYSTER BAY, NEW YORK) – On July 15, Oakcliff’s second annual Melges 24 Doublehanded Distance Race was won by Ariel Nechemia and Erica Lush. Last year’s event was the first test of the mixed-gender, shorthanded offshore sailing event scheduled to debut in the 2024 Paris Olympics. With innovations such as continuous onboard live streaming, real-time protests and flexible course options, this race was designed to aid World Sailing in decision making for Paris and beyond. In part due to COVID it has become one of the only data points. Oakcliff will run a second event on August 25-26 in conjunction with Leandro Spina and the Olympic Development Program.

Oakcliff’s Acorn and Sapling programs train athletes of all ages but the shorthanded is especially effective for younger sailors who want to explore short handed offshore sailing, which typically has a high barrier to entry.

Two 17 year-old trainees, Jack Mackenzie and Sam Rifkind-Brown, co-skippered the youngest team with resilience. Jack had never sailed overnight and Sam’s first offshore experience was delivering a Farr 40 back from Bermuda to Newport with Oakcliff in 2018. Despite this, they tackled a squall with composure, raced through the dark and faced all challenges with humor and entertaining language which was picked up on the live streaming.

“Unless you own the boat, it is extremely difficult to get quality offshore experience when you’re young, even more so when you’re trying to sail shorthanded,” said Executive Director Dawn Riley. “With this event, we’re able to let young sailors push themselves, find their limits but always having an almost invisible safety net in place such as home base monitoring the live feeds and a mother ship with a high speed rhib following the fleet.”

Oakcliff graduate and original Winter Sapling Cullen Zelanka drove the support rhib during the race. © Lexi Pline / Oakcliff Sailing

Four of the 12 competitors were under 21 and six were under 30. Last year’s winners, Cat Chimney and Ethan Johnson, who are now Oakcliff staff, partnered with an under 21 sailor, neither of whom had raced offshore before. Still competitive, the new parings finished in 3rd and 4th.

Though this July’s race was focused on training and learning, the top two teams have professional aspirations.

For second place co-skipper Tucker Atterbury, this event marked a key step towards his doublehanded campaign for the 2024 Olympics. Co-skipper Abby Preston is a top level match and team racer, looking to make a leap into shorthanded offshore sailing. Both are living in Newport and exploring options.

First place co-skipper Erica Lush, also a Newport resident, has spent most of her sailing career sailing 12 meters and as part of the Maiden Factor project, creating awareness of the nearly 130 million girls worldwide who currently are not afforded an education. Winning this event gives her a springboard for her shorthanded sailing career.  

Showing the breadth of goals, first place co-skipper Ariel Nechemia’s Mens Sansa Project has the goal of being the youngest Chinese-American to sail singlehanded around the world and is raising money for the Ronald McDonald House charity, which helped his sister fight brain cancer. The win in this event brings him one step closer to his goal.

The modified Melges 24s head towards their first turning mark inside Cold Spring Harbor. Each boat is equipped with a media tower, made in-house, with cell phones for live streaming. © Lexi Pline / Oakcliff Sailing

Now in year 10 of operation, Oakcliff’s team continues to learn on all fronts, including technology. This year’s race encountered some new challenges. Wifi hotspots coupled with cell phones previously provided consistent live-streams during last May’s event run in cold and wet conditions. This year they overheated in the July sun resulting in intermittent streams. Oakcliff’s tech-team is working on rectifying these issues for the August iteration of the race and continued learning.

Despite this, coverage of the race continued to fanfare on Facebook and Instagram. Oakcliff’s media team provided text race updates, photos, and video to keep spectators up to date on the racers. Oakcliff is excited to bring another running of this race to Oakcliff racing fans and to World Sailing.

Oakcliff thanks the sponsors who helped make the running of this race possible: Melges Boatworks, North Sails, Vesper Marine, and KVH. We’d also like to thank the team at Vernon Computer Rentals, especially Robert Park, for their outstanding customer service in getting us the right streaming devices.

The Oakcliff support crew monitor the competitors on Vesper AIS and post updates to social media. © Lexi Pline / Oakcliff Sailing