Lake Bluff Yacht Club event draws sailors from around globe
Holly Hanselman of the Lake Bluff Yacht Club, which organized the Sunfish North American Championship Regatta in conjunction with the Waukegan Yacht Club, talks to Malcom Smith of Bermuda, a three-time Sunfish sailing world champion, at Waukegan Municipal Beach on Tuesday, July 31, 2012. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 3, 2012 1:01PM
WAUKEGAN — Natives of the Great Lakes will tell you that the water is warmer than usual this year, one byproduct of a roasting summer. But when Malcolm Smith waded out Tuesday morning with his 13-year-old son Benn, he had a quick reaction: “Oh, that’s cold.”
Smith’s evaluation was understandable, given that he’s from Bermuda, where the Atlantic is 83 degrees this time of year. That’s about 10 degrees warmer than the Waukegan end of Lake Michigan, where the Smiths are among the sailors from around the country and the globe participating this week in the 50th Sunfish North American Championship Regatta.
Holly Hanselman from the Lake Bluff Yacht Club, which drew the annual event to Waukegan, said the Smiths were joined by a participant from Thailand in adding some international flavor to an event that has previously sailed from such locales as Charleston, S.C., and Mattituck on New York’s Long Island.
“We have a number of local people sailing, but they’re also coming in from 20 states,” Hanselman said. “They’re coming in from Washington, Colorado, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Florida, Virginia and everything in between.”
Waukegan city spokesman David Motley said special measures to accommodate the event include permission for participants to camp overnight on the Stiner Pavilion lawn, and an overflow parking lot behind the Waukegan Water Plant will be used to keep traffic from inundating the area. Municipal Beach will be open for normal operation during the entire regatta, which concludes with an awards ceremony and barbecue Saturday afternoon.
The event includes two general categories, with sailors age 19 and younger competing in seven races Tuesday and Wednesday, and adults squaring off for 11 races Thursday through Saturday. According to Hanselman, 67 men, women and children pre-registered for the event, and a total of around 80 are expected to compete before the last race sets sail at 3 p.m. Saturday.
One element that all competitors will have in common is the watercraft involved — the modest but venerable Sunfish, first launched in 1952 by entrepreneurs Alex Byran and Cortlandt Heyniger. Each single-sailed craft is measured and weighed to meet specifications of 14 feet and 125 pounds, giving sailors an opportunity to succeed through skill rather than superior equipment.
The Sunfish was intended to be launched from a shoreline, and Tuesday morning found sailors in the youth group entering the water off South Beach and tacking toward a set of yellow-organge buoys about a quarter-mile out. The warning signal for the first of the day’s five races was scheduled for 11:30 a.m., and a string of boats could soon be seen heading into a north/northwest wind toward a second buoy about a sixth of a mile away.
Malcolm Smith — who won Sunfish World Championship titles in 1994, 1998 and 2003 — watched his son cruise out to the starting point and expressed hope that the wind and chop wouldn’t be too much of a factor.
“We’re going to find out. He’s a pretty tough kid. He’s sailed in 25, 30 knots before — not in the Sunfish, but other boats,” Smith said. “I was about his age when I got started, about 13. I got him started a lot younger. ... When you’re in Bermuda, you never really get away from the water. It’s 23 (or) 24 square miles, and you’re just surrounded by the ocean, and if you’re not swimming, you’re sailing.”