Don Finkle named Sailor of the Week

Don Finkle
Yacht Clubs and other sailing groups around the world take great pride in running their own signature regattas. These events create enthusiasm, build tradition, and support the organization’s brand. The Youngstown Yacht Club (N.Y.) will host the 40th and final edition of The Youngstown Level Regatta on July 27-28. Thanks to regatta founder Don Finkle and countless volunteers, this event has helped develop the club’s own unique identity.

Don and other members of the club were interested in creating a regatta for big boat racing that did not use a rating or handicap system. In order to make this a reality, they needed to create a format that allowed different boats with similar speed potential to race fairly against each other. They wanted to compete boat-for-boat with no time allowances involved, so that it was easy to determine who won, and what place each boat finished.

The first Level Regatta took place in 1974 with 20 boats in participation. The number of participating boats doubled the following year. Popularity grew each year and maxed out at 466 boats. Each year experienced an increase in attendance and the addition of more classes. A growth spurt occurred when they added one-design classes. Over the years, the Level Regatta has settled into the more manageable 180 boat range.

'Probably the toughest job we have is breaking the fleet into divisions that are as fair as possible for all and we work hard at it,' said Don. 'In a few divisions we may still be able to sail level (no handicaps applied), but most of the fleet now competes using PHRF or IRC ratings. A higher percentage of the overall fleet is now made up of one-designs ranging from Vipers to eight Metres.'

Rolling Stone magazine labeled the Level Regatta as one of the top ten outdoor parties in North America. In addition to the racing and social scene, another attraction was the location at the western end of Lake Ontario.

The Youngstown Yacht Club was truly stretched to its capacity. 'We’ve always focused on providing quality racing while doing our best to be friendly hosts,' explained Don. 'We accomplished our goals and that is the real story of the event, the amazing contributions of the large number of volunteers who have made it all happen.'

This signature regatta has benefited the club in many ways. 'The event does a remarkable job at promoting our club,' said Don. 'Most of our own racing sailors compete, and it is our contribution to the sailing scene. Various clubs put on different events that make up the overall regional racing calendar, and the Level is our part in that.'

'Maybe best of all is the camaraderie developed by members working together. It is a lot of fun and there is a real sense of satisfaction for those involved. We garner plenty of positive comments from sailors who take part. Finally, what brings me personally to put forth the effort, time after time, is something I figured out years ago. If you have the power to make that many people happy, why wouldn’t you do it?'

Don also had some helpful tips for clubs interesting in starting or improving a signature event. 'The regatta landscape is very competitive these days. There are plenty of similar events out there, so you need to differentiate yourself in some fashion. You need to make sure that your Organizing Authority, your club or class is really committed to the cause. There is an arms race taking place where each of us running an event is faced with keeping up with the latest twist that others have built into their events. To do the job right, it is essential to enlist a sufficient number of volunteers who are actually going to do the work, not just show up for meetings. Finally, make sure you are hosting for the right reason. Your purpose should be to do the best you can for the sailors themselves.'

For more information on the 2013 Youngstown Level Regatta, visit the event website