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An interview with Dawn Shumway and Jenn Olney about the 2019 Sonar World Championship

by David Schmidt 12 Sep 2019 08:00 PDT September 17-22, 2019
Upwind work for some of Rochester Yacht Club's Sonar fleet © Image courtesy of Rochester Yacht Club

Saying that designer Bruce Kirby knows how to draw a slippery hull is a bit like saying that Sir Ben Ainslie knows how to win Olympic sailing medals. But while Kirby is best known for drawing the lines to the “ILCA Dinghy” (nee the “Weekender” and the “Laser”), he was also quite successful with the Sonar, a three- or four-person keelboat that he designed in 1977. Interestingly, the Sonar was created to meet the needs of the Noroton Yacht Club, in Darien, Connecticut, which was seeking a trailer-friendly, club-level keelboat with an open and comfortable cockpit and a user-friendly helm and sailplan. However, it didn’t take long for other sailors in the area to take note of the NYC’s neat new fleet of racing sloops, and the Sonar Class Association was founded in 1980.

Today, there are more than 700 Sonars sailing on the waters off of at least six countries, however the class enjoys is strongest geographical representation on the waters of Long Island Sound and across New York State (and surrounding areas).

This year’s Sonar World Championship regatta will be hosted by the Rochester Yacht Club in Rochester, New York, from September 17-22, 2019. Racing will take place on the waters of Lake Ontario, just north of the entrance to the Genesee River, and courses will be winward-leeward affairs, with a minimum of four legs apiece, however the RC has discretion to set leeward gates and/or an offset mark at weather mark.

I checked in with Dawn Shumway and Jennifer Olney, regatta co-chairs of the 2019 Sonar World Championship, via email, to learn more about this exciting regatta.

How many boats are you expecting at the Worlds? Also, do you expect that most teams will be flying sails that read “USA” in front of their numbers or do you expect a lot of international entries?

We are hoping for 25-30 entries. Most will be from the United States (Michigan, New York, Connecticut and Florida) but we do have representatives coming from Ireland, Great Britain and at least three boats coming from Nova Scotia, Canada.

What kind of weather conditions can sailors expect? What are the best-case and worst-case scenarios?

Weather in Rochester in September can be some of the best “champagne” sailing conditions of the year! The worst-case scenario could be a day with no wind and a flat lake, or the unlikely nor’easter that brings big breeze and big waves.

But most likely we expect 10-20 knots of breeze with easy waves and happy sailors!

How important do you think local knowledge will be? Also, do you expect most visiting teams to arrive early and acclimatize to conditions?

We don’t think that there is a lot of special local knowledge. It’s not a secret that we are known as “left-chester” so no matter the wind direction, when in doubt go left!

Otherwise there are no severe currents or tides or land formations that cause funky conditions. We expect that most visiting teams will get here in plenty of time for the practice race day, but not much earlier than that.

How stiff do you think competition levels will be at this year’s regatta? Also, how do you think this competition would stack up to Sonar Worlds fleets from 10 years ago?

The competition will be quite stiff at this year’s regatta! We have previous World Champions returning to compete, we have some accomplished teams coming from Wayzata, Minnesota, we have some younger teams with great accomplishments in other fleets who will test their muscle with the Sonar.

It is true that the Sonar is no longer used in the Paralympic games, and many of the sailors who used to train for that event are no longer competing in our World Championship, but the competition is expected to be impressive.

Do you have any teams that you are eyeing for podium finishes? What about any dark horses who you think could prove to be fast, once the starting guns begin sounding?

We have previous World Champions returning to compete and they are intimidating! Wayzata Yacht Club is sending a large contingent of boats, all are known for great Sonar racing and they will be new to the Sonar Worlds, keep an eye on them.

We have some young skippers in Rochester who are accomplished sailors in other fleets and may impress us all with their Sonar boat handling. We also have three teams made up of all female crew, some of these women are quite accomplished sailors… don’t take them for granted.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) teams, what would it be?

Come to Rochester to enjoy the sailing, appreciate the competition, participate in the festivities and experience the hospitality on which the Rochester Yacht Club has built its reputation.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta’s environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

The Rochester Yacht Club as a whole has worked hard to lower our environmental footprint. We put a special emphasis on educating our young people about the importance of good stewardship for our Great Lake. Sailors should expect to bring their own water bottles and use the re-filling stations on land that are available.

Anything else about the regatta that you’d like to add, for the record?

Without doubt we expect some great racing. We’ve lined up a professional crew for everything from registration, measurement and launching to the on the water international jury and race committee.

But the time spent in Rochester off the water at the gatherings and parties will be just as impressive. We have a Friday night Mount Gay Rum Party that will feature our custom Sonar Bar. Saturday night’s dinner and dancing will feature the SkyCoasters, a party band that has played at numerous international events and never disappoints the crowd!

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