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An interview with Gretchen Seymour on the 2022 Sunfish Women's North Americans

by David Schmidt 21 Sep 2022 08:00 PDT September 23-25, 2022
Racecourse action at the 2021 Sunfish Women's North Americans, at Columbia Yacht Club © Mark Alexander

Precious few designs have delivered more great racing and great times on the water than the venerable Sunfish, a One Design that was created by Alcort, Inc (read: Alex Bryan and Cortlandt Heyniger) sometime around 1952. While the original boats were made of wood, fiberglass hulls became available within a few years; the boat's distinctive lateen sailplan, however, has remained constant, as has the class's cheerful-looking insignia.

Another thing that's remained constant, of course, is great racing.

The class held its first World Championship title in 1970, on the waters off of St. Thomas in the USVI, and it's estimated that Sunflish fleets are active in some 28 countries.

More impressively, it's also estimated that over 300,000 Sunfish have been built. This latter metric beats the boat formerly known as the Laser (sorry, old habits die hard) by tens of thousands of hulls.

Just as wealth tends to beget wealth, greater numbers tend to beget greater competition levels.

Take, for example, the 2022 Sunfish Women's North Americans, which is being contested on the waters of Lake Michigan, and which is being hosted by the Lake Bluff Yacht Club, in Lake Bluff, Illinois, from September 23-25.

I checked in with Gretchen Seymour, event co-chair along with Rich Chapman, of the 2022 Sunfish Women's North Americans, via email, to learn more about this exciting national-level One Design regatta.

How many boats are you expecting on the starting line(s) of this year's regatta?

We are planning on 30 competitors! In addition to [the regatta] being a Worlds qualifying event, the top three finishers from this event will earn a spot at the U.S. qualifying event for the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile.

For the first time, the Pan-Am Games will feature separate events for women and men dinghy.

It's a bit unusual for a class to hold a women's-only North American Championship regatta. Has the Sunfish class always done this? Can you shed some light on this history?

The Sunfish class first hosted a Women's North American event 1978. Martha Starkweather was the winner of the first Women's North Americans at Sakonnet Yacht Club, Rhode Island. Past winners who are registered to compete include Lee Parks and Gail Hausler.

I'd also like to attempt to articulate the special nature of the Women's NA regatta. Sunfish class regattas always have a 'family-reunion-meets-the-Olympics' vibe. Most everyone in the class is willing to offer help with rigging, rules questions, strategy... The Women's event takes it up a notch. There is a special camaraderie off the water at this event. But don't be mistaken, on the water it is GAME ON!

Generally speaking, what kinds of conditions can sailors expect on the waters of Lake Murray in late-September?

Anything goes! Competitors can hope to have warm (warm for Lake Michigan!) water temps around 65 degrees F.

Winds are typically 7-10 knots, but a NE could bring bigger winds and the famous Lake Michigan roller waves!

Ideally, we'll have a variety of conditions over the course of the regatta.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta's outcome? Can you please explain?

I believe that local knowledge is beneficial in any venue—specific to Lake Michigan, the ability to surf the big waves downwind is something that folks who primarily sail on inland lakes may not have practice with...sailing off of Lake Bluff, sailors need to account for how the bluff can impact wind coming off the shore.

In the ideal world, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score? Also, will these be triangles of windward-leeward courses?

We would love to get in up to ten races over the two-day event. (Competitors will get a throw out after six races.) They will be a variation of windward-leeward courses.

We are delighted to have Taran Teague serving as our principal race officer.

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

If the wind has any easterly component, it should be pretty steady in direction and velocity. If it has a westerly component, it becomes very puffy and shifty. Bring warm sailing gear, it can be chilly that time of year.

Added bonus - you're sailing in freshwater so there's no need to rinse your boat off after racing!

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

Gail Hausler, past North American Women's champion is always a strong contender, particularly if the breeze is on! Susan Tillman Berg, the 2021 third-place finisher [who hails] from [Sammamish], WA and Marta Chlus, from Connecticut, the 2021 fourth-place finisher will both be women to watch!

Can you please tell us about any efforts that the regatta has made to green-up the event and generally lower its environmental wake?

We are utilizing a paper-free registration process through regatta network.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

I'd like to give a shout out the Lake Bluff Yacht Club—we are a small-but-mighty community sailing club established in 1961. We are able to host events such as these because of the tremendous efforts of our 100-percent volunteer board and members volunteers. Thank you also to the Village of Lake Bluff and Lake Bluff Park District for their support of the event.

Sailors not participating in the event (the guys!) have offered 15 Sunfish boats for charter for visiting sailors. Many sailors will be hosted in local member's homes. Neighboring yacht clubs and park districts are offering safety boats. Everyone will enjoy a lobster boil on the beach Saturday night of the event!

And finally, thank you to our sponsors HarkenDerm, Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation, The Dinghy Shop, and Vela Sailing Supply for their support. And kudos to our fantastic logo designer, Paige Roby, a local sailor who is a college freshman sailing for Boston College.

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