By Rick Petzold, Jamie Ewing & Bernardo Low-Beer
If you should ever win a world championship, you’d probably want to spread the news as fast and far as possible. Well, so did Sebastian Mera. The 20-year old sailor from the Dominican Republic took the 2007 Sunfish World Championships on Thursday (August 23) in Long Beach Island for the first major win of his career.
Still in his boat, not yet on land, Mera spoke on a phone with his elated parents, who were back home, giving him congratulations. “I already talked to them in the water. They were pretty excited,” Mera said. “The Sunfish president (Andres Santana) from my country was in the water. He greeted me and talked to my parents and gave me the phone.”
A consistent performance out made the congratulatory call possible. Among a packed field of 100 sailors who began competing Monday, Mera took first place four times and runner-up another three. He combated miserable boating conditions that included complete cloud cover, cold temperatures and 15-20 mph winds for most of the tournament. Only before the start of the final race did the sun come out to greet the new champion.
The 2007 Sunfish Worlds at Brant Beach Yacht Club will be remembered as a wet and windy regatta by all participants and organizers. The remnants of Tropical Storm Erin had migrated up from the Gulf Coast only to run into a strong cold front coming down from Canada. The two systems merged over the Jersey Shore, upending conventional wisdom about sailing on Little Egg Harbor. A northerly frontal system displaced the southerly sea breeze. Going left up the beats paid more than going right. And rain replaced sun at least for the first three days of the event. The gear distributors who set up in the boatyard were well-rewarded for their effort, selling all sorts of wet-suits, hiking pants, gloves, tops and other gear.
The greatest concern for any warm water sailor when faced with a regatta in daunting conditions “up north” is preventing psychosomatic hypothermia. This usually involves asking the northern natives many questions before departure, usually along the lines of: “how bad is it really?” To the warm water sailor, it can be 90 degrees out, with 75 degree water, and still be spray suit weather because 75 degree water is just too cold. That said, the Southern ex pat can eventually acclimate to Yankee summers, as your correspondent has over the past decade. This acclimation can lead to a false sense of confidence, even braggadocio, when speaking with the folks back home about conditions up this way. So when Miami resident and future Worlds housemate Danny Escobar called Jamie Ewing to ask what he should bring, Jamie simply responded as per recent custom: “August in [New Jersey] is warm. Really warm.” “Temperatures will be at least in the 80s, and the water will be warm enough for swimming.” “You don’t really need anything more than a spray top…well, and maybe a shorty wet-suit. Seriously. It’s not a problem at all.”
The high on Tuesday, August 21, 2007 in Central Park was 59 degrees. It tied the lowest high temperature ever in August in NYC. This regatta was cold. And wet.
Sebestian Mera: “I came here with a little shirt and my life jacket. It was 18 degrees (Celsius, or 64 degrees Fahrenheit) and I was freezing. I wasn’t expecting this at all so I had to buy some (sailing apparel).”
What he should expect now is a hero’s welcome this weekend when he gets back home to Las Americas airport in Santo Domingo. “Our country is on a small island, so this is really a big deal for us,” Santana said. “Everyone now is cheering for him. They are preparing a whole reception for him (at) the airport. The whole press, other family, friends, everybody is going to see him.”
Studying industrial design at Intech University in the Dominican, Mera competes in about five big races a year. In 2007, he’s been to Curacao, Brazil, and the Eastern seaboard of the United States twice. But his real hope is to be in London in 2012. That’s when he believes he has a good shot to represent his country in the Olympics. “I’m trying to start in Laser. That’s another boat,” Mera said. “Sunfish is my strongest point. But since Laser is an Olympic class, I’m going to shine in that.” For now, he’s the sparring partner for Raul Aguayo, who hopes to represent Mera’s homeland in the Laser at Beijing next summer.
Monday’s racing featured wet conditions and big breeze (up to and over twenty knots), and some of the class’s best heavy-air sailors dominated the first day. Paul-Jon Patin (USA) who eventually finished 3rd, led the fleet after the first day, with eventual runner-up Malcolm Smith (BER) already in position at the end of the day as well.
Tuesday’s racing was cancelled, as PRO Paul Coward chose to err on the side of prudence, with morning winds consistently in the mid-20s, with gusts well over 30 knots, not expected to abate for the day.
And it was raining. Again, (or STILL)
On Wednesday, the wind was more manageable and the rain began to subside. By the end of the day, regatta participants could confirm that reports of the sun’s demise were premature. Eventual winner Sebastian Mera took control of the regatta over the course of the day, and recent Pan-Am Games Silver Medalist Alexander Zimmerman (PER) made a strong showing on Wednesday as well.
Thursday was the light air day some of the early leaders had feared and other participants needed. The northerly slowly faded all day, conking out just after the finish of the final race. Consistency was difficult to come by, and about the only person who managed anything close to it was David Mendelblatt (USA), though Mera had by that point established an all-but insurmountable lead, and his 8th in the last race was more than good enough to crown him 2007 World Champion.
Bernardo Low-Beer reflecting on his first Sunfish Worlds:
Coming into the Sunfish class was way more than racing the Pan American games. I was bitten by the Sunfish and couldn’t let go. This boat is amazing for its simplicity. You can sail almost as fast as a Laser, without half the work, and by spending a lot less money. Also everybody I met from the Sunfish class are really nice people. The regattas were really good, since the boat doesn’t ask as much as other boats from the physical condition of the athlete. It’s a boat that girls can race alone and do really well!! It can’t go any better than this! Imagine – a championship with the same number of girls and boys competing. That was a dream for me before I entered the Sunfish regattas.
I was also stunned in this championship in New Jersey for all the social events we had there. Everyday we had something to do. It doesn’t matter whether you did good or bad on the races, you can always have fun afterwards! It’s impossible to get bored in a championship like this. Not to mention that all the boats are exactly the same with equal sails and material.
The team at Brant Beach Yacht Club (BBYC) handled the extraordinary job of hosting the Worlds with aplomb, and their hospitality was inspiring. Clubs that run primarily on volunteer efforts, especially ones that would take on a World Championship of this magnitude, are becoming fewer and farther between, but the BBYC proved that not only can such a club run a big event, they can do so smoothly. BBYC Commodore, Regatta Chairman and PRO Coward (and his committee) did a great job getting 10 races in and avoiding the black flag, despite an eager fleet and current pushing the fleet over the starting line. The food and entertainment were excellent. Everyone involved with launching, rescue and repair kept all the sailors moving. Any volunteer-run clubs that have considered, and then hesitated, to stage an event of this magnitude should look to BBYC and realize that not only can it be done, but it can be done very well. Weather conditions, “be damned.”
In addition to the race winners, special trophies were awarded to:
|Top Master||Malcolm Smith (BMU)|
|Top Woman||Lee Parks (USA)|
|Top Youth||Alexander Zimmerman (PER)|
|Marco Polo Award|
|Sportsmenship Award||Chelsea Katz (USA)|