By Rear Commodore Chuck Sinks
The annual Dutch Shoe Marathon - an epic Naples Sabot yacht race from La Playa Cove to Coronado Yacht Club is an incredible race/experience for everyone involved. Sailors, spectators and even those shoreside who are not quite sure what they are watching, are taken in by the sight of 180 - 200 Sabots, helmed mostly by 8 - 13 year old sailors, sailing down San Diego Bay on a sunny July afternoon.
The emphasis of the Dutch Shoe or "the marathon" as the race is affectionately known, is on two key areas; #1 safety and secondly building confidence and fun for the kids, particularly at a large contingent of young "C Fleet" sailors from Southern California Yacht Clubs who are most of the way through their respective summer sailing programs. The young C Fleet sailors start Dutch Shoe first, followed by the more experienced and generally older B, A Fleet juniors and then the (really old) Senior Fleet. The C Fleeters lead the way out of La Playa Cove embarking on the challenge of piloting their 7'11" Sabot 7.2 miles down San Diego Bay, dodging other competitors, crossing a major shipping channel, sailing by aircraft carriers, fighting current, bouncing over waves, clearing kelp, having a snack and finally finishing in the very shifty shadow of Coronado's famous high rise condos. A HUGE accomplishment and confidence builder when the square nose of their Sabot finally crosses the finish line!
As mentioned earlier, the kids let the Senior Sabot sailors play in the Dutch Shoe too. This is a great experience for the "older kids" still able to fold an often uncooperative body up and into a Sabot. What many of the young sailors don't know is several Seniors are alumni of this race - starting as C Fleeters 40+ years ago! And the Seniors are still enjoying the challenge of "the marathon" Sabot race!
The 2012 Dutch Shoe Marathon was one of the most unique Dutch Shoe's in recent memory. This year, there was more Navy and commercial traffic in SD Bay channel during the race than in past years. The race organizers (as is their prerogative) kept the 180+ racers from crossing the channel until there was a sufficient "break" in the commercial traffic for the Sabots to safely make their way across the SD Bay channel. As a result, much of the race down the Bay this year was on the North (San Diego) side of the channel instead of crossing the channel immediately after exiting the Shelter Island Yacht Basin and sailing along North Island, as is customary. Plus, the 2012 race featured light breeze, and ebbing tide and plenty of kelp which made a long marathon in a Sabot even longer!
For the 35 or 40 boats that had worked up towards the front of the pack, a break finally occured in the commercial traffic just as the leaders were approaching the area of the Embarcadero near the Fish Market restaurant. The race organizers (as is their prerogative) set a buoy and hailed the leaders to round to starboard, cross the channel and head over to the Coronado side of the channel towards another buoy anchored near the Coronado Ferry pier. That buoy was to be taken to port and racers were then to continue on the published course towards Coronado. At this stage of the 2012 Dutch Shoe, two young SDYC standout B Fleet sailors Jack Egan and Jack Reiter were "launched" with a sizable gap between the Jack Egan and Jack Reiter, and another larger gap between Jack Reiter and the rest of the 180+ competitors. Basically, if these guys don't flip, one of the two young lads would be first to finish the marathon!
As (bad) luck would have it, three Canadian Navy ships rolled in and the "break" in commercial traffic was short-lived. The race was halted for the sailors on the San Diego side of the Bay at the "Fish Market" buoy. to be fair, Race Organizers also stopped the lead pack who had safely crossed the channel to the Coronado side. Once the Canadian Navy passed, a re-start was ordered for groups on both sides of the channel. For the group of boats on the Coronado side, this involved a wild downwind re-start -- 40+ Sabots rail to rail racing downwind, heading towards a turning mark about 400 yards ahead. Unfortunately, for Jack Egan and Jack Reiter, the large gap they had worked so hard to put on the fleet in the first two hours of the race had evaporated. Now, with more experienced A, B and a couple of Seniors all bunched together heading downwind to the turning mark, "the Jack's" found themselves in the middle of a king sized Sabot scrum. As it turned out, both the pint sized junior sailors held their own just fine, whooping up on some more experience sailors... getting around the turning mark and into the finish. While disappointed with the big lead evaporating with the re-start, the boys had to be pleased with finishing the marathon and how well they sailed against much more experienced sailors.
Jack Egan was all smiles at the end... his comment was "hey, those are the breaks." Jack is an impressive young sailor, a winner and a fantastic example of Junior Sailing at SDYC. Young sailors like Jack are the magic of the marathon. No doubt we'll see both Jack's at the head of the pack again next year. And not just in "the marathon".
A little different Dutch Shoe this year, but a good time for all. Kudos to the SDYC Race Committee for keeping the race safe and fun for the kids, no matter what age!