Hamilton Barclay ’22 and Alton Coolidge ’22 sail competitively as part of Lincoln Academy’s sailing club. This year only single-handed Laser racing was allowed under COVID safety rules, and the two LA students came in first and third among high school sailors in Maine.
Although Lincoln Academy does not have an official varsity sailing team, LA students have been remarkably successful in regattas in Maine and around the country in the past several years. One group of students competes in double-handed (or two-person) sailing through the Boothbay Yacht Club. In 2019 Ella Beauregard ‘21 and Hamilton Barclay ‘23 took second place at the Junior Nationals Regatta in Michigan, and Beauregard went on to win the 2019 Maine Women’s Doublehanded Championships, the state championship in girls high school sailing, with fellow LA student Arden Carlton ‘22. Unfortunately, double-handed races have been canceled since March due to COVID safety concerns.
Two LA students, Hamilton Barclay and Alton Coolidge ‘22, have taken on the challenge of single-handed sailboat racing, a sport usually reserved for older and more experienced sailors, in order to keep racing during the pandemic. They sail independently out of Padebco Marine in Round Pond, and recently finished as the first and third high school sailors in Maine in the fall 2020 Portland Yacht Club Frostbite Regatta series.
Barclay and Coolidge have trained together in Round Pond since April, putting in more than 150 days on the water in 2020. Like most other single-handed racers, they sail Lasers, 13.9-foot one-design sailing dinghies used in single-handed competitions around the world, including the Olympics.
Alton Coolidge ’22 hikes out on his Laser during the 2020 Frostbite Regatta.
“Lasers are not usually a high school or collegiate boat, but those boats need two people to sail them, and that isn’t safe right now,” said Coolidge. “So this spring and summer people started using Lasers more and more. By the time Portland came around, people were more comfortable in Lasers, and the safety issues had been sorted out. 27 boats turned out at the Portland regatta, which is a lot for that race.”
“The number of boats [in the Frostbite Regatta] actually grew this year,” agreed Barclay. “Everybody had to wear masks and stay six feet apart on land, but once we get out on the water it is safe.”
The Frostbite series included 23 races in five regattas in November. Each race lasts between 20 and 30 minutes, depending on the wind, according to Coolidge. Based on total points at the end of the series, Barclay placed first out of the high school racers and Coolidge placed third, despite having to miss two of the five days of racing when he was identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID.
Both sailors brought significant racing experience to the Frostbite series. Coolidge has been racing Lasers since 2018. While this is Barclay’s first season in Lasers, he is the 2019 C420 state champion and the 2017 and 2018 state Opti champion, in addition to placing second at Junior Nationals in 2019.
Hamilton Barclay ’23 racing his Laser in the 2020 Frostbite Regatta.
“Racing Lasers is a very different experience than double-handed races,” said Barclay. “You have to do everything yourself, you can’t rely on a crew to split the load, so it is on you to do everything physically as well as mentally.”
Because of their large sail area and light hull, Lasers are fast and physically challenging to sail, requiring sailers to hike out on straps and use their body weight to help trim the boat. They often capsize while sailing in high winds, and competitive sailors wear dry suits in cold weather and need to be able to right their boats and keep sailing in competition.
“In a Laser there is very little room for error,” said Coolidge. “As soon as you make a mistake you can capsize very quickly.” Coolidge explained that an experienced sailor can land on the centerboard as the boat tips over and use it as a lever to right the boat within 15-20 seconds without actually swimming. Coolidge and Barclay, who both wore drysuits, capsized multiple times during the Frostbite Regatta, righted themselves, and kept sailing for the finish. Even when a sailor doesn’t actually swim, Coolidge said, “the sail goes in the water, and when you come up most of the time everything gets soaked.”
Even without a varsity sailing team, Coolidge and Barclay consider themselves to be representing the LA sailing club when they enter regattas with other high school students, and they look forward to more racing this spring, continuing their lifelong love of being on the water, no matter the challenge.
“Sailing is a really calming sport,” said Barclay, who hopes to sail in college. “It helps get your mind off school. It’s a great way to meet new people–although less so this year. The sport itself is a fun thing to do.” How does Barclay explain his long string of sailing success? “I’m sure people say this about every sport so it might sound boring, but it just takes getting out and doing it. 150 days on the water is a lot, especially this year.”