Young sailors host 1st home regatta

Kyle Hammill, 14, emphatically declares that he wants to win.

Reese King says he's just excited about the challenge of racing against other people.

Joshua Bakita and Kyle Beyer hope only that they don't finish in last place, which shouldn't be a problem, because Liz Gilbert says she doesn't care if that's where she finishes. She just wants to learn new tactics from other sailors.

The goals may vary from sailor to sailor, but all this fall's members of N.C. Community Sailing and Rowing's scholastic sailing program are excited about one thing: The group will host its first home regatta, the Carolina Youth Challenge, on Saturday at Blythe Landing on Lake Norman.

NCCSR leaders say teams from both Carolinas are expected, and all the local organization's 15 boats, at least, should be filled with sailing teams. The two-person boats will sail a course about 500 yards long along Lake Norman's southern shore.

The nonprofit organization, which operates under a private-public partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Park and Recreation, offers programs for adults, the disabled and youths, including a rowing program at Lake Norman YMCA in Cornelius.

Expanding program

NCCSR introduced its scholastic program in April 2009. It operates eight-week training programs in the spring and fall and also offers summer camps.

This fall, about 25 sailors in seventh grade and up are in separate programs for introductory and experienced sailors. Even in the advanced program, the level of experience ranges widely, from three months to seven years.

Having sailed for the past four years, Kyle Hammill of Huntersville is one of the more experienced sailors. He says he has attended sailing summer camps at his grandparents' home in northern Virginia, where he also has competed in regattas.

Kyle and NCCSR teammate Evan Cook, a 12-year-old from Mooresville, planned to participate in a regatta this weekend in Raleigh. Cook has about three years' sailing experience, some of it on the ocean, which poses different challenges than lake sailing.

NCCSR leaders say they want to build their program so public and private high schools around Lake Norman can establish their own sailing teams. Kyle Hammill, Evan Cook, Kyle's 16-year-old brother, Ben, and brothers Patrick and John Robertson are on the verge of forming a team that would represent Southlake Christian.

"Our vision when we formed this was to have a Lake Norman scholastic sailing league," says Larry Vitez, president of the NCCSR board. "We will eventually have teams in public schools, private schools and home schools, and they will eventually compete."

'Something to work toward'

As the organization's teams develop, NCCSR sailing coach Will Paschal says, they likely will join high school sailing's regional sanctioning body, the South Atlantic Interscholastic Sailing Association. It has 550 sailors on 78 teams in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, he says.

In the Carolina Youth Challenge, NCCSR's sailors will be exposed to teams that are members of that association.

"I want to give (our sailors) something to work toward," said Paschal, a Georgia native. "There will be established teams ... from other schools. I want them to see these other teams' camaraderie and pulling together. It's my job to build teams at the schools in this area."

Kyle Hammill is hoping Blythe Landing can provide a "home lake" advantage for the NCCSR sailors, who practice there twice a week.

"The lake is round and has so many trees around it," he said. "The wind shifts a lot more, and it can swirl. It's not at all consistent. If you're sailing on salt water or on a river at the ocean, the wind's always coming from one direction. So it's easier to sail on a place with more constant wind."

Finding the proper wind shift is key in sailing. The members of NCCSR are hoping it will be a breeze.