Sunfish Fun

That time a sailing celebrity raced on a Sunfish....

I must have appeared a little worried as I started to launch my borrowed Sunfish for a Tuesday night race. A bystander remarked, “Don’t worry. It’s just like riding a bike.” It had been quite a long time since sailing a Sunfish, let alone racing one. At 220 pounds I felt big for the boat. Happily, there was a fresh breeze blowing in from the south. Once I was out on the water, I did a few practice tacks and gybes for the race. Yikes, it was tough just getting under the boom. Internally, I was hoping to just keep the boat upright.

Gary Jobson racing Sunfish in Annapolis. Photo by Larry Martin

The Sunfish has been around since 1952 or so. To get out on the water with a sail, dolly, cover, and essential gear costs about $5000 for a new boat, and a lot less for an older one. Eastport Yacht Club provides members access to use their club-owned recreational Sunfish. They are the perfect beach boat and are very safe. 

On Tuesday nights the Severn Sailing Association hosts a series of short races. On my night there were 10 boats out on the water. The ages ranged from 18 to 67 (can you guess who that was?). There was also a fleet of Lasers and a third class with a variety of boats out racing on that same Tuesday night. After 20 minutes of warming up it was time to race.

For the record I gave it everything I had, especially in 17 knots of wind. I rounded the first mark in third place in all four races. On the leeward leg I was passed twice to finish fourth. The clear winner of the evening was U.S. Naval Academy coach and Olympic sailor, Nancy Haberland. I got to sail alongside Nancy after each start, but she simply sailed away. Maybe my extra weight made some difference, but Nancy sure sailed the boat nicely. I studied her sail trim, and tried to match it. She won all four races. After the race I asked her if she had been in the class for a while. She said, “I’ve actually been sailing Sunfish since 1984.  I have won eight Women’s North Americans, the Sunfish Midwinters, Sunfish Masters, and finished in the top five in the World Championship a few times. I haven’t been in the boat much in the past 15 years. Hopefully, we can continue to grow the Annapolis fleet. Mike Reifer and Kathleen Elliott have done a lot to promote the fleet here in Annapolis.”

The wind started to die as the sun started to set. The 10 Sunfish made it back to the shore safely. For me it was a satisfying evening of racing. I ended up with a 4-4-3-3 to eke out a third for the session. Back home that night I dove into my note books to see when the last time I had raced the nifty Sunfish. It was the weekend of September 15, 1972. Forty-five years is a long time, but I guess it is like riding a bike. I did not capsize and had a lot of fun.

by Gary Jobson

For more information about the local Annapolis Sunfish Fleet, please contact [email protected] or [email protected]

For a recent podcast interview with Gary Jobson click here.