2011-04-21 / News

Island sailor prepares for world-class Laser competition

By Geoff Campbell

Rachel Bryer Rachel Bryer Rachel Bryer is an accomplished Laser class sailor who has qualified to compete on the world stage in San Francisco this July.

She said that when she first started sailing she “didn’t really like it as much,” but as her skills grew in concert with a move up in boat classes, Bryer has come to enjoy sailing and the satisfaction that she derives from doing well. She said that she feels she can keep doing well and that she wants to go far with it.

She already has.

For the 15-year-old, winning major races is the rule, not the exception.

Among her most important wins was the one she posted in her Laser 4.7 at the Atlantic Coast Championships in Long Island, qualifying her for the Laser 4.7 World Championship regatta in San Francisco at the end of July.

She also topped the field at the Cork International Regatta in Ontario in July. She finished 16th in a field of 52 in Miami at the U.S. Junior Women’s Championships and followed that up with wins in her Laser Radial at the Narragansett Bay Yachting Association Girls’ Championship, which was held in Jamestown.

Most recently Bryer placed 31st out of 140 boats at the Orange Bowl Regatta held at the end of December in Miami. Hosted by the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, the regatta boasts entrants from around the world.

These days Bryer is most often racing in a Laser Radial. Bryer explained that the sailing rig for the Radial is bigger than the 4.7 and not as big as the full-rig boats that one can see from Jamestown when they sail out of Newport Harbor Yacht Club on Sunday afternoons.

Bryer joined the Frostbite Laser sailors a couple of times but sailing for fun on Sundays was curtailed with the start of practices for the North Kingstown High School sailing team, which began in the middle of March. Sailing is a three-season sport.

Bryer works with the Conanicut Yacht Club in the summer, Fort Adams Sailing Team in the fall and spring, and with her high school team that sails from March 15 to May 20.

Bryer began sailing when she was 8 years old from the beach at Conanicut Yacht Club in Jamestown. Bryer’s first boat was an Optimist.

“They’re really tiny, for little kids who are starting out,” she said. “A lot of coaches say that they’re the most complicated boat.” Optimist boats are 3 inches shy of 8 feet long, rigged with a mast of nearly identical length.

Bryer said that she has benefited from her start in a boat class that requires an exacting, even “scientific” approach to successful sailing.

Bryer credits her summer coaches at Conanicut Yacht Club for setting high expectations: “They worked you really hard and they wanted you to get really good, really fast.”

Bryer described an 8-year-old’s summer day sailing on an Optimist. “You go out for a morning session, come in for lunch and some instruction, and then go back for an afternoon session.”

“It’s a long day,” she added.

After several summers of sailing and racing Optimist dinghies, Bryer moved up to Lasers. Describing Optimists as “bathtubs with a sail,” she credits the speed of the Laser class with re-energizing her appreciation for sailing. “They are way faster,” she said.

Lasers are just over 13 feet long. Bryer explained that additional Laser classes are created by using alternative rigging on the same hull.

Competing with the Fort Adams Sailing Team, Bryer first sailed a Laser 4.7, which is the smallest of the sailing rigs of the Laser class boats. She explained that the smaller sail sits on a shorter mast so that it fits better.

That’s when the winning began in earnest.

Bryer won the 4.7 division at the 2008 Narragansett Bay Yacht Association

Junior Race Week, placing first in four of the six races and beating her closest competitor by four points.

In 2009, she placed first in seven of nine races, and crushed the nearest competitor by 12 points.

Later that year, she traveled to Canada for the North American Championships and to Long Island for the U.S. Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championship, according to Jim Bryer, Rachel’s father.

Last year Bryer led the B boat in the girls’ championship for the North Kingstown sailing team, which is a club sport and therefore does not receive the school’s financial support.

Now a sophomore, Bryer and the varsity coed sailing team practice three days a week for four hours a day out of the Wickford Yacht Club. Saturdays are given to a three-hour practice, a regatta, or, on occasion, a day off. On Sundays, Bryer fits in a seven-hour practice with the Fort Adams team. Lest you think that there are two days unaccounted for, Bryer spends Monday and Friday afternoons at the gym working out.

Winning its first five meets, North Kingstown had the wind taken out of its sails by Hotchkiss in a 3-1 loss.

Bryer explained that 420s — “double-handed” boats — are used in high school team racing. The 420 dinghy is 14 feet long and rigged with both a mainsail and a jib.

Bryer said that each school puts three boats in the water for each race.

Regularly winning the best out of five meets, Bryer describes the Skippers as probably one of the best public schools. Competition includes Portsmouth, Barrington, Prout and St. George’s.

According to Bryer, sailing on their home course is complicated by the sand bar in Wickford Harbor. She described a recent race in which the retreating tide fouled the start on more than a couple of occasions.

The daughter of Town Planner Lisa Bryer and Fire Chief Jim Bryer, Rachel has a brother Ian who has just begun to sail an Optimist.

Bryer said that she is looking forward to the two trips to San Francisco this summer; first for a weeklong all-girls’ regatta and clinic at the end of June and then to the Laser World Championships at the end of July.

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