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Like to sail alone? You've got company

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The Shorthanded Sailing Association was formed in response to a surge in single- and double-handed racing

The Shorthanded Sailing Association was formed in response to a surge in single- and double-handed racing

There is this difference — other than the number of sailors you will find on board — between those who race on fully crewed sailboats and those who race short-handed, says Rich du Moulin, who has sailed double-handed in the last three Newport-Bermuda Races.

“In single-handed and double-handed, people fall in love with it and, almost like missionaries, want to share it,” says du Moulin. “You learn so much from your competitors. Everybody helps each other,” he says, while those who race crewed boats tend to keep their secrets.

Prepare to be evangelized.

A gathering of about 70 short-handed sailors decided late last year to form the Shorthanded Sailing Association, not only to proselytize but to push for more short-handed racing. “There is a developing interest and enthusiasm for actually racing one’s boat for two people,” says Joe Cooper, the short-handed sailor who set up the December meeting in Middletown, R.I., and who has been elected the SSA’s temporary president. “There also seems to be a subset of people who are getting bored with doing windward-leeward [racing] all day long.”

In a press release announcing the new organization, Cooper writes that “short-handed ‘racing’ is increasingly [popular] because it allows sailors to get a racing fix without a large investment in crew recruitment, training, management and specialized sails and equipment, and at the same time the participants on the boat get to do everything.”

Long-distance ocean races are one focus of the SSA. Until recently both the Newport-Bermuda and Marion to Bermuda races required a minimum crew of four. Double-handed veteran Bjorn Johnson, who introduced du Moulin to the sport, says it took time to convince race organizers that short-handed sailing “wasn’t as crazy as everybody thought it was.” Now those two events and the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race all offer double-handed classes, he notes.

The formation of the SSA follows the creation by the Stamford (Conn.) Yacht Club of an annual Double Handed Ocean Racing Trophy for the skipper with the best results in a series of offshore and coastal races ranging from the Pineapple Cup-Montego Bay Race (Florida to Jamaica) to the Monhegan Island (Maine) Race.

“What we see is a continual upsurge of the sport of double-handed sailing,” says Raymond L. Redniss, who organized the Double Handed Ocean Racing Trophy. He sees the SSA as a “central place for double-handers to get information” on races.

Cooper and many of those who attended the organizing meeting see the new group as much more. Not only racers, but typical cruising couples who normally sail short-handed could benefit from the organization, they say. “I think there’s more direct tie-ins between single-handed [racing] and the average sailor than between the America’s Cup and average sailor,” says Bruce Schwab, the first American to finish the single-handed Vendee Globe race around the world and a two-time circumnavigator. Schwab was among those drawn to Cooper’s meeting at the Hood Sail Loft, where Cooper works.

“People learn from each other, learn from having a few professionals around,” Schwab says. “[They] can see things they might do on their boat. The idea of how do you manage a big complex machine.”

“What it’s going to do is bring a little order to the chaos,” says Raymond Renaud, skippers’ representative for the biennial Bermuda One-Two race, next scheduled for a June start in Newport, R.I. “You have a lot of different groups doing short-handed.”

Renaud says double-handed sailing was growing, but no one was pulling it all together until Cooper applied his energy to the issue. “By bringing all these groups together … I think it’s a big bonus to developing short-handed techniques and equipment. That will be the outcome a few years from now when we look back,” Renaud says. He believes that “people who are not even racers may want to participate in it to get the knowledge.”

Jennifer Tegfeldt, a Boston patent attorney, was one such sailor drawn to Cooper’s inaugural SSA meeting. Tegfeldt says she isn’t a racer but does a lot of short- and single-handed sailing. “It’s the kind of sailing I really enjoy, and it’s not always easy to learn techniques from other people,” she says.

Cooper sees the association as a way for racers to end the “arms race” in yacht racing and to draw in average sailors. For offshore racers, the “lack of durability of high-test plastic sails [and] recruitment of crew always has been a big question. People, I think, are getting more and more reluctant to go through the routine. It’s a lot of work relative to the bang for the buck.”

Another benefit of the organization, according to Cooper and others, would be its potential to bring young adults into short-handed racing at a time when, financially or due to family demands, they might not be able to race their own boats. Kristen Wenzel, 38, who grew up in Wickford, R.I., racing sailboats, says she got out of that circuit because it’s tough just after college. “You don’t have the money for a boat,” she says.

Then she tried short-handed racing as crew with Renaud on his C&C 35. “I liked the challenge to yourself,” she says. “You have to push yourself. There’s no one else who is going to pick up the slack.”

While Wenzel expects the SSA to stimulate more short-handed racing opportunities, she also sees it as a way to give young sailors “some short-handed offshore experience.” She says there is discussion to have a place on the group’s Web site listing boats looking for racing or delivery crew. The site remained under construction at press time, but the URL

(www.short-handed.org ) has been registered.