Lightning 15619 - Boat Grant Report - November 2022
By: Sean Hannigan, Allison Hansen, Teddy Berman
We’re not the “A” squad or the “B” squad… We’re the Sea Squad.
The Lightning fleet is unlike most one-design fleets. The tradition has been built over generations, the competition is intimate, and the sailors are one-of-a-kind. We knew this before setting our sights on running a campaign in the Spring of 2022. It was years in the making, many late nights with close friends, and plenty of nudges from the people that matter the most. The newest Lightning was being designed, her destiny baked into the epoxy and fiberglass. Hull 15619 was just waiting for her crew.
Allison Hansen, an up-and-coming Rockstar sailor in the Charleston fleet. Teddy Berman, a seasoned keelboat tactician. Sean Hannigan, a collegiate keelboat sailor. We all found ourselves sailing together aboard the mighty Fogdog, a 1D35 in the Charleston harbor. Our camaraderie and personalities were well suited to start a new adventure together.
Each year the Lightning Fleet provides a unique opportunity for sailors like us. It targets established sailors who are well suited for a chance to own their very own boat. The grant simultaneously eases the financial burden associated with managing a competitive sailing campaign. We are so lucky to be just those sailors. When we initially applied for the grant, we thought about the community of lightning sailors we knew, and the events we had participated in. We dreamed of being a part of it and wanted desperately to contribute to the community that had been so forthcoming to us. Spring of 2022 was our shot, and to our delight, we secured our place amongst strong competition. What we didn’t realize before receiving hull 15619 was just how many sailors we would meet along the way, and how truly awesome this new endeavor would be.
Southeastern districts were held in the early part of June this year and we had every intention of making our name known. Having only received the boat days in advance, our first practice as the Sea Squad just so happened to be our first regatta day. Needless to say, we were up to the challenge and performed respectfully. As it was the first time the hull had ever hit the water, we paid our respects with the finest bottle of bubbles we could find, albeit from the nearest gas station. At the conclusion of those two days in Columbia, South Carolina we were sore: both physically and emotionally. This regatta would be the starting point of what would be our introduction to the Lightning fleet.
Our hopes were far from extinguished after that first event, the diligence of our team led to meticulous notes and testing. Countless talks with anyone who would give us their time. Fortunately for us, there are many souls who will happily donate their time and knowledge to the “new kids on the block”. We had the opportunity to work closely with many local Southeastern Lightning Fleet sailors, from Lenny Krawcheck and George Scarborough to Greg Fisher and Elain Parshall; just to name just a few. We knew it would take more than just post-race debriefs and chalk talks to see improvement, so we went to work.
Spreadsheets are really great. Allison is a Data Scientist by day, and Teddy is a logistical wizard by night. The team began weekly practices in Charleston, sailing out of the Charleston Yacht Club. Each day out led to new insights and discoveries. After a few more local events our sights were now focused on performing at Lightning North Americans in Sayville, New York.
We were excited to learn and grow as a team but didn’t realize just how much we’d accomplish in that time. One event after another, we found ourselves pushing the boat and each other over new hurdles. With each event, new insights and lessons were learned. The fleet supported and coached us each step of the way. The local events felt approachable, but our next challenge was in Wrightsville, North Carolina; we felt prepared.
To say the fleet is welcoming is an understatement. As this was our first out-of-town regatta, since getting our feet beneath ourselves, we were eager. The Sawyers define what it means to be a host and champion of a cause. Both John and Becky's hospitality and good nature made us feel welcome. We spent hours learning from them, not just about the conditions, but about what it means to be a part of the Lightning community. For that, we are indebted to their kindness.
July was coming to an end and our September schedule had a lot in store. We had the boat packed up and headed North for what would be a three-week hike up and down the east coast, with our first stop in Annapolis Maryland. Despite the fickle conditions in Annapolis, we had some good racing in the harbor. The commemoratory amongst the fleet was great, spirits were high as we all talked about our excitement for North Americans. Folks like David Starck and Bill Faude hyped us up as they shared their experiences, while locals like Joe Buczkowski helped guide us through the measurement process. The Squad was in good hands, and in high spirits leaving Annapolis; Sayville was only a week away.
The New Jersey Turnpike is no place for a Lightning, but then again neither are the streets of New York. All packed into a car sat all our gear, clothes, food, and three very eager sailors. Upon our arrival, we spilled out of the car and were met by the Commodore. He, and so many of the other outstanding volunteers hosting us, provided a warm welcome and showed us around their beautiful club. The following day we prepared the boat for final measurements and our first practice. As we went about our duties, a steady stream of boats kept rolling in. The procession was akin to a parade, with license plates from all over the country. Each driver smiled wide, waving to old friends, and cheerfully honking. The atmosphere was celebratory and overwhelming. By late morning the breeze was building as the sun warmed the shore, a lot of work was still ahead of us.
The rig is tuned, the bunks are dry, and the kite is rigged. It’s time to sail. Overnight yet more boats had arrived, the yard was brimming with trailers. Each boat’s crew was mentally preparing themselves for the task ahead while sneaking one more bite of bagel from the club. We wheeled ourselves to the crane, hooked up the bridle, and put her in. It was like every other race; we’d practiced it over and over; each of us visualized this very moment. Now it was time to sail.
The breeze was soft, the waters flat, and what felt like a flotilla of Lightnings began squaring each other up. While the race committee set marks, we set our controls. First dialing into our upwind mode, then turning and setting the spinnaker to get back to the line. With that came the next ritual, finding a sparring partner. Up and down, finding modes, and changing gears. We felt strong.
On the line, amongst the swarm of frenzied boats, we ducked and dove while seeking our rhythm and timing. Allison, our forward crew, makes time calls every fifteen seconds or so, like a metronome setting the pace of the boat. Teddy, our middle, calls boats by their last three sail number; fast tacks and quick jibes positioned ourselves skillfully in line. Sean, our driver, maneuvered to find the hole whilst remaining mindful to dive and protect the lane below from overlap. Quickly turning up and holding back the boats to windward from rolling over top. Twenty seconds, ease jib, head up. Fifteen seconds trim jib and main, hold your lane. Ten seconds drive down and set everything to power mode. We’re racing.
We might as well have been moving at light speed when the lanes were open and we were dialed in, but when the horizon to windward is filled with boats, we felt it. Windward legs stretched out the fleet and provided opportunities to find little gains. With each crossing, we fought for inches. The competition was fierce, and the anticipation to get to the next rounding was palpable. Last port, tacking, set the pole.
Around the offset and away we went. Once the spinnaker rotated and the board came up, we began our downwind hunt to the gate. Nothing feels quite as satisfying as the pressure in the sails and good VMG. As we approached the leeward gate, we talked through our game plan. Teddy led the conversation on tactics as he scanned the course watching how our competitors maneuvered themselves. Then all at once, we went to work hoisting the jib, dropping the pole, board down, and kite in. With each rounding, our movements became more deliberate and synchronized.
No matter the outcome of each race; at the end of the day, we found ourselves proud of the work we’d done on the water. Headed back to the club meant we could enjoy the beauty and nature around us. While waiting for the hoist we would commiserate with friends and competitors, learning their backstories and boat history. The countless zero-to-hero moments being recalled with glee, and the inevitable sobering recounts of blunders. Nevertheless, the time waiting provided us all with an opportunity to enjoy our company and the natural beauty around us.
First the bar, then the food line! Sayville Yacht Club hosted several hundred rambunctious and loud sailors with the utmost class and grace. From members and volunteers to simple onlookers, everyone was focused on the regatta and providing what they could to make it great. As a boat grant team, we felt truly welcomed and supported by nearly everyone we engaged. I especially thank Tommy Allen and Brian Hayes, for their tireless work and enduring spirit; not only did they help us make repairs on the fly during North Americans, but they’ve also inspired us to seek ways to give back to the fleet. After dinner and drinks, the scenery grew only more inviting. Whether it was the intoxicating conversations or the immersive beauty of the location, the night continued and the view from the deck kept many sailors on the back patio soaking it all in.
As Lightning North Americans came to a conclusion, we went about preparing to head back south to our home waters of Charleston, South Carolina. The team took some time to look back at the event and the lessons learned to this point. As we began to recount those lessons, the list grew longer and longer. If it could be boiled down to just a few points I’d say this; 1) Don't force your will onto the boat, instead feel it out and it will come to you naturally. 2) Don’t be shy or have too big of an ego, the lightning fleet is filled with subject matter experts who are just as happy to explain and help you improve as they are to smoke you on the start line. 3) Relax and have fun, the boat is frustrating at times, and the competition is stiff, but you can’t let it get under your skin, instead enjoy the ride.
As the Sea Squad looks ahead, we have several more events planned this winter. The team has come a long way from our first day on the water in Columbia, and we’ve learned so much; not only about the boat but about each other and how to make a successful team. We intend to continue our journey of learning and bettering ourselves as a team. Along with this, we have had such a special opportunity to learn from the best in the fleet, not just on the water but off the water too. We each look forward to the day we’ll see the new kids on the block and have the chance to give them some advice of our own.
The acknowledgments mentioned above are just a small few of the many countless Lightning sailors who have made our journey possible. To all those who have been there, at the events, on the water, on shore, or just behind the bar; thank you for being a part of our story.
2022 Boat Grant Teams - Left Team Blouin and Right Team Hannigan