In September, Scott Ward and his navigator Shane Morast, who commandeered their boat Crocodile to a first-place finish in their class last weekend during the Governor’s Cup Yacht Race, will be back racing on the Chesapeake Bay.
But this time, they won’t be sailing with Crocodile, the Beneteau first 50 which has won many races in Bermuda and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Instead, Ward and his crew will be swapping their boat for a Navy 44, the classic sailboat used by the U.S. Naval Academy for the U.S. Sailing Offshore Championships.
“The skipper has to be in front 100% of the time with the race rules,” said Ward, who will be in charge of the boat during the race. “The requirements are that the skipper is at the helm. I drive the strategy and the in-close tactics on that, working the mechanics of the race course.”
The offshore championships are a maritime tradition that has occurred every other year since 1994 and feature a fleet racing competition in offshore keelboats on a closed course except for one long-distance race.
Ward has been in the last three races.
“You never know,” he said. “The competition is always really sharp, they are the top guys from each region around the United States. We have an advantage because we are local, but it never pays off. Last year’s winner was from Chicago. Ten boats out on the course all finish after multiple miles and can finish within one or two minutes or each other, which is even unheard of usually in sailing.”
Having every crew race in the same boat is something that can level the playing field.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Ward said. “To make it as even as possible, they are identical boats, taking the guess work out of rating. It becomes a crew and skipper and strategy, which pits each team against each other.
He added: “Navy 44 is more like an A2 boat. They rate pretty well. The team I coached, the varsity offshore sailing team, races donated boats which are raced as well as the Navy 44’s. They finished 1 and 2 in their respective class in the A2 class in the major races. So these are competitive boats. They aren’t just sleepers.”
Ward was lucky enough to be invited back this year and in previous years to compete against some of the best sailors in the country, as each of the 11 U.S. Sailing areas may nominate at least one team to represent their area.
“We are excited about our selection into the U.S. Offshore Championships at USNA in September,” he said. “Only 10 teams are invited, one per region in the United States, so we are very excited to be selected again for a third time.”
Teams representing each of the U.S. Sailing areas are seeded through area eliminations or by sailing résumé plus one U.S. Naval Academy team.
Each team must have competed in at least five regattas in IRC, ORC, ORR, PHRF, Offshore One Design, Offshore Level Class Racing or Portsmouth Numbers rating systems in its respective area during the current season.
Morast is an advanced navigation coach with the Navy varsity offshore team and has been navigating with Ward and his crew.
“I raced with him two years ago,” Morast said. “I didn’t race the previous iteration in 2015. I was unable to compete that year because of some surgeries. I’m Scott’s navigator for Crocodile first 50, I’ve been his navigator since 2008. I’ve been around the Atlantic a few times with him. The championships at the Naval Academy are a very interesting race, crews are selected from all over the U.S.”
Morast’s favorite thing to do is to talk shop with the competition.
“It’s interesting talking to competitors before and after the race and the different navigations tools to inform crew about wind and currents,” he said.
“The people who won in 2017 were used to freshwater in Chicago, so I helped them learn the website to use to know what the current will do. The camaraderie that it builds and the absolutely awesome competition on identical Navy boats.”
The race also commemorates the battle of the Virginia and Monitor during the Civil War which Lloyd Phoenix, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1861, witnessed first hand. It marked the first battle between ironclad warships ever in naval history and Phoenix was an avid sailor himself.
Phoenix’s New York Yacht Club 1909 “The Cruise” trophy is on display at the Naval Academy as a means of improving civilian and military sailing relations.
“The goal of the Navy and sailing is to train crews to handle decision making abilities and to develop and mentor them,” Ward said. “They are safe and well designed and are robust to survive 20 years of hard use,with the offshore training programs. These are well built boats.”
Racing on Navy 44’s is a whole different kind of sailing than Morast and Ward typically do. It can only be described as windward and leeward, a kind of slalom course for sailboats.
“Each of the Navy 44’s are identically configured,” Morast said. “Every day for the three days of regatta you’re not on the same boat every time. They switch boats. It’s very competitive, super close and it takes some getting use to on the Navy 44’s. They are a very stout boat.”
Historically, the race includes the U.S. Naval Academy’s midshipmen as a mentorship and learning opportunity. Each boat’s crew consists of eight including one skipper and six crew members plus one midshipman provided from the varsity offshore racing team.
“The Naval Academy supplies one of their midshipmen, female or male, who stays with us for three days, and it builds camaraderie with the midshipmen,” Morast said.
For Ward, mentoring younger sailors is something that he loves because of his marine pilot experience and sailing background.
“I happened to meet some coaches out in Bermuda at a race,” he said. “I was offered to come coach. I have a sailing background, but I didn’t go to the Naval Academy. I’m a retired marine pilot with 25 years of experience, so I can teach racing and mentor them in military decision making. It’s an incredible experience.
“We have a navigator on our boat that I coached in the Halifax race. We took him on board as a midshipmen and we had the skipper and helmsman of that boat during the Governor’s Cup.”
The only three-time winning skipper is Bruce Kuryla from Connecticut and Ward hopes to finish in first one of these times.
“I want to represent to the best of my ability and always want a top-five podium finish. We’ve managed to get a third and fifth,” Ward said.