It's been called sailing's Little League.
Little League makes it easy for kids to get involved in baseball. The Inter-Lake Yachting Association's Junior Traveler Series does the same thing for young sailors.
To see how well it's working, you need only to have been at North Cape Yacht Club's Travelers Trophy regatta last weekend.
Over 120 kids began arriving early Saturday morning from all around Lake Erie, including Toledo, Cleveland, Port Clinton, Buckeye Lake, Put-in-Bay and Sandusky.
They sailed five races and were awarded trophies in a nice semi-formal ceremony. They also ran around on the beach, hung with old friends and even made some new ones.
It was a fun regatta, said 11-year old Andy Gunkler of Perrysburg, who won the overall honors in the Opti division and the Opti Gold Fleet.
In the last few years, Travelers Trophy competition has taken him to regattas in Columbus, Port Clinton, Sandusky , Put-in-Bay, Mentor Harbor and Chautauqua, N.Y.
“I've been sailing Optis since I was 7, but I've been sailing all my life,'' he said.
The North Cape regatta was competitive “because there was lots of competition,'' he said. “But it's very friendly competition. We help each other and play with each other.''
Andy won three of the five Opti races, but the first was the best, he said, because he won it by the largest margin.
Nick Thurber and Mike Stark, who took third in the 34-boat C/FJ class, were happy with their performance in the second race.
“We did everything right,'' Mike said. “Our tactical work and trim were very good and we worked the boat as hard as we could.''
Junior racing is exploding on Lake Erie, thanks in part to parents like Mike's father, Roger Stark, who has mostly given up racing himself to support his son's efforts.
Stark, who placed second overall in the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet division of the 2002 Lake Erie Race Week Series, used to compete in cruising auxiliary races at least once a week. Now he races only one week a season.
The rest of the time, he and his wife Carol are too busy traveling to regattas with Mike or helping him prepare to compete.
“I get as much pleasure watching my son compete as I do racing my own boat,'' Stark said.
Many of the other participants also come from sailing families.
“What other sport can you participate in with your family except skiing - and even then you wouldn't be racing on the same team,'' one parent at the regatta said.
Abby Skoch of Mentor said she put her daughter Coralee, now 17, on a sailboat when she was 6 weeks old.
“She really had no choice,'' she said. “She tried other things though, like horseback riding and softball, but she liked sailing best.'
“When you ask these kids about college, the first thing they ask is, “What's the sailing team like?''
Skoch says some advantages of the junior program are “it's fun, you've got real good competition and there's a lot of growth going on.''
For example, she said, Coralee, Nick Turney of Toledo and David Tunnicliffe, Perrysburg, will be going to the Laser Radial World Youth Championship at Buffalo Canoe Club, in Ontario, Canada, July 12-27.
Another Travelers Trophy participant, Steve Frazier, 17, recently took a break from the series to campaign Jolly Roger Sailing Club's new Thistle with brothers Eric and Karl Bradley.
At their first regatta, in Indianapolis, they took the top junior award and placed 13th overall.
Other area juniors will compete in the U.S. Multihull Championships in Port Clinton, July 12-14; the International F-J and Fireball Nationals and C/F-J Open Regatta in Port Clinton, July 16-18, the Inter-Lake Yachting Association Junior Bay Week at Put-in-Bay, July 21-25; the Great Lakes Opti Championships at Put-in-Bay, July 26, Lightning Junior Nationals at North Cape, August 6-9, and Interlake Junior Nationals at Port Clinton, Aug. 11-12.
The Traveler Series started in 1998. Since then, it has provided seven or eight qualifying regattas and several racing clinics each season. Juniors registered for the series must attend at least four events to qualify for a trophy or championship.
The fleet is split into three divisions: juniors aged 15 and under race Optimist dinghys; FJ and Laser fleets are open to sailors 18 and under, and youths aged 20 and under can compete in the Thistle Fleet.
Skippers and crew are registered separately and trophies are awarded for each category.
In addition to developing on-the-water skills, the young sailors become more confident and self-reliant. They are responsible for packing up their equipment, rigging the boat, and working together as a team.
ESPN's Geoff Mason has suggested that to help sailing grow, the sport needs to promote its personalities and heroes. But most kids don't need to look that far for their role models.
“I have a private instructor,'' Andy Gunkler said proudly, after winning his class at the 2001 Cattail Regatta.
“It's my dad, Wally Gunkler,'' he said.
“Anna is some great sailor,'' said media spokesperson Jan Harley, following the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association's North American Women's Championship at Keehi Lagoon, Honolulu, Hawaii, June 5-7.
She was speaking about Perrysburg sailor Anna Tunnicliffe, a member of the Old Dominion University team that captured the top trophy.
The ODU Monarchs last won the women's title in 1987. Anna, a freshman, sailed on the B crew, along with junior skipper Corrie Clement of Metarie, La., and junior Elizabeth Bower of Fairport, N.Y.
Two weeks later, Anna won three of five races to capture the Radial Division flag at the Laser Great Lakes Championship, held at Sandusky Sailing Club. Nick Turney placed eighth. Both are members of North Cape Yacht Club.
The series drew 76 boats from as far as Nova Scotia, California, Washington State, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Cyprus.
Racing in the Laser Division were Rick Rothenbuhler, eighth; David Tunnicliffe, 24th; Rob Linden, 29th; Shelly Rothenbuhler, 40th; Ryan Lashaway, 50th and Paul Tunnicliffe, 58th, all from North Cape; Thomas McRitchie of Port Clinton Yacht Club, 37th, and Karl Bradley, Jolly Roger Sailing Club, 44th.
Heidi Backus-Riddle of Vermilion Boat Club, sailing with a family crew, took first place in the Tartan Ten class at the Chicago NOOD Regatta.
Going into the final race, Riddle's boat Nuts was one point behind the class leader, Rich Strilky's Us. Not only were the points tight, but the 48 boat fleet included the top T-Ten sailors in the nation.
Despite light, oscillating winds, Riddle stuck to her pre-planned strategy: ``make a clean start, get out ahead and cover our closest rivals until the finish.
“That was our game plan,'' she said. “The start was key in this big fleet.''
Crew members included Riddle's husband, John, and her sisters, Amy Backus, Susan Starr and Gretchen Loper
Backus-Riddle and Nuts also topped the T-Ten class at Cleveland Race Week June 27-30. The six-race offshore series, held at Edgewater Yacht Club, drew 71 boats.
North Cape Yacht Club boats also brought home some silver.
Wizard, an Evelyn 32 co-skippered by Jeff and Marilyn Mackay, placed first in Class D and also won the Evelyn 32 nationals, held in conjunction with the race week regatta.
Kent and Sandy Gardam's Foghorn took first in the PHRF Division Class C and Chris and Matt Merkle's Moisture Missile was third.
Sailing coach Tony Noviski, in 40 OZ's to Freedom, took fifth in the J24 Class at Race Week's one-design regatta the previous weekend.
Interest in North Cape Yacht Club's Commodore Perry Memorial Race is running higher than usual, according to co-chairman Dennis DeGolier.
“We're getting a lot of calls for entry forms,'' he said. “I wouldn't be surprised if we had a bigger fleet than last year.''
Boats in four divisions will sail a 30-mile course on Lake Erie, starting at 9 a.m. tomorrow.
Race chairmen expect to have classes for Performance Handicap Racing Fleet, Midget Ocean Racing Club, and cruising yachts, depending on the number of entries.
North Cape also will hold a J-24 regatta, tomorrow and Sunday.
5/7: Annual regatta; Swan Boat Club
6: O'Day Area E Singlehanded Championship, in Lasers; Crescent Sail Yacht Club
6: Solo Popeye Race; Ford Yacht Club
6: Sandusky Islands Race; Sandusky Sailing Club
7: Doublehanded Medium Distance Race; West Shore Sail Club
11/14: Spirit of Detroit Thunderfest/Gold Cup Vintage and Historic Regatta; American Powerboat Racing Association
12/14: U.S.Youth Multihull Championship for the Hoyt-Jolley Trophy, in Mystere 4.3s; Port Clinton Yacht Club
12/14: Annual regatta and Associated Yacht Clubs Poker Run; Ottawa River Yacht Club
13: Inter-Lake Yachting Association Travelers Series Junior Regatta; Port Clinton Yacht Club
13: Port-to-Port Race, Monroe Boat Club to Ford Yacht Club
13: Bacardi Bayview Mackinac Race; Bayview Yacht Club, Detroit
14: Annual regatta, Western Lake Erie Sailing Club