Sailor Spotlight: Dick Wight
Dick Wight is a living legend. Seriously. Dick is one of the best sailors to ever come out of Barnegat Bay. A champion in many boats, Dick has been a fixture atop the leaderboard in the E-Scow fleet for 50 years now. At age 71, not only is Dick still skippering E-Scows, but he's still one of the most competitive boats on the course!
One tip Dick has for staying competitive is to find good crew and keep them around. Well when you're one of the nicest guys in the fleet and always running a competitive program, that seems easy to do. Says Alex Fasolo -- a college freshman at Tufts University, previous Sailor Spotlight, and one of Dick's E-Scow crew -- "I think if Dick Wight and I were the same age we would be best friends."
I respect a lot of sailors out there, but Dick is certainly at the top of my list. He wins with grace, he loses with dignity; at age 71 he never stops learning. He's beloved by all. We're lucky to have him on Barnegat Bay!
Name: Richard Wight
School: CBA '65 and University of Maryland '70
Yacht Club: Mantoloking Yacht Club
1) Dick, you are a legend in the sport and one of the best sailors to come out of Barnegat Bay. Briefly tell me about your junior sailing career and what you've done up until this point. First, thank you for that. I’ve been very fortunate to have been a part of the sailing scene in this area for so long. I wasn’t introduced to the sport of sailing until I was around 13. Before that time my summers were filled with sandlot and little league baseball. My family joined Manasquan River Yacht Club around 1960, and my father bought a Sneakbox the next year. I crewed for him the first summer, and the next summer I sailed a Duck Boat in the club junior series. At 15 years old I was racing our Sneakbox in the junior series at MRYC and crewing for my father. That summer we had an instructor named Jim Dunn. This will really date me, but he introduced all of us to the concept of a planing hull. He took the older students to BHYC for a ride on a “G Sloop”, which is somewhat similar to a Lightning. We got the idea of planing, and later that summer Jim Dunn had a local dealer who was selling Jet 14 sailboats come to MRYC and gave a demonstration. About 10 families bought the boats, as did families at BHYC and others. By the next year, we were all sailing in the BBYRA against other sailors. It was a rough introduction, as we still had a long way to go to get up to speed. At 16, I was extremely fortunate to have Carl Van Duyne as my instructor at MRYC. Carl was probably about 19 years old at the time, and he was about to go off to Princeton University. He understood and explained to me the physics of sailing, including the concepts of sail shape, jib luff sag, center of effort and center of lateral resistance. It really got me going, and I began buying as many books as I could find on these subjects.
After a couple of years in the Jet 14, around 1966 M Scows began to grow as a class in the BBYRA. We would have 50-60 boats on the starting line for the morning Bay races. It was great competition, as M Scows were stable and comfortable enough for adults to sail, thus providing another level of competition for the younger sailors. In 1968, my father and a good friend of his decided that they wanted to have a chance to race an E Scow. They bought a used local scow and stuck me at the helm. I just remember looking up forward and being stunned at how far away the bow was!
2) I remember racing against you in E-Scows when I crewed for my dad at age 10. Now we're skippering against each other. What is it about the E-Scow that has kept you in the class for so long? Your Dad, Erik, and I competed against each other for many years, I think beginning in 1974. Looking back at my response to the first question, a little quick math tells me that this year is 50 years from the time I began sailing E scows in 1968. For me, racing scows has always been about the high level of competition, the beauty and balance of the boats and, of course, the speed through the water. I honestly don’t know if I’ll race anymore once I reach the point that, for whatever reason, I’m unable to handle a scow. I should add that another factor that has allowed me to continue racing scows for so long is that I’ve been fortunate over the years to have had excellent crews. Crewing on a scow takes core strength and agility, so locating and retaining good crew is essential.
3) One thing that I appreciate the most about you is that you are so willing to adapt and try new things. For example, 10 years ago the E-Scow switched from a symmetrical spinnaker to an asymmetrical spinnaker. Some sailors left the class while others struggled to adapt. What do you think about the change and its impact on the class? The change to an asymmetrical kite in 2008 was probably the biggest change in the Class rules since I began racing scows. The aluminum non-rotating spar replaced the rotating wooden spar around 1970, which also created some turmoil. Once the rotating spar was gone, other “innovations” such as a boom vang immediately sprang into use. I had quite a few of my lake sailor contemporaries, such as Brian Porter, urging me to push for the asymmetrical sail. Brian had been sailing with an asym on Melges 24s and his A Scow for several years. The argument for retaining the symmetrical chute was, mainly, that it provided more tactical opportunities. The concern was that the use of asym’s would just result in boats rounding the weather mark, carrying all the way to the corner, and then jibing to the bottom mark. Overall, I think the asym has been a great addition to the class. The new kites provide a great ride, but that doesn’t limit the tactical opportunities downwind. One observation would be that, in my own case, it took me quite a long time to stop the habit of “soaking” every time I got a little bit of pressure. That was effective with the smaller, symmetrical chutes because you didn’t build much speed with a small gust in non-planing conditions, so the VMG would be improved by just driving off. With the new kites it’s important to keep the boat rolling and limit the soaking to tactical situations. To this day I have to keep reminding myself to stop soaking and keep hot angles.
4) Another example that comes to mind is that you are a 50% owner of a Waszp with Carl and Molly Horrocks. The Waszp can be intimidating for many people, but I've seen you out there foiling around and you look great. How do you like the boat and why invest in it? Once I saw a clip of one of the Waszps going through the water I really got the bug to try it out. I had seen Bora Gulari ripping around Pewaukee Lake on a Moth a few years ago, so I knew what to expect. I saw the investment in the Waszp with Carl and Molly as a way to continue sailing in the fall and spring, and to challenge myself to learn something new. Carl takes care of all of the mechanical details, so all I have to do is figure out a time he’s going that works for me and then we share some time on the boat. It’s a physical boat, so after about 15-20 minutes in a breeze and a few capsizes I need a breather! I will say that, had there been a boat like a Waszp around when I was 15, I’m not sure that I would have agreed to sail on any other boat until I was well into my 20’s. I would have been addicted!
5) Last week was the Blue Chip regatta, one of the most famous E-Scow regattas of the year. For those who don't know, can you give us a quick history of the Blue Chips? How did the event go? The Blue Chip regatta began in 1965 at Pewaukee Lake in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Each year the Blue Chip Committee at Pewaukee Yacht Club uses criteria to develop an invitation list to E sailors who have had success during the current season. The Committee usually invites about 20 participants, including a “Mystery Guest”. The Mystery Guest is, typically, an Olympic Gold medalist or an America’s Cup skipper. I first went to the Blue Chip in 1971 and, over the years, I’ve had a chance to meet and race against a long line of top racing talent. It’s usually the standing joke that, by the time the Mystery Guest figures out how to sail an E Scow, we’re all taking our masts down and driving home. This year the Mystery Guest was Kevin Burnham, a gold medalist in the 2004 Olympics (470) and a silver medalist in 1992. The most memorable year was the 50th anniversary of the regatta in 2015. The Committee invited all of the previous mystery guests to sail, along with several E Scow “old timers”, of which I was one. The 24 sailors who were in that regatta are listed on Blue Chip Website on the Pewaukee Yacht Club website. It’s quite a list. I’ve always felt that the Blue Chip regatta had the best of both worlds in terms of competition and a great (but tricky) lake venue. It’s a little more laid back than the Nationals, so it’s a good way to end the season and just enjoy some competition with friends.
This year, the first racing day was Friday, September 21st. When we got to the club the wind was in the 25 plus range. The committee said that they would send us out if the wind was not higher than a steady 25 as long as the gusts were not over 30 mph. We all went out on the course around 10 am and started sailing upwind to tune up. In our case, we got about half way up the windward leg and the wind started blowing over 30 with gusts to 36 mph. We turned downwind and set the kite – quite a ride!! A couple of boats flipped and one broke a mast so the Committee sent us in. They kept us in until about 4 pm, and we had a race in 20-25 mph winds with some great downwind rides. We got a second in that race, so we were feeling good about that. The next day was primarily a tricky southeast breeze. It was fun racing, but tough to avoid mistakes. We ended the regatta in 5th place.
Blue Chip Results
I hope we can get more Eastern E sailors to figure out a way to get to this regatta. The PYC members put a great amount of effort into the regatta and they take a lot of pride in the management of the events, and especially making sure that the quality of the racing is top notch.