Sailor Spotlight: Ed Vienckowski
We've touched on a few sailors so far who really make a difference on Barnegat Bay. One of the biggest advocates and hardest workers is Ed Vienckowski. Ed is the current Commodore of the Barengat Bay Yacht Racing Association. He's been a fixture at sailing regattas on the bay for the better part of a half century, and his lineage is rich in sailors. Ed is a leader; he overseas all BBYRA activities from his Commodore position, he runs fantastic races for the E-Scow fleet, and he is omnipresent at any event that is sailing related in our area. Ed donates his time so that everyone else can have fun and sail more, and we are forever indebted to him for his selfless love of the sport.
Name: Ed Vienckowski
Age: Old enough.
School: Webb Institute of Naval Architecture
Profession: Technical Director at Zodiac Aero Evacuation Systems
Yacht Club: Seaside Park and Mantoloking
1) Ed, you are the Commodore of the Barnegat Bay Yacht Racing Association. Can you give me a quick history of the BBYRA and all that it does? A quick history for an organization entering its 104th season? Well, in 1914 on Barnegat Bay, there was a lot of informal racing going on, but it was felt there was a need to organize things in order to unify the fleets, etc. So the BBYRA was born, with its 4 founding member clubs being Bay Head, Island Heights, Ocean Gate and Seaside Park. Since then the association has grown to 14 member clubs located up and down the bay and its tributaries the Manasquan, Metedeconk and Toms Rivers. The mission has remained essentially the same since the beginning, that being “to foster amateur sailboat racing on Barnegat Bay and on a national and international level”. I think the BBYRA has succeeded remarkably well toward that end, having developed many outstanding sailors, including countless National and World champions, Collegiate All-Americans, Olympic medalists and America’s Cup winners. And all of this stems from the 10 week BBYRA Championship Series that we hold every year. This series is truly unique in this country, for its multiple fleet format, with participants ranging from ages 15 to 85. No other region in the country has been able to sustain racing in this format like the BBYRA. And that’s a testament to the unique cluster of member clubs all using the same body of water that has long been known for its fabulous winds and sheltered waters. But the BBYRA does far more than just run their Saturday races. We support the Junior Sailing programs at each of our member clubs by bringing together all the various program heads to coordinate interclub race schedules and other training initiatives. We promote and sponsor various seminars on racing rules, strategy and tactics as well as race management and safety training. And we manage the leasing of the biggest and best fleet of rescue/coach boats in the country to each of our member clubs.
2) What's the current state of the BBYRA? We see ebbs and flows over the years of fleets, sizes, etc, but what are you seeing when you look at the whole organization? You’re sure right about ebbs and flows. Not just in fleets, but in the demographics of our members. There’s no doubt the numbers change over time, and it’s not something that’s purely cyclical. No doubt back in the 1960’s and 1970’s there were far more boats out racing every Saturday, but boats were more affordable back then and demands on people’s time was far less. But we’ve adapted over the years, responding to fleet requests for multiple races per day with certain “off” weeks to suit each particular fleet’s needs. With that, we had been seeing a slow steady growth in recent years but then took a big hit with the impact of Superstorm Sandy, as did the entire Jersey Shore. But I’m very optimistic for our future. Our local sailors’ love for the BBYRA is unmatched. I see it and hear it whenever I meet with sailing friends. And for 2018, I’m particularly excited to welcome our first new fleet in several years to our BBYRA lineup, the MC Scow. This is a very active fleet in other areas of the country, and is a boat very well suited to sailors of all ages, both for its affordability and its performance. It may pull some sailors out of some of our other fleets, but I am convinced it will bring even more new or returning sailors to the BBYRA. It’s yet another example of the ebbs and flows that we’ve seen over the past many years. This is more a flow than an ebb though, and that’s a good thing.
3) What are some of the messages that you'd like to promote from the BBYRA? What are some of the opportunities (both on and off the water) that people should be more aware of? I think the most important thing I’d like to share is that it takes a tremendous amount of effort by a relatively small group of people to do what it is that we do. And we can use your help! That can take many forms, the most obvious being we can always use more help on Saturdays on our Race Committee. I always first encourage those wishing to race to do so. But there are any number of committees that work off-season that sailors can serve on (as many do). Or if you’re particular fleet has the week off, please offer your services if only for that week. We would welcome your help, and I assure you that you will enjoy and learn from the experience.
4) What's your sailing history? Where did you grow up sailing and what kind of boats did you sail? I grew up summering in Seaside Park, having learned to sail in the junior program at Seaside Park Yacht Club. I first learned to sail and race in Diamonds, which were small catboats similar to Duckboats, but sailed only at Seaside and at Island Heights at the time (1960’s). I had the great fortune to race interclub series against the likes of Buzz Reynolds and Had Brick, who remain good friends and sailing rivals to this day, which more than anything speaks to what the BBYRA is all about. From there I moved into (and loved) my International 420 but sadly that fleet never took off on the bay back then. So after crewing some in Sneakboxes, I moved into the M Scow fleet which was growing remarkably in the early 1970’s and offered great competition. I then sailed collegiately at Webb (we had a great run in the mid to late 1970’s, you can look it up). Then after graduating I married the best E Scow spinnaker trimmer on the bay (but not for that reason). Actually just before we married, Bev and I rigged our first E Scow from a bare hull (which she bought, by the way), and we had some really great years in that class until family obligations led us to do more crewing than helming. Over the years I also raced Penguins (which I loved both for the competition and the feel on the helm that it taught me), as well as Sneakboxes and A Cats (had that great run on Ghost in the 1990’s). But then I came back to E Scows, having the pleasure to crew for many of the best on the bay, most notably for Dick Wight. Most recently, I really enjoyed getting back into a Sunfish last summer, racing in our Wednesday Night Series at SPYC, something I hadn’t done in probably some 40 years.
5) You are one of the best PROs on the bay, and you run the E-Scow fleet for the BBYRA each week. What makes you give up your time to run races so that all of us sailors can have fun? I have to say I do it for the fun too, just like the sailors. There came a point where as crew on an E Scow, well, you can “age out” and I felt like I was getting to that point, but I’d always had an interest in race management so I stepped out of the Scow and right onto the RC boat. I’ve said this a lot, but I really feel this way, that I was very happy to find it as rewarding to help ensure a race was well run as much as to be in a race well sailed. And it’s a team effort just like on your boat. We have a great time and a lot of fun on the RC boat, just as our racing “customers” do on their boats. And I really take great pride in seeing the accomplishments of the BBYRA E Scow Fleet (and others) on the National level, which I like to think is in no small measure a result of the quality of racing that the BBYRA provides.