Regatta Parents, the Unsung Heroes of Sailing

The first regatta is never easy, not for the obvious reason of racing against unfamiliar faces, but for something different. In sports such as lacrosse, soccer or baseball, your parents probably had some idea of how they function. It’s pretty simple, don’t forget gear and be at the field on time. For most sailing parents it’s very different.

My parents had no idea how to handle the first regatta we went to, I was lucky my Dad at least knew how to tie the boat onto the car. There are so many protocols and skills involved that a handbook should be published. I won’t bore you with a handbook right now, but there is a parent who stands out from the rest, his name is Larry Kennedy. If you haven’t heard his name, you’ve probably seen him at a regatta with any of his three kids: Declan, Colin or Lillian. Maybe you’ve glanced up to see him taking photographs or even setting marks around the course. Kennedy does not come from a sailing background nor does he claim to be a sailor now, but he has become an integral part of the sailing world.

As youth sailors move into different classes, parents must adapt, learning the intricacies of each boat, backing up c420 trailers, helping to step laser masts, our parents are charged with figuring out how to help before we frantically ask them to. As I reflect back to my time on the competitive 420 circuit, I really admire my parents for learning how to help. By the end of my time in the 420 they knew what to do before I had to ask. They knew to move certain parts and where to put the spars for easy access, they knew where the spinnaker was stored, and sometimes to make hotel reservations a year in advance.

Larry Kennedy took his role to a higher level. Kennedy not only has supported his kids in sailing, but has also established himself as an essential volunteer for race committee. For Kennedy, coming from a non-sailing background has made attending regattas a truly enjoyable learning experience. Not only does Kennedy help kids, even if they were not his own, he also goes out on the water to take photographs and help the race committee to get races off. His philosophy is that at all regattas, whether it be at the America’s Cup, an International Match Race at Oakcliff Sailing Center or a Make A Wish Green Fleet Regatta there can never be too many helping hands.

We as sailors ask so much from regatta parents and they are always there for us, but some volunteers go above and beyond, such as hosting teams from out of town as Missy, Larry’s wife does, manning a registration desk to make sure things run smoothly, or towing three Opti’s and a coach boat even though they only brought one child to sail. The sailing community thrives because of volunteers like Kennedy who has become an expert mark setter. Kennedy’s knowledge grew from local JSA of LIS events with his kids into being asked to serve as a mark boat in the 2016 America’s Cup World Series events in Chicago and New York. Kennedy, again never claiming to be a sailor, has become a respected member of race committees at the highest level, while still maintaining he is just out there for the fun of it.

Unlike the other sports I mentioned, it’s a bit unrealistic for most sailing parents to coach their kid’s team, but there are a million other ways to get involved in the sailing community just like Kennedy has done. I hope I speak for all sailors when I say our hats go off to all of the parents and volunteers that make junior sailing so special.