PORTLAND — When they left Blue Hill about 6 a.m., it was snowing.

But the weather didn’t dampen the spirits of George Stevens Academy’s sailing team as it rolled into Portland through a steady rain and cold winds Saturday morning.

They were in town for the Bulldog Classic Regatta, which is the kickoff to the high school sailing season in Maine. More than a half-dozen teams from around the state, plus one from away, took on each other and the elements in Portland Harbor.

The teams race in identical 14-foot 420-class boats. They’re sloop-rigged, with a mainsail and jib, and manned by a skipper and a crew member.

Tom Gutow, head coach of the George Stevens Academy team, said teaching kids to sail – which involves a lot more strategy than many sports – has its own special challenges and rewards.

“You have kids coming in freshman year and some kids have a lot of experience and some have none,” he said. The students pick up basic sailing techniques while they learn lessons about strategy, Gutow said, a lot of which revolves around pre-start jockeying for position.

“Yesterday, we spent all day going in a circle around a mark – that’s a technical part of sailing,” Gutow said. “It’s a lot like a right-handed person learning to make a left-handed layup.”

But, he said, once the race starts, there’s little a coach can do to influence the outcome.

“Once the signal sounds, there’s no coaching until they’re done with the race,” he said. “There’s no timeouts in sailing.”

That’s part of the appeal for Nick MacCulloch, a senior with the Mount Desert Island High School team.

MacCulloch joked that you could get an insight into his personality by considering his two favorite sports: sailing and snowboarding.

Unlike basketball, football, baseball or other team sports, an individual’s performance is based solely on his or her own ability, rather than relying on someone else.

“It’s a great feeling, just being alone on the water,” he said. “There’s team racing, but it’s not really a team sport.”

Saturday’s racing was fleet style, with each team entering one boat in each race. Gutow noted that team racing, with more than one boat per team in each race, involves different strategies and different rules. For instance, a skipper might give up first place to help the other boats on his or her team move up in position.

Scoring is like golf – a lower score is better. First-place teams get one point, second-place teams get two, and so on. So, Gutow noted, it would be better to have your team place second, third and fourth than first, fifth and sixth.

Southern Maine High School – a team made up of sailors from high schools in the area that don’t have their own sailing teams – took first place Saturday, followed by East Greenwich (R.I.) and Cheverus High School.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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