PORTLAND – As Samantha Lake traveled from her home in Bath to the Eastern Promenade in Portland, she saw the layer of fog that covered Casco Bay.

Lake asked her mother if there was the possibility that she would not be able to take her 8-foot sailboat out onto the water, yet her mother was optimistic.

Mom knew best.

11:30 Tuesday morning, the fog had temporarily lifted, and Lake and her teammates from SailMaine prepared to launch their boats off East End Beach for the start of the USA Junior Olympics Sailing Festival Northeast Youth Championships, a two-day regatta in Casco Bay.

Held every three years in Portland, the Junior Olympic regatta draws 200 sailors from across New England to participate in various sailing classifications, from the non-competitive routes for beginners in smaller sailboats to more challenging courses for older, experienced racers in larger sailboats. Each group of boats runs a successive series of races in Casco Bay. The regatta concludes today, barring any inclement weather.

the middle of Tuesday afternoon, five groups of sailboats dotted Casco Bay — the Optimist Greens, a group of novice sailors closer to East End Beach; the Optimist Red White and Blues, a more competitive classification of small boats, parallel to Great Diamond Island; and three groups of 420s, 14-foot boats guided by experienced sailors who raced along Mackworth Island and the Brothers, two islands off Falmouth about a mile from Portland.

“I’d consider it more fun than competitive,” Cape Elizabeth resident Sam Price said of the Optimist Blue classification. “It’s practicing sailing and having a good time. You have fun and you get as much practice as you can on the water.”

Prior to Tuesday’s launch into Casco Bay, the Sail Maine program director, Sarah Helming, contemplated the fog that hung over the harbor.

“The weather’s the one variable we can’t control,” said Helming, the regatta’s event chairperson. “The fog hangs out in the morning and as the sun comes, it burns it off. My hope is to get them on the water by noon. We won’t let them get out on the water if there isn’t good visibility.”

As the fog began to dissipate, a light breeze came off the ocean as boats lined up to launch off the East End Beach boat ramp, on a day that Lake and her teammates from SailMaine described as nearly ideal.

“There’s a good breeze coming in off the ocean,” Lake said, turning out toward the harbor.

The initial boat launch began more than 90 minutes after the scheduled launch time of 10:30 a.m.

First came the 420 Lasers, single-person racing boats; followed by the 420s, then the smaller Optimist boats. Boats named “Wonder Bread,” “Orca” and “Tina” were pushed off dollies and into the bay, and in a matter of moments, each sailor glided his or her craft across the water to the designated racing areas.

“I knew it was going to be delayed for at least an hour, but it happens,” said Emma Holton, a Portland resident who sailed in the Optimist Blue classification. “It happened a couple of weeks ago, when the wind wasn’t being good, so we had a delay.”

Price guided his boat, “Kitchen Spill,” onto Casco Bay, heading toward Mackworth Island, in the direction of where Optimist sailors gathered. After the launch, the fog rolled in again — a potential hazard to the sailors.

“There’s no foghorns, and without those a boat could crash or capsize,” Lake said.

As the boats continued to line up for the launch, course administrators radioed back and forth, monitoring conditions, which seemed to get foggier by the minute. But by 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, the fog dissipated again and more boats were launched.

Lake, in her second year of sailing, joined a fleet of Optimist Green sailors and was the last to launch her boat, “Infinity,” into Casco Bay. She posed for a photo before putting her boat into the water, where she would head toward Mackworth Island.

“I feel more ready having this close to home,” Lake said. “It’s right next to where I sail, so I know the waters well. It will be more fun to sail here.”

 

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at: [email protected]