Santo Stefano al Mare, Italy — July 11 2021 Wow. The 2021 420 World Championship, 2-10 July 2021, with over 200 teams in attendance, is now in the books. As a first-hand observer (at this moment flying over the snow-capped Swiss Alps back to New York) the story created here by this American sailing team is still almost too much to absorb. I’m trying to capture it, to appreciate it, and there’s lots I’ll miss. I’m sure many others are also still in a similar euphoric, grateful and exhausted daze, but here goes.
With most of the 34-member team arriving in Santo Stefano al Mare on 26 June, the American 420 sailing team came early to get up to speed not only with boat preparation, but to train in unique Mediterranean-style conditions, with the goal to make this away game feel a little more like a home game. The team was ready to get to work. Santo Stefano al Mare is a small seacoast town on the Italian Riviera, about an hour east-northeast of France and Monaco.
If you are not part of this class, you are missing out! The International 420 Class creates a pretty magical atmosphere at these events, one incredibly rich and rewarding for the kids lucky enough to participate. In fact, the scene at Marina Degli Aregai was abuzz with over 200 420’s being carefully unloaded, rigged up and tuned, everything deliciously baffled by the sounds of so many different languages and cultures mixing and blending together. So many flags, new faces, so much to take in, and yet, as different as so many things were, the sailors were in some ways all the same. As I walked down the long line-up of boats organized by country with a US team Dad, himself a veteran of international sailing, we both noticed a Greek sailor meticulously prepping her boat… wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt. He (the Dad) noted that no matter how different each culture/language might be, sailors looks like sailors, no matter where you go, and that’s pretty cool.
This year’s US 420 team featured young first-timers, sailors brand new to international 420 sailing, along with experienced veterans. Conditions ran the gamut, from very light/ flat water and bobbing around waiting for wind, to white-knuckle hold-fast maximum winds, with unique waves sets almost every day. In retrospect, the 4-5 training days spent on the water was a difference-maker for Team USA, giving them vital experience and confidence.
The coaching staff, led by conductor (and US i420 Class President) Michael Rudnick, included Steve Keen, Udi Gal, Zach Leonard, and Lior Lavie. Start to finish, our USA coaches provided tireless and dedicated attention to all 17 boats and each member of the US team, not to mention high-level technical and mental coaching. Peter Foley (father of US Team sailors Peter and Audrey Foley) noted, “One of the biggest keys to great coaching is passion; really more than anything else, you have to love what you do.” He’s right, and the success of Team USA at this regatta is a direct reflection of this coaching staff’s passion.
In the end, the sailors have to do it on the water, and Team USA most certainly rose to the occasion against fierce competition. Spain alone, as a side note, has an incredible 420 sailing program; they have won the Francis Mouvet Nations Trophy (best overall team at the World Championship) an amazing 7 of the last 8 years.
In the women’s (53 entrants) division, Vanessa Lahrkamp/Katherine McNamara faced very strong competition from two French and two Spanish teams, but their incredible consistency eventually wore
everyone else down. Over ten races, Lahrkamp/McNamara’s worst finish was a 7th, and they ended up winning the Women’s World Championship by 10 points.
In U17 (67 entrants), a similar story played out as Freddie Parkin/Thomas Whidden faced several very competitive Spanish teams (in fact halfway through the regatta, 4 of the top 5 places where held by the Spanish. Parkin/Whidden started out somewhat conservatively, but with each race, seemed to gel and gain confidence.
Finally in the Open/Men’s Division (90 entrants), Thomas Sitzmann/Luke Woodworth overcame a bit of a slow start, kept working, and emerged with the coveted Open 420 World Championship title. This team found their groove and actually won 6 of their 9 races, a remarkable achievement at at World Championship.
Putting it all together, there was an amazing, stirring, and inspiring symmetry to these three gold medal performances. In fact, this may be one of the most impressive days that US youth sailing has ever had. On this fateful Friday, in what turned out to be the last day of sailing (there was no wind on Saturday) each of these three teams faced an uphill battle, as the seemingly unstoppable and very deep Spanish team(s) held the lead in all three divisions. Friday brought sunny Mediterranean skies as usual, but the Ligurian Sea came alive that day with 14-21 knot E/SE winds, strong current, and very steep and challenging waves, conditions historically favoring European teams. Nine total races were sailed on Friday, and amazingly, Team USA won 8 of them!
- Sitzmann/Woodworth 1,1,1
- Parkin/Whidden 1,1,1
- Lahrkamp/McNamara 1,1,3
Wow! Friday’s lights-out performance vaulted USA teams to the “yellow jersey”, and that was that. Three incredible performances; three World Championship titles for the USA. For full results go HERE.
Finally, winning a world championship doesn’t happen often. This is the first time a US team has won a 420 World Championship since 1977… some 44 years ago. Those who were lucky enough to be in Italy witnessed a gritty, inspired and brilliant sailing performance, for which the entire US 420 team must take credit. There were certainly other US teams here capable of medals, and the fact that those not in the hunt still supported and cheered on their teammates is what must make this US 420 Team one of, if not the best, ever.
Congratulations to this team, and hope that this inspires more US interest and participation in the International 420 Class!!!
MORE ON THE 420
HISTORY OF THE 420 & THE “i420”
Long story short, the “i420” is the original 420, designed in 1959 by Christian Maury. The only reason it’s called the “i420” now is because of the growth of the “Club 420” class. This class (as you know) employs the same hull design, but the boat is heavier, has a non-tapered mast, and is an all-around beefier boat. https://www.usi420.org/
We now have the Mid-Atlantic Championship here on the bay (fall) and the Annapolis i420 Early Bird Regatta in the spring.
The i420 class has a very active fleet in Long Island Sound, Florida, California, and a little bit in Texas.
Remember the i420 is the official boat of US Sailing Youth doublehanded championships, and is the boat for all ODP run by US Sailing. It’s not hard to understand why so many top doublehanded sailors, then, come from Long Island Sound, Florida, and California.
MISCONCEPTIONS / CRITICISMS
The i420 has (partly through the fault of the class association itself) earned some negative observations that just aren’t true.
- that it is ungodly expensive. Absolutely not true. In fact the opposite may be true. There are GREAT i420’s for sale at VERY competitive prices, and new boats honestly aren’t much different and in some cases LESS expensive than club 420’s.
- that there are “no regattas” and you have to travel internationally to compete. Not true. We have 4-5, and now more, events on the east coast of the USA alone (in the last 1.5 months we’ve done Wickford, the ACC, and the Mid-Atlantics), and also the Pacific Coast championship, etc. Over the winter there is the ODP, Nationals, North Americans, and then the Midwinters! One does not have to travel outside of the USA to get a ton of regatta and training experience. It is nice, though, to be able to consider the possibility of sailing internationally. In fact the rest of the world sails the i420 and there are incredible growth opportunities with this class all over the world. Our recent World Championship budget was actually less than a similar Optimist international travel budget. It’s doable.
One critical addition to this is that the Youth Championship is sailed in the i420, along with all US Sailing ODP events.
- You have to travel around the world. Not at all true. See #2.
- You need a private, exotic coach. The truth in this lies in the fact that good coaches are always hard to find. This is true of any boat. However, there is a wealth of good coaches around, and many of the best really prefer the i420 to coach in and with (see testimonials.)
The I 420 is a fantastic learning and growth class for young sailors. The light-weight and adjustable rig allow young sailors to learn valuable principles that will prepare them to sail everything from spinnaker class racing at the local club to today’s high performance one designs and elite Olympic classes. Even more important, it’s fun. The boats are fast and easily sailed even in strong winds. -Yale Sailing Coach Zach Leonard
The I-420 is the best platform for young sailors to develop a comprehensive set of sailing skills. The I-420 is faster, more responsive and easier to control in strong winds than the C-420. It is also lots more fun to sail in lighter conditions. While it is a little more technical, nearly all of the adjustments are the same as a C-420, just more efficient and easier to execute.
I have worked extensively with both the C-420 and I-420 for the last 12 years. Both are viable platforms, but the I-420 is just more fun and more challenging. Given that the summer breezes on the Chesapeake are on the light side, the I-420 is much preferred.
If I had a child coming into his or her junior sailing years I would want them to be in a I-420. -Skip Whyte, former US Olympic 470 Coach, Head Coach U. Rhode Island
i420 is a great way for young sailors to learn about high-performance boat‘s and have a great time. The i420 is light and powered up and planes easily, and teaches the kids about rig tune and mast bend more than most other Junior sailboats. –Steve Hunt, pro sailor and champion HS sailing coach
The International 420 is the original 420. It is sailed by every country in the world, and is the global default standard for double-handed youth training platform for a reason: it is stable, responsive, and fast (fun), but not so fast that sailing tactics are minimized. Most importantly, this boat and rig requires sailors to learn more about tuning which is an essential skill, and because of the variability in tuning, this boat can be competitive to more kids (more weight ranges). -Tom Sitzmann, Severn School coach
I420 is the perfect youth sailing boat. It provides safe environment and allows for fundamental skill building, while also introduces the sailors to high performance sailing. Unlike modern youth dinghies that are skipping some fundamental learning, the i420 introduces the young sailors to a very wide spectrum of sailing skills. One of the best aspects of an i420 is the fact that it requires a lot of teamwork, strong communication, and high level of performance from both skipper and crew – something that I feel is missing in our digital world and especially these days in the COVID-19 environment. -Udi Gal, Champion 420 and Olympic 470 Medalist.