No Cold Feet for Frostbite Lovers

By Jesse Falsone

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Ben and Kim (21) near the top of the fleet at the finish.

Ben and Kim Cesare were married in 1994, one year after they met while sailing InterClub dinghies together at Larchmont Yacht Club. Many frostbite dinghy skippers might tell you that once their better half slipped on the wedding band, the drysuit went into mothballs. However, Kim and Ben continued to sail the tub-like boat together through thick and thin ice flows, and with the vision that one year they would be crowned champions at the annual InterClub Dinghy National Championship. That vision was to become a reality on a cold, blustery weekend in early April 2003 when the Cesare’s finally topped the 62-boat fleet in a nine-race round-robin series at their home club.

Ben and Kim obviously believed in themselves. “We’ve known for a few years that we have good enough boat handling and speed to win the Nationals”, says Ben. “Two years ago, after we finished 3rd for the second time, Neal Fowler (1997 IC National Champion) said to me ‘just keep showing up, eventually you guys will win this thing’.”

The IC Nationals is almost always a dogfight, and the difference between winning and being the runner-up is usually a scant few points.

This year was no different, and the Cesare’s won the regatta in a tie-breaker with three-time class champion Steve Benjamin. Benjamin, a perennial top finisher in the class for many years, seems to be on a mission to catch IC class legend, Jack Slattery, whose mastery of the tricky dinghy earned him 6 class championships before he retired. As for the competition, according to Ben, its “the best dinghy racing on the East Coast, period, but I’m sure sailors from fleets such as Newport or Cedar Point’s frostbite Laser Fleets would take issue with that statement. I do love the preponderance of former collegiate sailors, the sheer number of past All-Americans, many of who have turned national, world champions or Olympians. But there are also the many, many excellent sailors who didn’t get to sail in college but sail InterClubs, and routinely beat the former All-Americans! If during college sailing, you get a BA in shorter course dinghy racing, then in IC sailing, you get your masters. Some sailors simply elect to skip the BA and go right to grad school.”

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A typical tight weather mark rounding.

Ben says his key to success in the very shifty spring breeze was positioning yourself to be in the top few boats on the side you picked. “You’re positioned to not necessarily win your side but be in the top three if its the correct one. More importantly, you need to be able to round in the top ten if your side did not work out.

So if we’re in the hunt, our downwind speed and Kim’s ability to call the breeze allowed us to convert our position into a good finish by the end of the race. This strategy works well in IC sailing when 20 out of the 30 boats on the line are capable of winning a race.”

Contrary to what some people think, the IC crew contributes to success in multiple ways. Kim says, “The key to being a good IC crew is to view yourself as more than ballast. I think the crew can make a big contribution in terms of trying to call the breeze and help with the shifts. It’s also extremely important to keep the skipper focused on the big picture, and to stick to the plan that we lay out before the start.” Ben adds, “Speaking of keeping focused, crews who are spouses of skippers can also motivate in other ways; ‘we really need to win this next one because I really, really need to use the head on the floating dock parked 200 yards from the starting line’.”

The Cesares, still happily married after a hard fought regatta.
The Cesares, still happily married after a hard fought regatta.

So, is sailing with your spouse a good thing, even in the winter? “It’s not for everyone”, says Ben. “For example, if you can’t handle the occasional conversation between races about the next vacation, living room furniture, or refinancing the mortgage, then don’t sail with your spouse!” Despite some past threats to hang up her drysuit, Kim cherishes the friends they have made sailing each Sunday from November to April, and says she’s in for another year – that is “as long as I get a day on a Caribbean Island for every day I crew!” That’s a small price to pay for a crew as good as Kim.

2003 Nationals Wrapup

The calendar said April 5 and 6, but the weather said February as a fleet of 63 boats gathered at the Larchmont Yacht Club on Long Island Sound to contest the 2003 IC Dinghy National Championship. Saturday brought the second day of a hard wet easterly that had already caused the cancellation of Friday’s practice sailing. While it never poured, the sky was as grey as the combers marching down the Sound and the fleet was lucky to be able to sail in the relative shelter provided by the Larchmont breakwater. Past champions Neal Fowler of Hyannis sailing with Mike Collins and Jim Bowers and longtime crew  Myrna MacRae of Winthrop (MA) each won their respective flights in the first race and it looked as if the very strong Massachusetts contingent would be vying for the title. Bowers went on to win his flight in the second race as the breeze began to lose just a little of its punch and settle into a fairly predictable pattern.

However after a slow start, a trio of boats from the home fleet found their groove and began to take control of the regatta. Former Sunfish World Champion Paul-Jon Patin sailing with his wife Anne came back from an opening race 10 (his throwout) to put bullets on the board in his second and third races. Olympic Silver Medalist Steve Benjamin and Rob Kane opened with a second, were OCS in the second race but came back with a 2,4,5 before doing a horizon job on the competition in winning their flight of Race 6. While both of these crews were putting up strong results, last year’s UBS Challenge winner Ben Cesare and wife Kim caught fire in the middle of the day and ran off 3 wins in a row in dominating fashion. As the afternoon wore on the cold and raw conditions began to take a toll on the racers. A strong outbound tide and the very competitive fleet led to a series of general recalls prior to the 7th race, which prolonged the frozen crews’ agony. However after about 45 minutes of recalls and line resets the final race of the day got off with the respective flights won by veteran Steve Kirkpatrick of Scituate and newcomer Mike Funsch of Larchmont.

The large contingent of sailors enjoyed an outstanding dinner party at the Larchmont Yacht Club and every team present went home the a winner of a prize in the raffle that was supported by event sponsors UK Sailmakers, Dirty Dog Eyewear, Harken, New England Ropes, Thule, North Sails, Douglas Gill, Cape Cod Shipbuilding and Karl’s Boat Shop of Harwich MA (the IC’s new builder).

Sunday’s weather – while sunnier and possibly less raw – brought a new front and 35 kts of rapidly oscillating northerly breeze. The 9:30 start was clearly not going to happen, much to the relief of some of the crews who had partied late into the daylight savings shortened prior night! However the morning dragged on with little more than teases that there would be enough of a drop in the breeze to sail. Early in the afternoon, some of the travellers began packing up, however George Parthemos’ LYC Race Committee patiently waited out the weather. Finally, at 1:30 the RC signaled that they would give the fleet a go. A rush to get boats re-rigged ensued and the first race was finally started around 2:30. Jim Bowers again proved that he was fast off the dock, winning his first race for the second day running. A 6th in the second race was good enough to bring home 4th overall. Paul-Jon Patin sailed a consistent 3,5 in the heavy air to take 3rd. Ben Cesare opened with a 4th to Steve Benjamin’s 5th to put some daylight between them, however, Cesare had a throwout in the final race while Benji came home with a 2nd. After 9 races the two were tied at 29 points, however with their 3 wins on Saturday, Ben and Kim Cesare were crowned the 2003 IC Dinghy National Champions.

Also read Jesse Falsone’s interview after the 2003 Nationals that Sailingworld didn’t print! No Cold Feet for Frostbite Lovers: The Ben and Kim Interview.

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