By Jesse Falsone
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.”
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.
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.