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Hundreds of junior sailors, ages 8 to 15 compete at various regattas across Long Island Sound in hopes of securing a finish position strong enough to qualify for the JSA LIS Optimist Championship. For sailors who do not qualify, there is an “alternate” championship. Several years ago, the WFC adopted this event and ran it as a traditional regatta, but with extra care given to beginner racers. Sailing Instructions were fully explained, flags were demonstrated, Race Committee and coach boats helped coach kids around the course, and protests were heard in a friendly and fostering manner. Last year, we knew it was time for a new spin. After a full season of races following the same course where developing sailors find themselves wrestling for a place on the invisible starting line, repeatedly tacking, anxiously gybing, getting stuck in irons, getting stuck on the outside of a pinwheel at the leeward mark only to be passed at the finish line… well, we know it’s just not that much fun for Opti sailors at the standard alternate championship. Junior Program Manager Ben Benfield and Coach Alec Basilion put their heads together to change it up. In 2014, the Gooseneck Challenge was born. Continuing the momentum of the original event, the WFC team worked to develop the concept – a fun regatta that encouraged participation, good seamanship and sportsmanship and maybe a little racing, too! This year’s event certainly hit the mark. Twenty sailors from Larchmont, Sea Cliff, Seawanhaka and the WFC started the day with Munchkins, safety inspections conducted by 420 Race Team volunteers and a skippers meeting with a twist. The sailors got to vote on their preferred race course (port triangle won it!) and two traditional races were held with inflatable sea creatures as turning marks. The third race was a distance race, with starboard mark roundings and long, fast reaches out to “the island” to claim a ring. (Racing back into shore with a large inflatable tube on an Opti takes balance and a sense of humor!) To finish the race, competitors had to land their Optis on the beach and race up the creek to load their ring on a giant ring toss base and then further wade into the salt water pond to tag a large tiki totem. Sailors received a one-point bonus on their score for each ring. One sailor was generous enough to give the ring he secured to a competitor to help him earn an additional deduction! The day was topped off with a visit from the ice cream truck and awards and goody bags for everyone. The Gooseneck Challenge perpetual award was then signed by each competitor, to keep their names and memories in perpetuity. The WFC hosts many regattas but the Gooseneck Challenge certainly stands out as one of the most fun to participate in and watch! Congrats to all sailors and thank you to all Race Team parent volunteers!