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On The Bay: December 20, 2011

Every once in awhile a story comes across the wires that just makes you smile all day long and since this is the season for celebrations for many religions, it seems appropriate to share with readers.

Your columnist was in Newport during the summer of 2004 and happened to drive over to Sail Newport at Fort Adams State Park. Driving into the park, there appeared to be a bunch of people standing on the dock. My friend and I walked over to the water and saw about five or six Sonars lined up at the dock ready to be sailed in the wonderful wind you find up at Newport. Of course I had my camera with me and asked to take photos and was directed to Judy McLennan and her daughter, Stephanie and learned all about this regatta that was about to take place. As Judy explained to us, this was the second year of the C. Thomas Clagett Jr. Memorial Regatta, started in memory of Judy’s father and Stephanie’s grandfather. Tom Clagett (1916-2001) was a U.S. Navy World War II veteran who learned to sail on Chesapeake Bay. As a youngster he suffered temporary paralysis as the result of a bout of meningitis, which left him with a deep respect for the accomplishments of people with disabilities, especially athletes. “The Clagett” began as an event for a single class of boat with a stated mission of assisting sailors in realizing their potential on the water by providing them – through the one-day clinic that precedes racing – both the knowledge and tools to improve their skills, and the opportunity to test them in competition.

To say that this regatta had a huge impact on me would be an understatement. As I watched the sailors as they struggled out of their wheelchairs and into the Sonars, the most amazing thing happened. Once on board the boat and away from land, they were like every other sailor. With the necessary adjustments on the Sonars, these men and women were given the opportunity to race just like the rest of us. It was as if the group on land was entirely different people on the boat. Remember the joy you had with that first sail, or when you learned something new, maybe a spinnaker set, and it went according to plan, and you were just delighted? Well, that joy was on each and every sailor as they wound their way out to the starting line. I remember that day back in 2004 as if it were yesterday.

Over the years, the event has expanded to include all three boats that have been chosen as the equipment of the Paralympic Regatta: the three-person Sonar, the two-person SKUD-18 and the singlehanded 2.4 Metre. Not only has The Clagett formula paid off with medal success by event veterans at the 2008 Paralympic Games in China, it has, according to competitors, improved their quality of life as they apply what is achieved on the water to everyday situations. Marking its 10 year anniversary in 2012, the Clagett Regatta provides sailors with disabilities the tools to improve their skills and the opportunity to test them in competition, which allows each individual to achieve their personal competitive goals. The event’s signature pre-race clinic (Friday, July 6), run by world champion sailors who share their expertise on everything from the racing rules to sailing techniques, is followed by on-the-water coaching during three days of racing (Saturday-Monday, July 7-9).

You are probably wondering why “The Clagett” is brought up now? Turns out, Scuttlebutt, the online daily newsletter that all sailors read (or should) has a Friday edition that includes a photo and video gallery for the best from the past week. In introducing the video to the readers, the Curmudgeon said,” The Clagett has been a continuing success year after year and is best described by a recent combat veteran as his “Million Dollar Moment.” And of course, it was the T2P Studios who provided the video footage. The video speaks for itself, and if you want to give yourself a little gift or just spend a minute or two away from the craziness of the holiday season, go to: http://www.sailingscuttlebutt.com/media/11/1216/. You will be glad you did!

Another good story appeared in my inbox this week. This one was from John Thomson, owner of Atlantic Outfitters (405 Main Street). It began, “I thought this might be interesting for ‘On the Bay.’ Yesterday I was working on the water and I took a little boat ride out to Execution to see if there are any seals around. No seals but what did I see was a pelican come flying up and land on Execution Light! Attached is the best of the photos I managed to get with my cell phone. The one time I don’t have my camera with me! Anyway, I called a few people including the Bronx Zoo (where else would you find a pelican around here) and found out that we do get pelicans on the island from time to time on the South Shore. I was born and raised here and so was my father and have never heard of a pelican around here, especially in December. In talking with a couple of wildlife rescue folks they told me we do get them from time to time on the South Shore but rarely on the North Shore of the Island. The pelican I saw appeared to be healthy and had no problem flying on his own so they felt it is probably a migratory pelican that just got a bit off track. Anyway, I thought it was cool and wanted to share my cool surprise. Happy Holidays.” Then John reported his sighting to a bird group that tracks Race Bird Alerts in the NY Metro area and received the following response: “This is presumably the pelican that was found shortly after the hurricane along the CT coast, first in New Haven, then in the Greenwich-Stamford area. It was seen off Rye on 11/13 and 11/20 and I’m glad to see it is surviving. It would be a good addition to the Bronx-Westchester Christmas Count. Could you let us know if you see it again?” They supposedly run the one of the largest bird counts around. Their website is the city birder: http://citybirder.blogspot.com/. It turns out that our area is a major migratory route! I will let you know if I hear anything else.”

Happy holidays to all!