On the Harbor: We need more sailors like Emily Wolken


On the Harbor Emily

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Courtesy of Len Bose

Young sailor Emily Wolken

I headed up to Alamitos Bay this week to check out how all our local kids were doing in this year’s Junior Sabot National Championships. With more than 118 competitors from around Southern California, things seemed bunched up more than an oversized cork in a half bottle of wine. But that was just my first impression of the volunteers for the Long Beach Yacht Club.

After I was told I couldn’t go out to the race course with the coaches or the mark set crew, I was directed to head over to the press boat where I was inspected by the yacht club’s TSA senior agent and was then asked to walk through the full body scanner. I was denied boarding the first press boat but things got much better after I met Alex Demmier who was skipper of the second press boat. The reason I prefer to start with the coach boats is that I get the full history of our local competitors.

Fortunately, I ran into Demmier, who is a coach for the Long Beach Yacht Club who quickly updated me on the first two days of this series. Joining us was the photographer from the Long Beach Yacht Club, Mike Frat.

When Demmier asked what I was looking for, I informed him I always like to interview the sailors that are showing the most passion for the sport; they may not be in Gold or Silver fleet but you can tell from a glance that this is the place where they want to be. Fleets are split up into Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron the first day of racing for the Jr. Sabot Nationals.

This is when Frat told me the story from yesterday when he watched Emily Wolken from the Lido Isle Yacht Club sailing in the Iron Fleet. On day two, race 2, of the series, she was called over early and returned to the starting line to clear herself of this infraction. By the third mark in the race, she had worked her way back up to second place when she was side by side with the first place boat when he tacked away and started sailing to the wrong mark. She kindly informed her competitor that he was sailing to the wrong mark where he changed his course and stayed in first place to win the race. Wolken held on to her second which was her best finish of the series. She finished 12th out of a fleet of 27 in the series.

After hearing about this story, I called Wolken’s stepmom, Amy, the day after the Championships and asked if it was okay to interview Emily. Emily is 10 years old and sails a Phoenix sabot; she explained the story and I should have asked why she just did not let her competitor sail in the wrong direction. After hearing the innocence in her voice, my gut tells me she would have answered: “Because it was the right thing to do.”

When I asked Emily if the race course was confusing, she said: “No, we had a day to practice before the race.” I then asked her what was her favorite race of the year and if she wants to continue sailing in the future. Her answer was short and simple. “I liked the Nationals and I will probably be back.”

The next sailor I noticed was Brooks Orradre from the Bahia Corinthian Yacht who had qualified to sail in Silver fleet. Orradre really didn’t seem to have a care in the world, yet he kept his focus and boat speed up around the race course. Orradre is 13 years old and took very good care of his boat with a soft landing at the dock, bailed all the water out of it, rolled his sail up and made a second look at the boat before walking up the dock. This is where I had a chance to interview him. The type of boat he sails is a sabot. He likes the mid-summer regatta and plans on sailing for a long time. “I like the competitiveness of sailing,” he said. Orradre explained how fortunate it is to be a BCYC member where one of his coaches is Mark Gaudio, who has coached him to recognize wind shifts and tack or gybe on them to get to the mark faster.

While watching the third race of the Gold fleet, I noticed sail number 10300 come into the leeward mark with a huge pack of boats. Huge gains or losses can be made at the turning marks in short course racing. This skipper was extremely patient by almost stopping her boat, holding on to position to round the mark and letting the crowd play through, then grabbing the inside lane and passing five boats with clear wind. After the racers returned to the dock I approached the skipper who is Sophia Devling.

Devling’s awareness on the race course is well advanced and it is always extremely educational for me to watch and learn. She comes from a sailing family and when I asked if she will continue sailing she replied, enthusiastically, that she enjoys sailing dinghies sabots and 420s. Devling plans on focusing on dinghy sailing for the near future. I asked if she planned on sailing on her dad’s boat on the upcoming Long Point race week – she said “no.” Devling sails a Phoenix sabot and enjoys the harbor’s Gold Cup races. “They feel the most competitive,” she said. I explained that she should sail with her dad while she can, but I think she was more interested in her friend pulling on her shoulder to go grab some lunch. Smart kid. It will be fun to watch this one grow up and take over the helm of her dad’s boat within the next 10 years.

So what did I learn by watching this year’s Sabot Jr. Nationals? I need to be better prepared with my questions and stay away from yes and no questions. I learned I needed to improve my race course awareness and stay away from a huge pack of boats. I also learned that it is more sportsmanship like to tell your opponents that they are sailing around the wrong mark, before you pass them and have put them away.

Sea ya


Len Bose is a yachting enthusiast, yacht broker and harbor columnist for StuNewsNewport.