Over the years, US SAILING Championships have helped shape the sport of sailboat racing. The Championships have served an important role in unifying sailing instructions, developing types of race courses, helping shape racing rules for certain aspects of the sport, initiating such features as moving the windward mark in case of a wind shift, drawing top local competitors to national and even worldwide competition and helping identify and prepare America’s top sailors for the Olympics. The Championships, trophies and winners provide a glimpse into the glorious history of the sport, and provide a canvas for the young sailors of today to paint their own version of tomorrow’s history.
In 1925, the North American Yacht Racing Union, which later dissolved and spurred US SAILING, was primarily an administrative body concerned with developing uniform racing rules and boat rating systems. It was not until the founding of the Championships did the organization begin to reach sailors both along America’s coasts and inland.
Two of US SAILING’s Championships ‑ the Junior Triplehanded Championship for the Sears Cup and the Women’s Sailing Championship for the Adams Trophy have storied histories. When the Sears Cup was first offered as a perpetual trophy to winners of a sailing competition among Massachusetts youth, the boys were required to wear caps, neckties and jackets while sailing. The girls had to wear dresses. And the sails were canvas. Today’s youth race fiberglass boats with Mylar sails and wear state‑of‑the art sports clothing. Much has changed over the years, and US SAILING Championships have changed along with society. The Adams Trophy, awarded to the U.S. women’s champion, dates back to 1924. Soon after women won the right to vote in this country, what is believed to be “the first women’s championship ever held in the world” ‑ surely the first in North America ‑ was contested.
The Chubb Junior Championships for the Sears Cup, the Bemis Trophy and Smythe Trophy are ladder‑type events. Competition begins at local districts or Areas and only the top sailors advance to the national finals. The ladder events provide an avenue for sailors to compete on a wider basis. For example, they drew America’s Cup winner Buddy Melges, via the Men’s Championship for the Mallory Cup, out of scow country and eventually to the Olympics and the Americas’ Cup. Likewise, Paul Cayard, via the Junior Triplehanded Championship for the Sears Cup, was drawn into first national, then global competition.
Other ladder events include, the U.S. Men’s Championship for the Mallory Cup, U.S. Women’s Championship for the Adams Cup, U.S. Singlehanded championship for the O’Day Trophy, and U.S. Multihull Championship for the Hobie Alter Cup for multihull sailors.
The U.S. Match Racing Championship for the Prince of Wales Bowl has led to many changes in the sport where two boats race only each other. This championship has led to refinements that affected the America’s Cup by, for example, drastically shortening the length of the starting line for match racing. The championship, no doubt, had an influence on the special section of racing rules for match racing. It is now joined by the U.S. Women’s Match Racing Championship for the Allegra Knapp Mertz Trophy, which is bringing more and more women into the sport.
A couple of the Championships are open championships where no eliminations are required. Perhaps the largest of these is the Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championship which is held biannually. The U.S. Junior Women’s Doublehanded Championship for the Ida Lewis Trophy is an open event for junior women while singlehanded junior women compete for the Nancy Leiter Clagett Memorial Trophy. The U.S. Youth Multihull championship for the Stephens Trophy and the U.S. Disabled Sailing Championship for the Chandler Hovey and Goldman Trophies round out the list.
Some of the championships are by invitation only. The U.S. Youth Sailing Championships provide young sailors an opportunity to compete at a national level in some of the Olympic class boats. Since 1975, eight USA Junior Olympic champions have gone on to win Youth World Championships. Another invitation‑only event is the U.S. Team Racing Championship for the George Hinman Trophy, where three‑boat teams compete against each other under a special set of rules. For offshore sailors, there is the U.S. Offshore Championship for the Lloyd Phoenix Trophy.
One particular event, US SAILING’s Championship of Champions for the Jack Brown Trophy, is a combination invitation/elimination entry process. Winners of national, North American or world championships of 20 selected one‑design classes compete the following year to see who is the best of the best.
Identifying champions, selecting sailors for international competition and developing sailors for the U.S. Olympic Team is only part of the purpose of US SAILING Championships. The mission of the U.S. Women’s Championship for the Adams Trophy “To promote the sport by encouraging proficiency in seamanship and sportsmanship in sail yacht racing” ‑ mirrors the mission of U.S. Sailing, which is to encourage participation and promote excellence in sailing and sailboat racing. In the same spirit, several of the championships are preceded by clinics to promote excellence in the sport. But as every sailor knows, just racing with top‑notch competitors who are willing to share their expertise, makes for better racing for all of us.