Mid-Shore Culture: Tiny Oxford Braces for International Star Class Race by Val Cavalheri

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There is no consensus on everything that is considered a small town; however, there cannot be any argument that Oxford, MD (pop. 651) is a small town by any standards. So how did the 335-member Tred Avon Yacht Club (TAYC) in Oxford win the bid to host the 2018 Star Class World Championship October 5-15 and even more importantly how are they preparing for an international race along the lines of the America’s Cup? Where are they housing the participating sailors, families, and race officials? How will they handle the 68 boats and trailers being shipped from all over the world and stored on the Club’s premises? Where will everyone park?

For answers, we turned to three people intimately involved with all the preparations: Tom Alspach, current Commodore of TAYC, Andrew Parish, 2018 Star World Chair, and RJ Cooper, past Commodore and Race Management Chair.

In speaking to them, there was a palpable excitement not only about the event but also about the boats that would be competing. The original Star Boat design, they said, was developed and the first Star Boats built around 1911. By 1922 the Star class was officially organized and held its first National Championship. A year later, it became known as the International Star Class Yacht Racing Association (ISCYRA) laying the foundation for all future Star Class Championships. Star sailors were required to qualify for the premier event by competing within their fleets weekly from the start of the sailing season in early spring until the beginning of August. The 6.9 meters (23 foot), one design racing keelboat is sailed by two athletes and was the primary Olympic class boat from 1932-2012.

RJ Cooper, Tom Alspach, and Andrew Parish

The World Championship has earned and maintained a reputation as one of the most highly regarded, competitive, and prestigious events in the sport of sailing. It attracts some of the most elite competitors in the world, as only the best sailors master the Star boat. America’s Cup winner Dennis Connor and President John F. Kennedy are two notable Star Class sailors. Both Parish and Cooper are Star sailors, as well and will also be taking part in the race.

To put into perspective on Oxford winning as the host city, you need to look at past hosts which have included Miami, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Perth, and San Francisco. Last year’s championship was held in Troesne Baadlaug, Denmark. Alspach agrees that it’s “fairly astonishing for a small town the size of Oxford to host an event of this magnitude. It really distinguishes this community.” Cooper added that there are “physically bigger regattas but this is the highest quality regatta you can host throughout the world.”

The selection of Oxford was partially based on TAYC ‘s successful hosting of the Star North Americans Championship in 2014 and their strong history of producing successful Star Class sailors. At least six sailors from the club have won this regatta in the past. “I think another reason we won the bid is that they (ISCYRA) were looking for a smaller venue, a different change of pace,” says Parish. They were looking for a club facility that could do it.” He added, “We’ve been to other sailing events and seen them done. But we’re going to be doing them our way.”

Preparations began a little over a year ago. TAYC formed the Star World Committee and began to plan the logistics of the 10-day event which includes two days of measurement with a practice race, six racing days and two reserve days. Resumes were solicited and three international judges and three domestic judges, all certified by World Sailing, were hired. There are currently 68 teams who will be sailing, representing 11 countries around the world. There will be 22 foreign sailors and 46 from the USA.

The most immediate necessity, of course, was that three-quarters of the teams needed a place to stay throughout the event. For that, the group turned to their club members, who generously opened their homes. Parish says: “When you’re attending a 10-day event somewhere far away, and you have to go find a hotel room, that’s a huge expense for anyone traveling. When we hosted the event in 2014, we built a lot of bonds between our members and the sailors. Now some of these sailors are saying, ‘we stayed with so-and-so back then, and we want to stay with them again.’ It works both ways. When we travel, we can also pick up the phone, and we’re instantly brought into a group of people and made to feel at home.”

Teams also need to be fed. Daily breakfasts and a certain number of dinners are scheduled. There are four parties planned over the course of the regatta, which includes an opening night cocktail party, a dinner at the Maritime Museum, a ‘down and dirty crab feast’ and a surf n’ turf crab cake and steak awards dinner. “Registration fees pay for a lot, but not all,” says Alspach. “We’ve secured some nice sponsorships; however, the membership has stepped up and made very substantial donations to help underwrite the program that will be remembered as a real world-class event.”

Transportation was another important consideration for competitors, spectators, and volunteers. Star Boats are taken out of the water after a race, and each team must have a space for their boat and trailer, which means there is no available club parking for cars. Three Event Parking sites were set up with a van shuttle service being run continuously throughout the day to and from the club. “Vans were donated by local dealerships,” Parish says. “We needed drivers for the vans. We got those. Everyone is stepping up to help.”

Obviously, none of this would be possible without the backing of the town of Oxford. Alspach recently gave a presentation to a very ‘receptive and interested Oxford audience.’ “We picked up volunteers and lots of support. They were aware they would be impacted. Even those who wouldn’t know a Star boat from a tractor were still really into it.”

“This is an exceptional caliber event. What this does for Oxford,” Cooper says, “is that it increases the quality level of the perception of the town. We don’t need a bigger town; we need a higher quality town. I think what we can do well is a smaller footprint, higher quality events. This clearly falls right in the center of that.”

For more information about the Star World Championship please go here

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

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