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Sunapee Sailing Event About More Than Competition

  • A boat with a broken mast is pulled into the dock area during the 2014 Western Hemisphere Championships at Lake Sunapee Yacht Club in Sunapee, N.H., on June 18, 2014.  <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    A boat with a broken mast is pulled into the dock area during the 2014 Western Hemisphere Championships at Lake Sunapee Yacht Club in Sunapee, N.H., on June 18, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Steve Hamilton, left, of South Sutton, N.H., Diane Robbins of Sunapee, N.H., and George Morin of Bedford, N.H., watch the first race of the 2014 Western Hemisphere Championships at Lake Sunapee Yacht Club in Sunapee, N.H., on June 18, 2014.  <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Steve Hamilton, left, of South Sutton, N.H., Diane Robbins of Sunapee, N.H., and George Morin of Bedford, N.H., watch the first race of the 2014 Western Hemisphere Championships at Lake Sunapee Yacht Club in Sunapee, N.H., on June 18, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Skipper Robert Teitge, left, and Kip Gardner, crew, turn their boat at the end of the first race of the day at the Lake Sunapee Yacht Club in Sunapee, N.H., on June 18, 2014.  <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Skipper Robert Teitge, left, and Kip Gardner, crew, turn their boat at the end of the first race of the day at the Lake Sunapee Yacht Club in Sunapee, N.H., on June 18, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dona Chiarella takes a cruise around Lake Sunapee to benefit the Upper Valley Humane Society. A trophy, to be awarded at this week's Western Hemisphere Championships, was named for Chiarella, a longtime Sunapee resident who died in 2012. Sonya Chiarella photograph

    Dona Chiarella takes a cruise around Lake Sunapee to benefit the Upper Valley Humane Society. A trophy, to be awarded at this week's Western Hemisphere Championships, was named for Chiarella, a longtime Sunapee resident who died in 2012. Sonya Chiarella photograph Purchase photo reprints »

  • A boat with a broken mast is pulled into the dock area during the 2014 Western Hemisphere Championships at Lake Sunapee Yacht Club in Sunapee, N.H., on June 18, 2014.  <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Steve Hamilton, left, of South Sutton, N.H., Diane Robbins of Sunapee, N.H., and George Morin of Bedford, N.H., watch the first race of the 2014 Western Hemisphere Championships at Lake Sunapee Yacht Club in Sunapee, N.H., on June 18, 2014.  <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Skipper Robert Teitge, left, and Kip Gardner, crew, turn their boat at the end of the first race of the day at the Lake Sunapee Yacht Club in Sunapee, N.H., on June 18, 2014.  <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Dona Chiarella takes a cruise around Lake Sunapee to benefit the Upper Valley Humane Society. A trophy, to be awarded at this week's Western Hemisphere Championships, was named for Chiarella, a longtime Sunapee resident who died in 2012. Sonya Chiarella photograph

Sunapee — By Wednesday, the wind would finally pick up, but for the first few days of the 2014 Western Hemisphere Championships, the name of the game here was hurry up and wait.

A lack of wind stymied the races scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, but the competitors gathered at Lake Sunapee Yacht Club didn’t seem to mind. Weather delays, several said, are just part of the sport.

“We’ll sail eventually, so it’s no problem,” said Scott Sheffer, who had traveled from Maine to take part in the Star Class “silver star” event, which is just one step below the World Championships.

The event drew 80 competitors, including U.S. Olympian Brian Fatih and defending Western Hemisphere champion Augie Diaz. They are racing in the special two-person “Star Class” boats, which are about 23 feet long and have masts that are 32 feet tall. While competition on the water is fierce, on land the racers are an outgoing sort of crowd.

“Part of it is, you come here for the people,” said Bill Watson, who teamed up with Sheffer for this week’s races. That includes both the sailors and others they meet on the racing circuit.

Many of the sailors who traveled to the event, including Watson and Sheffer, are staying with area families. It’s part of the hospitality the club is known for, a tradition exemplified by the late Dona Chiarella, for whom one of the race’s new trophies was named.

Chiarella, the wife of race chairman John Chiarella, was an avid sailor and much-loved club member. When she died in 2012 of pancreatic cancer, her pallbearers included several people her husband had competed against.

“It was important to her that my crews carried her home,” said Chiarella, a longtime Star Class racer who served on the International Star Class Yacht Racing Association committee for nine years.

This week’s event is sort of in Dona’s memory, Chiarella said.

John MacCausland, the reigning world champion, remembered Dona Chiarella’s kindness.

“She was always jovial, always opened her home for us,” said MacCausland, who has participated in events on the lake for 15 years. “She was just a wonderful woman.”

Others said she had been like a second mom. Brad Nichol, a competitor who grew up on Lake Sunapee, recalled the Saturday mornings when his parents dropped him and his brothers off at the club. Chiarella and several other women there were “kind of like surrogate mothers.”

“I remember them all watching out for us,” said Nichol, who now lives in Houston. “It felt like a community here.”

Terry Fletcher, one of the race organizers, remembers Chiarella’s enthusiastic presence at the club. Races would find her greeting the sailors and talking with the judges and the other wives, said Fletcher. “I’m sure, in spirit, she’s right here.”

The Chiarellas, who owned a car dealership in New York state, built a summer home on Lake Sunapee in 1957 and later moved to the area full-time. Married for almost six decades, they raced together on 30- and 40-foot boats, traveling throughout the United States and Canada, and for a time, they raced in Star Class together.

Dona, who bought her husband his first Star Class boat, sometimes teased him about the amount of time he spent on the crafts, Chiarella said. He laughed thinking about the time he won the Northeast district championship in Toronto, and Dona celebrated by ordering wine for the entire fleet.

“I had to sell a few extra cars to pay for that,” he said. “She had a great sense of humor right up until the end.”

John Chiarella started the process of getting the Western Hemisphere Championships on Lake Sunapee three years ago. He had organized many regattas before, but always with Dona’s help. Luckily, this time, their four children “came to the rescue,” he said.

“It was a little bit harder than I thought. ... She did a lot of the heavy lifting,” he said.

The private, summer-only club obtained a Star Fleet c harter in 1939 and hosts a fleet of the racing boats. In 2002, Lake Sunapee Yacht Club and Sunapee Star Fleet hosted the Star North American championships, also a silver star event. This is the second time the club has been home to such an event at that level.

“It’s tremendously prestigious,” Chiarella said. “We have some of the top competitors in the world here.”

The championships are hosted in various places, including South America, Australia and Canada, and often at larger clubs in the United States, so it’s unlikely they’ll return to Sunapee “in the foreseeable future,” Chiarella said. “I won’t be around, that’s for sure.”

For Chiarella, Star Class racing is a passion. A lot of sailing people don’t share their experiences, but Star Class participants are “very outgoing,” he said. “Star Class really is probably one of the greatest fraternities in the world.”

Having competed against each other for years, most of the top racers know each other. Tuesday morning, as they waited for the red and white “postponement flag” to be lowered, some clustered inside the club, drinking coffee, watching TV or catching up on work. Others relaxed in lawn chairs, chatting near the all-too-calm waters of Lake Sunapee. It wouldn’t be their last chance to mingle — a social event is planned for nearly every night of the weeklong event. The downtime also provided the chance to squeeze in a workout.

On Monday, MacCausland, a New Jersey resident, took a spin around the lake on his bicycle. The quiet is one of the reasons he enjoys Lake Sunapee, he said. “I always say it’s like coming to On Golden Pond.”

By Wednesday, however, the wind started moving, making for a busy couple of days on the water — organizers managed to squeeze in three races on Wednesday and two yesterday.

On Wednesday, Diaz won the first race, followed by Lars Grael in second and MacCausland in third. In the second race, Grael finished first, Diaz second, and Brian Cramer third. The last race of the day was won by Arthur Anosov, followed MacCausland in second and Ben Sternberg in third.

The results might have turned out different, but in the second race, MacCausland was “on the course side (OCS),” meaning his boat was over the start line when the race began; in the third race, both Diaz and Grael were OCS. In all three cases, being OCS led to a disqualification.

Each team can have one OCS erased as a “throw out” during the event, but the possibility of additional occurrences makes predicting a winner difficult, Fletcher said. “You’re not going to know until the last race tomorrow because it’s so tight.”

On Thursday, Anosov won the first race, followed by Grael in second and Diaz third. In the second race, Diaz took first, with Upper Valley sailor David Ivey, and his son, Dave Jr., coming in second, and Anosov third. When the day was over, Diaz led the field, followed by Anosov and Grael, who were tied. Cramer and MacCausland were in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Today is the last day of the event; weather permitting, it will include two races. Live video can be seen at www.lsyc-live.com/.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.