Sailing: First-time winner of Race Around Shelter Island overcomes late start

It’s not a strategy Jim Koehler would advise to other sailors, nor is it one he plans to try again. But his unusual start to Saturday’s Race Around Shelter Island in the sunfish regatta proved to be a winning one.

He had gotten delayed on the morning of the race and arrived at the starting line in Southold Bay off Southold Yacht Club just as the race began. A yacht club member reminded him that it was a long race. There was plenty of time to catch up.

He was right.

Despite starting nearly three minutes behind the other sunfish racers, Koehler bounced back to win the race for the first time in his sailing career. He posted a time of 3 hours, 54 minutes, 15 seconds, according to the race results.

“It was fun,” Koehler said. “I enjoy coming out to Southold. The Southold Yacht Club does a beautiful job.”

Koehler races with the South Bay Water Sports Association. He’s the owner of the Dinghy Shop in Amityville, where he lives.

Jeffrey Anderson was the top finisher from the Southold Yacht Club with a time of 4:00:11. John Condon, who’s won several times in the past, was seventh in 4:02:44.

In the catamaran race, Andrew Burdett had the top time racing in the A division in 3:09:40. Arthur Leiz posted the top time in the laser race (3:57:02) and Robert Elliston of the Southold Yacht Club was tops in the C420 regatta in 4:16:48.

A week before the sunfish race, Koehler didn’t even know if he could compete physically. Last winter he underwent stem cell therapy on his left hip. He’d been injured working on repairs in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, he said. A week before the Race Around Shelter Island, he sailed in the Sunfish North American Championship hosted by the Sayville Yacht Club.

“That was just to see if I could do it,” he said.

He described the Shelter Island race as like a “Woodstock” of sailing.

“People come to it,” he said.

Koehler said he had gotten some advice on the currents before the start of the race. As he sailed around the south end of Shelter Island and headed into Gardiners Bay, he had already climbed into fifth place. There were 31 boats in the race.

He said he noticed most of the other sailors were hugging the island. Koehler said he saw an opportunity to pick up the strong current by going farther out.

“I was able to what they call ‘plane’ and work the waves the entire eastern side of Shelter Island,” he said.

Koehler had sailed this particular race enough times to know that while you’re in the lead, anything can go right or wrong.

“I was in a more favorable current on the outside,” he said.

Looking ahead to the rest of the summer, Koehler said he plans to compete in the Sunfish World Championship in New Jersey.

“I’ll have to make sure to start that one on time,” he said.

Photo caption: Jim Koehler was the winner of the sunfish race Saturday. (Credit: Southold Yacht Club)

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