Young North Bay sailors compete for shot at stardom on the high seas

On a crisp, wind-whipped morning on the San Francisco Bay, white sails attached to white boats could be seen bouncing on the water almost in formation.

"Being out on the water is just nice because you can just be yourself. You can just feel the air. You’re on your boat alone. You’re with your team," said Beckett Kern, a San Francisco Yacht Club sailor.

The 14-year-old is one of about a dozen North Bay kids competing in the Citizen’s Private Bank Opti Team Trials. The four-day event, from April 18-21, pulls 200 young sailors from around the country.

One sailor sits inside one small boat, with each racing and competing against the other in the 12-race per day event. This is the first time the San Francisco Yacht Club has hosted the male-dominant Optimus-class series of races in eight years.

"There are a lot of boys in this sport. But I do have a lot of close girlfriends on the water," said 13-year-old San Francisco Yacht Club sailor Cassady Lorantzen. "Whenever girls come into this sport is nice because we all make really good friendships, and we compete against each other, and it’s a really good time."

It’s also a tough time. Each sailor works the sail and rudder simultaneously in the eight-foot boat, navigating a trapezoid course near the Berkeley Circle – about a mile from the shore of the city of the same name.

Challenging sea conditions necessitate the use of bailers to keep water out of the boat and keep the boat afloat.

"The winds are insane. The current is intense. The water is cold. The waves are nuts," said Stone Melet, a regatta committee member, and parent of one of the young sailors.

He said overcoming such hardships at sea forges toughness, and character in the competitors.

"It’s a normal thing for them to be comfortable being uncomfortable and not complaining about conditions and really learning to grind. And they attach that to every part of their lives," said Melet.

Experts said this environment is as competitive as any on land. But these young sailors said while trying to achieve victory, they also chart a course for fun.

"Having fun is really important. You do better when you’re having fun. But it’s also about the competitive aspect of wanting to win. Wanting to place good," said Lorantzen. 

Added Kern, "I think it’s a really good passion and I really have been connected to the racing. And I just really want to do well and compete against my friends."

If all goes well, some of these youngsters will make the cut to represent Team USA at this summer’s international regattas.

Jesse Gary is a news and sports reporter, and sports anchor, based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on the X platform (formerly Twitter), @JesseKTVU and on Instagram, @jessegontv