Annapolis High sailing team captures ISSA Keelboat National Championship

Bill Wagner

As a freshman, Porter Kavle served as spinnaker trimmer for the Annapolis High team that placed third at the inaugural Interscholastic Sailing Association Keelboat National Championship.

Kavle fully expected the Panthers to capture the national title before his career was concluded.

It took four years and featured a little frustration in between, but Annapolis High did reach the pinnacle of high school sailing in that particular discipline. Kavle served as skipper and steered the boat as Annapolis captured the fourth annual ISSA Keelboat National Championship, held the weekend of Nov. 18-19 and hosted by St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

Kimmie Leonard (pit), Nicholas Salvesen (bow) and George Kaye (trimmer) completed the crew as Annapolis High totaled a low score of 26 points. It was quite a performance by Anne Arundel County schools as skipper Jake Vickers led Archbishop Spalding to a runner-up finish.

Caroline Kelly, Jack Irvin and Leah Sweeney comprised the crew for Spalding, which put up 38 points.

It marked the first time since its inception that a Florida or California entry did not capture the Mendelblatt Trophy that goes to the winner of the ISSA Keelboat National Championship.

“I think it all came down to great teamwork. We had four great sailors on the boat and everyone did a good job of understanding and performing their roles,” Kavle said. “We sailed very smart and conservatively. We kind of just stuck to the basics. Our maneuvers and sets were all solid. We were also very consistent. We didn’t have any bad results.”

Kyle Comerford skippered when Annapolis High finished third in 2014 and Kavle took over as skipper the following year. Kaye and Salvesen joined the team in 2015 while Leonard was a new addition this year.

Annapolis won the local qualifier that was hosted by Annapolis Yacht Club in J/22 sloops. The Panthers then traveled to Rochester, New York, and took first in the Mid-Atlantic Scholastic Sailing Association Championship as well.

“I think winning the qualifier up in Rochester gave us a lot of confidence,” Kavle said. “We were doing really well as a team and our crew work was improving with every event.”

The Panthers practice out of Annapolis Yacht Club and receive coaching support from junior instructor Katja Sertl. AYC members Ray and Jenn Wulff loaned their J/70 Joint Custody to Annapolis High for the national championship since that was the one-design class in which it would be contested.

“We owe special thanks to the Wulffs for allowing us to use their boat. We spent two days practicing in the J/70 against Spalding and that was a really big help,” Kavle said.

Corona del Mar was defending national champ, but it was another California school, Newport Harbor, that took the early lead after four races were held in 5-8 knot southwesterly winds on Saturday. Annapolis showed its mastery of light air on the opening day of competition and trailed by just one point.

Heavy air arrived on Sunday and Newport Harbor quickly took itself out of contention with results of eighth and ninth. Meanwhile, the Panthers displayed versatility by also sailing well in a building breeze that began at 10 knots and increased to 20 as a front approached.

“I thought the team was very fluid with their boat-handling skills in all types of conditions,” Sertl said.

Annapolis held a commanding 15-point lead through eight races when things got hairy. A gust of wind caused a broken forestay and prematurely ended the regatta for the Panthers. Two races remained and there was a chance Spalding could have overtaken Annapolis. However, regatta officials allowed for redress that awarded the Panthers average points for the final two races and allowed them to maintain a 12-point advantage in the final results.

“We are absolutely thrilled to bring a national championship home to Annapolis. This is definitely a huge accomplishment,” Kavle said. “It’s great for the school and great for the yacht club. There are so many people that deserve thanks because we got an awful lot of support.”

Two parents – Fredrik Salvesen and Jim Kavle – accompanied the team to Florida for nationals. The elder Kavle, who once competed in the America’s Cup as crew for legendary skipper Dennis Conner, helped with on-water coaching.

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