Three Mid-Westerners Had Memorable Years:
A Paralympics Grandfather, an African American Captain Retraces His Ancestral Roots and a Phenomenal, Olympic Class Woman Takes Herself and Team to New World Class Levels
By Thom Burns

Team Captain Hook

In August 2006, Bert Foster, a longtime Wayzata Minnesota Yacht Club member, past Commodore, and race committee chairman went to Newport, Rhode Island at the invitation of Paralympics Coach Betsy Alison. Bert had raced Ensigns for 18 years and Sonars for 21 years at WYC. Bert secured a mainsail trimming position in the 4-day Clagett Clinic and Regatta.

Bert learned that he was impressed and intrigued by 3-person Paralympics format Sonar sailing and he learned that he was a lousy mainsheet trimmer due partly to having one non-functional arm, a lack of strength in the other arm and his overall age at nearly 70. Bert knew his only option was to be at the helm of his own boat.

After his return to Wayzata, his long-time Sonar partner and able bodied mainsail trimmer, Ernie Brody made a very generous offer. "If you put the team together, I will be your Boatswain. Stephanie (Brody) and I will come to every regatta, in our motor home, and take care of the boat, including putting all of the special adaptive equipment on it and tricking it out with the go-fast goodies." Bert couldn't refuse and started putting a team together.

Selection for the US Disabled Sailing team required participation in three qualifying regattas. They would happen in the next four months with the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta in January. Team Captain Hook, (Bert wears a hook on his right arm) finished third overall and qualified as the second boat of the US Disabled Sailing Team.

The team achieved moderate success during the winter regatta season in Florida. In order to take themselves to next level, three 10 day training sessions were scheduled in May, June and July. Former Olympic Sailing Coach Gordy Bowers conducted the sessions. In August the team went to Chicago and won the North American Disabled Championship. The Paralympics Selection Trials were scheduled for October in Newport. They would be 16 races in nine days.

Bert Foster Captain Bill Pinkney

The number one boat of the US Disabled Sailing Team, skippered by Rick Doerr of Clifton, New Jersey held a slim lead through the first three days. But on day four, Captain Hook slipped into first place by one point. The next day was a layover day and Bert's 71st birthday. He enjoyed his pedestal position the entire day!

The day or moment was short lived. Shifty winds and fierce competition from Doerr and the fleet put Rick back in the lead by a slim margin. It stayed this way through day eight. On the final race of the final day, Captain Hook needed to win and keep Doerr two boats back. The competition was tight with several lead changes. Rick Doerr sailed an excellent race and will represent the U.S. in China.

Bert put a gallant effort together for a Paralympics campaign in only ten months. In the finals, they took four firsts and Doerr took five firsts. After the regatta, Paralympics Coach Betsy Alison invited Team Captain Hook to be the training partner for the Doerr team. They are going to China!

Captain Bill Pinkney

Captain Bill Pinkney is a product of Chicago's Southside. After a corporate career, he became the first black man to sail solo around the world. He became Master of the replica Amistad, the freedom ship, when it was still timbers in Connecticut where he oversaw the building of the ship as it took its beautiful form. He cherishes the part that he was able to play.

Pinkney's most sought after goal was to arrive at the shores of his ancestral home continent Africa as the Master of a sailing ship, remembering his ancestors that left as cargo on sailing ships.
As Pinkney traveled back home and then to the west coast of Africa (another Captain sailed across the Atlantic), he wrote about his visit to Portugal, a country that had a monopoly on the export of slaves for 200 years.

"As the sun sets in the west, a glow that comes not from the sky lights the path to new horizons. Amistad is departing Portugal with a glow of accomplishment, for the ship, for the programs, for our state and for the nation."

"During our stay in this beautiful country we have met face to face and presented the Amistad story to over 800 students from the schools in Lisbon, we traveled to the sites of the beginnings of the Atlantic Slave Trade, participated in a colloquium with leading Portuguese scholars, were visited by the American Ambassador and his staff, and were welcomed by dancers from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and other Afro-Portuguese communities accompanied by drummers from Brazil.

The highlight of our stay was the Inter-Faith day sail. Our beautiful vessel glided smoothly down the river under the bridge that is a smaller version of the Golden Gate. The sails were raised by young women and men from the Jewish and Muslim communities side by side with our students and crew, many of whom were Christian. (They were) talking, laughing and sharing the lyrics of songs that they all know. This whole scene was being looked down upon from the hill next to the bridge by the statue of Christ the Redeemer. (It) is the same as the one that looks down on the harbor of Rio de Janeiro.

This is why we came; to bring people together to explore not the differences but rather their similarities. We had started the ball rolling; members of the organizers were ecstatic and saddened that we could not do more of these types of sails. I introduced them to a local ship owner who had the perfect site to continue this type of interaction long after we were gone.

Our presence in Lisbon and everywhere we went in Portugal was a statement of what Amistad means: Friendship. We made friends everywhere, our interpreters, our dock mates, the Immigration Police who stopped over regularly to see how we were doing, and just plain Amistad "groupies". Our stay in Cascais, Portugal was wonderful. The beauty, tranquility and facilities will be hard to reproduce as we move south.
Yes, there is a glow as we leave, not only in our hearts but in the smiles of those who watch us depart."
Pinkney arrived in Sierra Leone, Africa in December. He is Master of a Sailing Vessel, the Freedom Ship, Amistad. He has had an amazing year.

Sally Barkow

Sally Barkow, the Nashotah, Wisconsin native and her crew have spent the best part of 2007 gaining experience in preparation for the 2008 Olympics racing aboard the Yngling. Known as Team 7, the team is made up of Barkow; Carrie Howe from Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan; Debbie Capozzi from Bayport, New York; and additional members who come aboard the bigger boats to fill out the crew. Together they've been paying their dues in a vast learning curve through most of 2007 with a mixture of success and near success in a consistent trend toward a higher level of sailing.

Prize ceremony at the Houston Yacht club. From left: Colette Bennett, Rolex Watch USA, Sally Barkow, Annie Lush, Amanda Callahan and Debbie Capozzi, 2007 Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship winners. ROLEX/Dan Nerney

Although the team won the Yngling worlds in 2005, they were third in 2006 and second in 2007, proving how greatly improved the racing competition has become. Recently, the two times defending Olympic Champion from Britain was eliminated in her country's trials by Sarah Ayton who also finished first over the Barkow team at this year's Yngling worlds.

Unlike previous Olympics, the 2008 version will focus on super races in the finals which count double and some match racing. These are skill sets which must be mastered in the tricky currents off Qingdao, China, the Olympic sailing venue.

In the match racing piece of the competition, Team 7 won the BoatU.S. Santa Maria Match Race Championships, in J-22s. They also won the Brasils Women's Cup Match Racing in Swedish Match 40s and fared well in the International One Design 33s.

The Yngling regattas have been a mixed bag as the competition has really stepped it up worldwide. They opened the year with a win in the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta, followed by a second in the Yngling Worlds. Then in Europe, they took gold at Palma de Mallorca, Spain; silver at Semaine Olympique Francaise; and, a sixth at the Breitling Regatta in Holland. The China experience followed with a fourth in tricky conditions at Qingdao.

Team 7 finally came home to Houston, Texas to defend the Rolex International Keelboat Championship in a chartered J-22. After a rough start, they took over first on day two and remained there for the rest of the regatta, taking the last race off to pack up the boat. "We pulled off the hat trick," noted the exuberant crew. "We hope all this preparation pays off (in the Olympics)."

Look for Team 7 with skipper Sally Barkow, crew Debbie Capozzi and Carrie Howe to represent the U.S. well in China.

Thom Burns publishes Northern Breezes Sailing Magazine and Sailing Breezes Internet Magazine.




All contents are copyright (c) 2007 by Northern Breezes, Inc. All information contained within is deemed reliable but carries no guarantees. Reproduction of any part or whole of this publication in any form by mechanical or electronic means, including information retrieval is prohibited except by consent of the publisher.