Healys’ story being told at Atlantic Nationals
East Lyme — Bill Healy grew up in a house on a bluff overlooking Niantic Bay Yacht Club. He was 2 years old or so when his parents, Bill Sr. and Nancy, who fostered a family of avid sailors, pulled into the driveway one day and asked the nanny where their son was.
Bill had set off for the club.
“I had walked down to the club myself looking for my mom for something to do,” Healy said. “Somebody found me, luckily, and drove me home. That was my first instinct, the yacht club.”
And it still is.
Healy, just over a year since the death of Bill Sr. at the age of 91, is competing this weekend in the Atlantic Class national championship at Niantic Bay. A past two-time champion in the event, Healy is sailing on Challenger II along with daughters Caroline and Kristen and cousin Art Landry, with his aunt, Sharon Healy, as an alternate.
Caroline and Kristen, along with younger sisters Meredith and Sarah, grew up at Niantic Bay, too, in the family tradition. Kristen, 20, is entering her junior year at Fordham, where she’s on the sailing team.
“I think we have dinner here more than we do at home,” Caroline said. “We bring dinner here.”
The three-day regatta got off to a rough start Thursday without any races being completed due to lack of a breeze. Friday, then, resulted in the race committee trying to make up for the off day, piling on three races. The 23 competitors left the dock at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t return until 6:30 p.m.
Healy and his family finished third in the first race, fourth in the second and 16th in the third, placing them sixth overall so far with 23 points.
Scott Reichhelm of Cedar Point Yacht Club in Wesport is first with 7 points, followed by Dave Peck of Niantic Bay with 10 and Steve Benjamin of Seawanhaka Corinthean Yacht Club of Oyster Bay, New York, also with 10. Niantic Bay’s Jeff Shay is fourth with 19.
Healy said the first two races were sailed in 2-6-knot winds, with the breeze picking up to 12-15 right before the final race.
Healy said his father, a Yale graduate who went on to be a neurologist, was his first sailing coach in a career that has yielded national, North American and Mid-Winter championships in five different sailing classes. Healy is now the associate head coach of the Yale sailing program.
“He was just a very calm person, very understanding about wind shifts and not getting too uptight,” Healy said Friday. “If you get a bad break, you can still battle back. Keep working at it. Try to catch back up.
“He was just very calming. He was our first coach. He was very calm so we didn’t get turned off from the competitive aspect of sailing. ... Every time on the water (you think of him). It’s his area.”
Healy called himself “pretty calm” in teaching his girls and his Yale students the nuances of sailing, before adding a note on Friday’s racing.
“It gets frustrating when everybody’s tired and nobody’s eaten and nobody’s had anything to drink for five hours and they haven’t gone to the bathroom in I don’t know how many hours,” he said. “Everybody gets a little antsy. We try to keep it fun. They’re all competitive (on the Challenger II crew). They all want to win.”
Caroline and Kristen have joined Bill for the past five years or so sailing Atlantics at Niantic Bay in the club’s Wednesday night series and on weekends, but they’ve never sailed in a national championship before.
They remember their grandfather as a sailor, but also as their part-time chauffeur as they made their way to various sports practices growing up.
“He drove us to every soccer and basketball practice,” said Caroline, a 2022 grad of Saint Anselm College, where she played for the women’s lacrosse team.
“There’s always a story that relates back to something he did,” Kristen said, remembering her grandfather.
The girls say their dad also maintains a sense of calm in sailing.
“A lot calmer than me when I skipper,” Caroline said with a laugh. “He’s really, really calm. He could definitely yell at us a lot more for things that we do. We try not to yell at each other too much.”
The Atlantic Class series will conclude Saturday. Benjamin is the defending champion, with the race held last year at Seawanhaka.
Healy said having the series at Niantic Bay isn’t as much of an advantage as one might think. Because it is deemed the Niantic Bay YC sailors would gain too much of an advantage if the races were held in the bay, the rule is racing must take place at least a mile out.
Because it is a full moon, Long Island Sound featured a strong current Friday which saw the fleet move backward at one point.
“It was tricky,” Healy said. “At one point the whole fleet was going backward so (one boat) tried to set their anchor, but I think it was too deep. I was ready to go in after two races. It’s trying.
“We didn’t have a very good start in the last race. It was a frustrating last race. We almost caught up and then we got pushed back again. ... (The girls) never sailed in a nationals before so it’s just sort of a change of pace. It’s so much fun. Less stressful in a way. Sort of a fun outing.”