NHYC Racing Director Jenn Lancaster
By Len Bose
February 6, 2015 | 2:39 p.m.
Twelve years ago, Jenn Lancaster left her teaching job, packed up her car and moved to California from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Fortunately for every sailor in Newport Beach, Lancaster became the Newport Harbor Yacht Club's racing director.
Lancaster was born in San Diego into a military family and moved around the country before settling in New Hampshire. One spring, her father allowed a team from the US Naval Academy to stay at their home during a sailing regatta. Lancaster noticed their sailing team's jackets and decided she wanted one.
She then followed the team members down to the dock, where she first noticed the University of New Hampshire sailing team.
"From that moment, I was hooked and never missed a practice," she said with great fondness. She started racing competitively at age 18, which led her to this job.
Today, Lancaster spends her days writing all the notices of races, sailing instructions and race results and doing all the logistics involved in running the different sailing events for the NHYC. When I asked her what her favorite part of her job is, she said scoring.
"People are always so eager to see how their hard work has translated to the results on a piece of paper, particularly the kids," Lancaster said.
That's when I reminded her that, most of the time, I am not that happy with my results. She quickly reminded me that not everyone has to win a trophy to be happy. Some people are happy to beat their rival or friends or just not come in last.
"I really do love the kids events," Lancaster went on to say. "I love their faces and to listen to them singing to themselves when sailing their sabots. That's when I really enjoy my job the most."
Then there are the days when she has talked on the phone with America's Cup winner Dennis Conner and other famous sailing personalities like Paul Cayard regarding the event NHYC is hosting that weekend. Or she has spoken with the sabot parent who wants to know when his or her kid will be off the water that day.
"Knowing every little aspect of the sport is pretty fun and pretty cool," she said with great pride in her work.
I asked about some of the recent changes over her tenure that have affected race management.
"The sport has become more complex, and people are spending a lot more money," she said. "Because they are spending more money, the participants are expecting better race management. We are stewards to people's recreation time, and we need to put in just as much effort as the participants. We are all out there to have a great day on the water."
She went on to explain how much time is saved with online race registration and entry fees.
The sailing season has already started for Lancaster. NHYC is hosting the Islands Race, which goes around Catalina and San Clemente islands and finishes in San Diego, and this year's Cabo race, both in March.
I had to ask what she does on her day off. "I like walking, reading, and I really enjoy cooking," she said. "In fact, I have been spending a lot of time learning vegetarian recipes recently."
We then discussed the communication line in our harbor among the different stakeholders — for example, the charter boat captains, Orange Coast College crew and Newport Aquatic Center.
"Chris Miller and, this last year, Chandler Bell with the Chamber of Commerce have done an outstanding job putting on the Sailing/Charter Coordination meeting each year, where all the harbor stakeholders have a chance to meet each other in person and make arrangements to talk on the VHF radio together the day of large events," she said.
I asked her how the race participants can help her with her job.
"Everyone has always been very kind to me," she said. "I have to dig deep for this. One way that participants can help would be not to press it too hard with the charter boats or the Duffy rentals." I laughed and told her that I needed that extra two feet when maneuvering around these boats to win the race. At the same time, I realized how wrong I have been for so many reasons over the years.
Lancaster is a good-hearted person who has become an integral part of this harbor's history. It's too bad that the Daily Pilot has not continued its Hall of Fame for our harbor, because Lancaster has earned a spot on the wall.
LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.