Trender: Sailing Visionary Juliette Clagett McLennan

Saturday, August 13, 2011


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Who are the Rhode Islanders leading in arts, fashion, food, and style? They're Trenders, and GoLocalProv offers glimpses of the people you most want to know on the scene. Today, Juliette Clagett McLennan, creator of the Clagett Regatta and a true visionary on the Newport sailing scene.

Born and raised: Born in Washington, DC and spent every summer in Newport, RI until she was 14, and then came back for America’s Cup Summers and finally moved to her “summer home”.
College:  Attended American University in Washington, DC but did not graduate.  Instead of finishing college, Judy became certified to teach skiing and received her International Certification to teach skiing through the Canadian Ski Instructor’s Ski Alliance.
Currently lives in:  Portsmouth with her 2 yellow Labradors.

How did the Clagett Regatta come about? 

The Clagett was started in 2003 at the suggestion of Newport resident Robie Pierce, who suggested that my daughter, Stephanie, and I start a living memorial for my late father in the form of a Sailing Clinic and Regatta to assist sailors with disabilities.  In his late teenage years my dad had viral meningitis which left him temporarily paralyzed.  When he recovered he was left with an appreciation of the challenges that folks with disabilities face on a daily basis.  This clinic and regatta represents the combination of his love of sailing, and his commitment to help others have the opportunity to “Reach for Success.”  He lived those 3 words and encouraged others to do the same. Thus the Clagett came about to help those who hope to represent the U.S.A. at the international level of sailing including the Paralympics.  The dates of this year’s Clinic and Regatta are August 20 – 23rd.  It will be sailed out of Sail Newport, Rhode Island’s public sailing center.  I encourage everyone to look at the Clagett Web site and in particular watch the 2 videos.  The videos will give you a strong understanding of what this regatta does and what it means to people.  

Why Newport? 

Newport is the Capital of Sailing!  This is where my late mother, a world-class sailor in her own right, helped to start a junior sailing program at the Ida Lewis Yacht Club in the 1950s.  This is where my father started a

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Competitors in the Clagett Regata

living memorial for my mother in the form of a clinic and regatta sailed for The Leiter Trophy that subsequently became U.S Sailing’s Jr. Women’s National Singlehanded Championship.  Newport is my family’s sailing home.

What criteria do you use for selecting sailors?

The Clagett is open to all sailors with disabilities who sail in the 3 Paralympic Class boats including Foreign sailors.   The Sonar is a 3 person boat, the SKUD 18 is a 2 person boat and the 2.4mR is a single person boat.
Every four years the sailors must go through a “classification" process which is conducted by a medical person who then assigns a classification number to the sailor.  This is a way of equalizing the disabilities for the sailors.  The Sonar may only carry a total of 14 points spread amongst the 3 sailors.   Generally the lower the number the higher degree of disability.  The SKUD 18 is a bit different.  The SKUD must have one woman as part of the 2 person crew and one of the 2 persons may only carry a 1 in classification.  Someone who carries the classification of 1 is a paraplegic and confined to a wheel chair.  The 2.4mR must be sailed by a sailor with a disability who has been through classification.  A few years ago the 2.4 sailors requested that their class at Clagett be opened to folks without a disability.  They felt the open competition would test their skills at a higher level.

Since the Mission of the Clagett is to "develop a program that will enable sailors with disabilities to reach their personal levels of achievement,” it was felt that allowing able bodied sailors to compete against the sailors with disabilities would be consistent with our mission. Now the 2.4mR class is an open class.  During the Clagett, in the SKUD 18 class one of the sailors must have a disability and in the Sonar Class the skipper plus one other must have a disability. If a boat has an able bodied person on board that boat is eligible to win the Class trophy but not eligible to win the over all Clagett Trophy.  Sailors with disabilities can and want to compete on equal grounds with able bodied sailors and they welcome the challenge. This year we are expecting in excess of 60 sailors.

Where do the sailors hail from and how do you find them?

When the Clagett started in 2003, the sailors were from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.  In addition to the strong New England sailing contingent this year we will have sailors from California, Texas, the Mid Atlantic States, Louisiana, Florida, Minnesota, and Canada.  Additionally, we have had sailors from Israel, Ireland, China, and Puerto Rico.  The disabled sailing community is a strong and welcoming group of people.  Whenever a new person shows up at a regatta for sailors with disabilities they are immediately surrounded by a support group who help each other in many different ways.  The sailors have their own networking abilities and know where they want to sail.

In 2008 The Clagett Regatta invited the Sail Newport Blind National Championship to be sailed in conjunction with The Clagett.  The sailors in the Paralympic boats and the blind sailors use the same race course, the same Race Committee and the same format. The blind sailors sail in J22s and  this is just one more class of boats that the Race Committee handles.  This partnership continues to this day. The course that the sailors race on is usually set up between Rose and Goat Islands just outside of Newport Harbor.  Occasionally when there is a large cruise ship in the outer Newport harbor the race course is moved closer to Jamestown in the Potter’s Cove area.

In your opinion, what are the highlights of the Clagett Regatta?

As the Regatta Chair the highlights of the regatta are many.  I love to see the way the disabled sailing community help each other.  I love to see when someone’s life has been changed by sailing and they now have self-confidence and self worth due to their participation in sailing.  I love to see the Newport community come together to support this regatta.  Last year, the merchants, businesses and residents of Newport County came together and donated over ten thousand dollars of in kind products to this regatta.  They also contributed many thousands of dollars as well as countless volunteer hours.  Aquidneck Islanders are wonderful and generous people with big hearts.

What is your long term goal for the Clagett Regatta?

The long term goal for Clagett is to become the leader in developing competitive sailing opportunities for sailors with disabilities. This can be accomplished by providing a venue and process that includes inspirational information and educational instruction that will assist sailors with disabilities to attain the competitive  status they need to win on the water and in their lives.

What is the best thing about holding your nonprofit regatta in Rhode Island?

The best thing about holding the C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta in Newport, Rhode Island is that Newport is Internationally known as the Sailing Capital of the U.S.A.  People want to come to Newport to sail. Wonderful sailors continue to sail through these waters and some of the nicest ones stay on and become part of our community. 

What's the biggest challenge in running a not for profit organization in Rhode Island?

The biggest challenge to establishing and running a not for profit is the Government paper work.  It is no more difficult to do so here than it is any where else in the U.S.A.  While I strongly support the effort of the Federal Government to require not for profit organizations to establish and follow good governance procedures, the new IRS 990 form is a challenge to fill out.  I am of the opinion that an organization that is set up with strong  governance procedures has a much better chance at surviving the difficult economic times we are facing today.

Photos: Dan Nerny

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