2017-05-11 / Around Town

The Clagett is a Haven for Adaptive Sailors

By Sam Crichton

In 2002, local sailor Robie Pierce had an idea. And when he joined forces with Stephanie and Judy McLennan, great things happened for sailors with disabilities across the world. Fifteen years later, the C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta is a world-recognized sailing event for adaptive athletes.

"I got together with Judy and Stephanie in August, 2002 and scratched a proposal,” Pierce said.

He asked if they would be willing to undertake an effort like the Lieter Cup, only with adaptive sailors. After a few organizational ideas were discussed, Judy said, “Great idea, let’s do it.”

Since then, the Clagett Regatta has helped create national and world champions, from old salts to green beginners, male and female. Out of the wonderful work of the McLennans, the C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. thrives as the pinnacle of adaptive sail-coaching in the U.S. and abroad.

C. Thomas Clagett Jr. (Photo contributed by the Clagett family) C. Thomas Clagett Jr. (Photo contributed by the Clagett family) Pierce, who moved to Newport from Marion Mass., and has had multiple sclerosis since 1987, got to know Judy's father, Tom Clagett, from sailing America's Cup boats in Newport. "I have been a lifelong sailor and serious competitor in a variety of one-design regattas and sailing yachts,” he said. “I have competed in more regattas than I can ever remember, won my share, including world and national championships. I first knew Tom Clagett back in the early America’s Cup days when he was a larger-than-life sponsor of the U.S. defense effort.”

Clagett, for whom the clinic and regatta is named, experienced temporary paralysis as the result of a bout of meningitis, which left him with a deep respect for the accomplishments of people with disabilities. The regatta’s mission is "to assist sailors in realizing their potential on the water by providing them both the knowledge and tools to improve their skills and the opportunity to use these skills in competition.” Clagett's motto was "Reach for Success," which resonates with every regatta participant.

Clagett president and co-founder Judy McLennan, who lives in Portsmouth, said, "We are looking forward to a very exciting and memorable year for The Clagett. It is wonderful to see where we are now after 15 years of providing opportunities to [adaptive] sailors through both the C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta in Newport, and now the Clagett/ Oakcliff Match Race Regatta in Oyster Bay, N.Y., which will be held for the second time, later this year. We are proud that we have been able to provide the best coaches, the best race management and the best sailing locations for adaptive athletes to reach for their own personal success."

During the last three Paralympic Games in 2008, 2012 and 2016, Clagett sailors have won three gold, seven silver and eight bronze medals. In 2012, Clagett sailor Jen French was named “Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year.”

The Clagett continues to provide opportunities for adaptive sailors. In 2016, it introduced the Clagett/ Oakcliff Match Race Regatta, which provides adaptive sailors with another racing format. In addition to regattas, The Clagett works on the improvement of safety equipment, such as helmets and life jackets, for all sailors.

The 2017 Clagett clinic and regatta in Newport will feature the return of Paralympic coach Mike Ingham, who coached the Rio silver medalist in the Sonar class. Ingham met the team when he first coached at the 2014 Clagett Regatta in Newport, and the relationship developed from there. Also on the 2017 coaching team are Betsy Alison and Brian Todd, who have both been involved with The Clagett coaching team for many years.


Clagett Regatta Fundraiser
WHEN: June 1, 6-8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Belle Mer, Goat Island
MORE INFO: clagettregatta.org,

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