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In Youngstown, set sail if you dare

The crew aboard "Type A" is out looking for some summer adventure along with its fun on Wednesday nights in Lake Ontario.

They find it in the form of sailboat races.

Imagine sunsets, soft breezes and gentle waves -- then erase all that from your mind.

Racing on a sailboat is a sport where the sails and wind can quickly turn from your friend into your enemy.

Athleticism and skill are required to stay under the shifting boom, which holds and moves the sails, and to tack -- or to sail into the wind.

If a sailor doesn't tack fast enough, he or she can be left hanging on for dear life as the boat tips -- or heels -- beyond 45 degrees.

The Youngstown Yacht Club pools its resources with its cross-river neighbor, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club, to put on the weekly races. They generally attract 50 or more boats, each more than 22 feet long, with three to eight crew members aboard.

They run a two-hour race on an Olympic circle-style course, which travels about three nautical miles in Lake Ontario.

On Thursdays, the J/22s, smaller three-person sailboats, race up and down a shorter course.

The Type A is 36.7 feet long and requires a crew of seven or eight to race. Aboard the vessel, first-time sailors get brusque instructions from helmsman and boat owner John Fromen Sr., of Orchard Park.

"You're going to be the rail meat," Fromen said, explaining how it was the job of the crew to help balance the boat.

Fromen said the goal of sailing, unlike motor boating, is to slice through the water, rather than slapping the waves. He said the keel underneath the boat weighs thousands of pounds so that the boat can heel away from the wind without capsizing, or "turtling."

He gives the most important lesson as newcomers step on to his boat.

"Get out of the way of the boom. They call it a boom for a very good reason. It can kill you."

Michael O'Connor, also of Orchard Park, works with Fromen, his stepfather, as a Buffalo attorney. He also works with him on the boat at foredeck, giving instructions to the helmsman, who must sail blind with the sails in front of him.

O'Connor said he started racing in high school. He said racing in Youngstown goes way back to the 1920s.

Why Youngstown?

O'Connor said it's a sheltered harbor that draws -- and awes -- visitors from all over the country. From Chesapeake to Marblehead, he said, they love the village and its waters.

"It's such a nice area," O'Connor said. "There's all sorts of places to visit on Lake Ontario.

"The biggest misconception about sailing is that it is thought to be calm and tranquil," O'Connor added. "Sometimes it is, but when you're racing there is a lot of stuff going on, a lot of stuff happening. It's an absolute blast, and it's a good way to blow off steam."

For Youngstown, these races all boil down to the big one: the Youngstown Level Regatta, which will be held on the last weekend in July.

Hundreds of yachts are expected to compete in the Level Regatta, one of the largest freshwater sailing competitions in the world.

O'Connor said members of the Type A crew participate in as many area races as possible.

"It's all about the last weekend in July," he said. "We will definitely be part of the Regatta. It's fun, and a lot of boats come to it. You see a lot of friends you haven't seen in a while and . . . the party's great."

He said they also have the Buffalo Yacht Club's North American Championship race "marked in gold stars in their calendar" for the first week in September. The race for the Beneteau class in Lake Erie draws in 30 to 40 for that style.


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