By Joe Berkeley

Peter Shope finished first overall, but all 22 boats that rigged up for a spirited southerly breeze that ranged from 0 knots to 20 were considered winners. The conditions put mind, body, and spirit to the test.

Coming off the previous weekend where Shope was over early in two races, and finished fourth overall, he made it his business to sail at the level that won him the US Master’s National Championship last summer. His scores of 1, 4, 4, 2, 1, 2, 3 were enough to win the day by a significant margin.

Regarding the dodgy conditions, Shope said not being over early at the start was a big part of his plan. He almost always started at the committee boat or one or two boats to leeward. His strategy was to come off the line strong, tack on the shafts of wind that careened down the course.

Kay Van Valkenburgh, a software engineer from Boston enjoyed the conditions. He said, “The wind kicked my butt. It was really shifty. I capsized twice.”

Shope concurred. Numerous times during the day, he was sailing in close proximity to other Lasers and would hear a “girly scream followed by a splash.” Many talented sailors capsized as a result of the tricky shifts. “If Ed Adams were here, He would say we should all be sailing with tight hiking straps so we could get in and out of the boat quickly in the shifts.”

Peter Hopple, the owner of and a General Contractor who always finishes what he starts, enjoyed the competition. Hopple has been training his mind lately to believe the he can win in the Newport fleet and the effort paid off. Hopple was 8th on the day. The other possibility is he was trying to impress his new child bride. Joelene Hopple was in attendance at the IYAC and she is in favor of Peter sailing.

Last weekend, the mark boat picked up the starting line pin and it broke in half. Will Donaldson, the General Manager of Schaeffer Marine, and the winner last week took it upon himself to construct an indestructible starting line pin. He sourced a stainless steel stanchion, bought a crab pot buoy, chose a beautiful red flag, and asked a fabrication specialist at work to weld it together. Given that the new pin is constructed of stainless steel, Will said, “I’ll be impressed if anyone can bend it.”

There are numerous professionals from the marine industry in fleet 413 and one way to check on the health of the economy is to ask them how busy they are. Larry Colontuono, the General Manager of Brewer Wickford Cove Marina has teams working overtime on boat maintenance. He said, “It was good sailing today. Pretty squirrelly with the weather mark under the hill.”

Paul Hayes made the trip up from East Haddam, Connecticut. He works for the State of Connecticut, Education department, and coaches high school sailing. He encourages all of his athletes to sail as much as possible in the summer as the top recruits sail year round.

Chris Sheldon was happy with his new mainsheet. He enjoyed the shifty conditions and found the range of wind speed to be a challenge.

Scott Pakenham Baker is a new man. He’s working on his fitness and is also a bit of a wheeler dealer, having just sold a yellow Mercedes station wagon for a friend. The sale is going to finance the purchase of a new sail, which Scott could use.

Christine Neville was not on the line this Sunday. The Olympic hopeful was in the Lauderdale Olympic class regatta in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. According to Peter Shope, Christine was happily sleeping in her van when Josh Rifkin, a US Finn sailor made an inquiry if there was any room in the front seat. His hotel room didn’t materialize, so he crashed in the front seat of her vehicle. Those wishing to support Christine Neville’s campaign, her website is



The great thing about Fleet 413 is you don’t have to be a student to enjoy a teachable moment. It’s never too late to learn something new. For instance, last winter I was out sailing in February in a spirited breeze and I capsized numerous times. After the third capsize, I concluded that I was freezing my arse off and was totally miserable.

Between races, I looked up and saw Dan Neri sitting in his boat enjoying his day. He was happy, warm, and dry in his drysuit.  After sailing, I asked him about his choice of gear.

He was wearing a Kokatat drysuit and he was pleased with the performance. He had a minor issue with the suit and sent it back to the manufacturer. Even though the suit was more than a year old, Kokatat sent him a brand new one.

That’s the kind of customer service that gets my attention. When people back something up, it is meaningful. I wanted to learn more. Steve O’Meara started the company in 1971 with a friend. They began with two sewing machines and a dream. Their first account was a small retailer called REI. Then their friends requested paddle jackets for kayaking and such. At the time, people were just wearing sweatshirts and sweaters.

Kokatat, which is an unusual name, means “into the water” in the regional Native American language.  Today, Kokatat makes drysuits for paddlers, sailors, and the US Coast Guard.

I called Annapolis Performance Sailing and asked about the Kokatat. They told me that it goes on sale once a year in October during their boat show special. So I put it on my google calendar and forgot about it.

Of course, the reminder popped up after the Worlds, where a lot of money was spent to receive a beating administered in a variety of languages. Fall is the time of year when the memory of last winter fades, and you think, “ah, it wasn’t that bad. Maybe it’ll be a mild winter.”

But it was cold, so I reached out to APS to have a call about sizes. I’ve never spent $1020 on an article of clothing in my life, so I had to convince myself that a drysuit isn’t clothing, it’s more like a boat you can wear on your body. After all, Dwight Escalera paid less for his entire Laser.

The boat show discount was 15% which made a big difference so I gritted my teeth and bought KT003 LG red/black Kokatat Gore-Tex Dry suit with Gore-Tex Socks & Relief Zipper for $867. Shipping was free.

It’s here:

The last time I bought a drysuit, it was a Henry Lloyd, made from old school fabric, and when you wore it you basted in your own juices. The Kokatat is made in Arcata, California from Gore-Tex and comes with a big Gore-Tex hangtag that extolls the virtues of the material. Having suffered the indignity of writing more than a few hangtags in my life, somebody has to do it, I always make an effort to read them. Suffice it to say the suit breaths, and you do not emerge from it at the end of the day like a poached egg.

There’s a warning tag that comes with the suit, “The zipper is one of the most sensitive components of your drysuit. Treat it carefully.” The zipper is of good quality and the relief zipper is a nice feature if you drink a lot of water during a heavy air day.

If you combine the drysuit with the Ed Adams approach to gloves, which is cross country ski glove liners beneath heavy rubber gloves which go beneath the drysuit seals, you could be in for a far more pleasant day.

I have a vintage pair of North strap-on hiking pads, that go outside of the suit, and I am hopeful they will limit the wear to the drysuit. Another good addition to the kit is a pair of inexpensive, oversized neoprene booties that go over the drysuit socks. My came from L.L. Bean and they are cheap and cheerful.

As a base layer, I pulled a pair of tights that are farmer john style out of the cycling bin. Great thing is they don’t slip down while hiking. First day out, I used regular-cut long underwear and they were slipping creating an unfortunate reverse-wedgie, de-pantsing sensation.

Would I buy the Kokatat drysuit again? Yes, absolutely. Life is short and you have to treat yourself to those purchases that improve your lifestyle and enhance your dignity. The Kokatat drysuit is better than advertised and has proven itself a great addition to the laundry basket of gear that makes sailing in Fleet 413 a pleasure.

Joe Berkeley is a freelance writer and the Official Scribe of Fleet 413. His work is at