Above: Rounding the mark. Submitted photo
This week will mark the 19th year East Greenwich Yacht Club and Greenwich Bay Sailing Association host the CJ Buckley Regatta. The regatta started out as a small local affair organized by grief-stricken friends of CJ Buckley in 2003. CJ, an avid GBSA sailor and racer, lost his young life to brain cancer in 2002 and in 2003, his GBSA friends inaugurated the regatta to commemorate his legacy of sportsmanship, friendship and love of sailing. That was nearly 20 years ago and since then, CJ’s parents Lucy and Carter and those same friends like Kyle and Justin Assad and their families, come from all over the U.S. every year for a week or so in late July or early August to help run what has become the Club 420 Association National Junior Team Racing Championship. Along the way, the group has added many more volunteers and friends who help spread the message that building comradery, friendships, and sportsmanship is a better life pursuit than simply winning. The CJ Buckley Regatta is exclusively volunteer run, and all proceeds go towards perpetual scholarships funding young sailors on Narragansett Bay through their junior sailing careers.
Among U.S. Junior Sailors, and sailors in general, the CJ Buckley Regatta is well known and well loved. It attracts the top junior sailors from around the U.S. and even from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Its roster of 24 teams (6 sailors per team) typically fills up within a few hours of opening registration in May each year. It is beloved by junior sailors, many who follow the sailing regatta season down the East Coast, happy to land in East Greenwich for what is known to be the most unique, friendly, and fun-filled event of the racing season. Pre-Covid, a hoard of volunteers, many known as the “pink ladies” (they wear pick shirts) would make and prepackage bag lunches for the racers, store them in coolers and distribute them by throwing them to the sailors on the water from the various coach boats. Known as the “flying lunches,” this popular regatta feature became a casualty of Covid. The event still provides a Monday evening banquet and “coach night” for the sailors and volunteers, with sailors given the opportunity to meet and talk with coaches from many of the elite sailing college programs from around the U.S., a valued opportunity for GBSA sailors and the CJ Buckley racers, many of whom go on to represent their country in international events. All told, more than 3,000 sailors have passed through the CJ Buckley regatta since 2003.
While the CJ Buckley Regatta is well known among sailors, it is amazing to know that such a prestigious national event isn’t generally well known in its hometown. A team of CJ Buckley volunteers set about changing this in 2019, the year before Covid. The group is building awareness among local businesses and puts together a “Welcome Package” with over 20 local businesses offering discounts to regatta participants and the sailing community throughout regatta week. The group hopes to promote awareness about this worthy cause and promote local businesses, while also getting the positive message that enduring friendships, sportsmanship and comradery are really what makes precious life worth living.
The CJ Buckley story was featured in a recent PBS “Our Town” East Greenwich documentary. Catch it at https://www.ripbs.org/our-town/towns/east-greenwich/ starting at 45. You can also find out more about CJ and the regatta at www.cjbuckleyregatta.net and like and follow @cjbuckleyteamrace on Instagram and Facebook or Email [email protected] to find out how you can donate or help.
Catch the regatta off Goddard Park beach on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 1 and 2.