The 17th Annual CJ Buckley Regatta was held earlier this week at Goddard Memorial State Park and the East Greenwich Yacht Club.
One hundred and fifty young sailors, along with many more coaches, officials, and volunteers made the trip to honor the late sailor, as well as compete in what has evolved into the Club 420 Association’s National Junior Team Race Championship.
With 24 teams traveling from 12 states to compete, the CJ Buckley Regatta has become one of the biggest sailing events on the east coast and a staple in the northeast sailing community.
Competitors hail from places like Rhode Island, Martha’s Vineyard, California, New York, Annapolis, Chicago, Puerto Rico, Ohio, the Antilles, as well as other areas along the Eastern Seaboard.
CJ was an avid sailor and racer at the East Greenwich Bay Sailing Association and Tabor Academy. Two weeks prior to his 16th birthday and just two days after competing in a regatta, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He passed away after a 16-month battle.
CJ’s parents, Carter and Lucy, as well as two of his friends, Kyle and Justin Assad, and a handful of others, established the regatta in the summer following CJ’s passing. Originally a small, local event, it has now developed into a major national race.
“Everybody was devastated, he put up a courageous battle and passed away 16 months later. The next spring, Kyle and Justin and a few others formed a small group and decided that they wanted to have a regatta. The first regatta was a fleet race with 20 boats and 40 kids. The next year was a team race with 15 teams, and it just continued to evolve and get larger and larger,” said Lucy.
Many of the original volunteers still make the trip to help the cause, and are excited each year to reconnect with one another. All proceeds of the event go toward the CJ Buckley Sailing Foundation and are used to provide assistance to young sailors based on merit and financial need.
“Many of the same kids from the early regattas still come back, many are now married and have kids, but they continue to come back each year. It’s like a reunion, they all help. One of (CJ’s) mates from Virginia is here, one of his mates from St. Thomas is here, a friend from New Hampshire, they all come back and reconnect. Even their parents, we have the same five core families that come back to help every year. We accrued three more families a few years later,” said Lucy.
The Buckley’s are proud of the regatta’s growth since its inception 17 years ago, and appreciate the help of the loyal volunteers that work hard each summer to make it a success.
Not only do sailors make the trip to compete on the big stage, but they also come to showcase their skill in front of the best of the best, and to honor CJ’s life as a fellow sailor.
“It’s special because it’s mainly run by volunteers, and the kids know that it is for a greater purpose. It’s not so much about the competition as much as it’s about honoring someone and learning. Kids almost always want to come back the following year,” said Lucy. “They get to compete and meet a lot of coaches from college programs, the Assad brothers do a great job of getting high-caliber umpires, an experienced race committee, we now have the results of the races posted in real time, it has become incredibly efficient.”
More than anything, they are happy to provide financial aid to young sailors and to honor CJ each summer.
“It was made innocently by a few kids that wanted to honor their friend. His passion was sailing, his life was having fun, being active and being a boy … his life wasn’t fighting cancer,” said Lucy. “We already had established a brain cancer fund at the children’s hospital, so we wanted to use this money to give financial assistance to enthusiastic sailors who otherwise wouldn’t be able to sail. That’s what CJ was all about, that’s what we’re all about.”