For the Toppa family, Coronavirus has a silver lining.
Story by Holley Toppa
It’s strange to think that the summer sailing of 2020 in Newport was kicked off with Wednesday night Shields racing. After the start on the first upwind leg, my dad, Mike Toppa is at the helm. Wednesday night Shields sailing happens every summer, but this first race felt like coming out of hibernation. I remember saying out loud, “wow, it’s the first race of the summer”. My dad Mike Toppa>, usually on the water as a North Sails Superyacht Expert, turned and looked at me with his big smile and replied, “isn’t it cool!”
It’s not quite the summer we imagined. With COVID-19 rewriting everyone’s schedules along with new rules and regulations, it was hard to imagine how sailing was going to operate. Normally, my dad would be going on another consecutive summer of commuting around the country and the world for anything superyacht related. As we know, many of the happenings around the world have either been canceled or pushed back to a later date. Amid all the unknowns, my dad still made sure to dedicate time to rigging and tuning the Shields, Bomba Charger, getting her race-ready for the summer despite not knowing if there would even be a race.
Luckily he, along with the other stir-crazy sailors stuck in quarantine, were able to work out a way for Wednesday night sailing to commence under the new guidelines; requiring masks on board, limiting the crew to 3, and calling for all to wear PFD’s as an added cherry on top. You could have told my dad that he would have to single-hand the Shields in a hazmat suit and a helmet and he still would have been out there for the first race.
That first Wednesday night was a bit surreal. It was unusual to not only see the harbor so empty after Memorial day but to have the bay completely to ourselves, not including the unusually high number of spectators for a small Shields race complete of just nine boats. The Shields fleet is one of the few fleets on the water in Newport so far and as a result, has definitely sparked some extra competition between the teams. Everyone was eager to not only break up to the stay-at-home monotony but to once again get back out on the water and show that they’ve still got it.
My dad made up his three-man team with myself and my boyfriend, Jeremy Wilmot. It is quite a special opportunity to be able to have the time of two working sailors for Wednesday night racing and watch them shake off the rust and get back to doing what they love. I had my place in the boat, doing mostly what they told me to do, but watching and listening to them talk about the nuances of the racecourse was such a great learning experience for me.
This time to spend sailing with my dad has been such an unexpected gift despite this pandemic. I would have been in Charleston working, not sure when I would be able to come up and visit. Now, I’m able to join my dad and share doing what he loves.
This coming Wednesday, we are able to add two more to the team, my sisters, Alie and Liza will be joining us, adding to the richness of this time my family has together, while also resembling a slow return to normalcy.