The Most Important Race: The First Lihan to Finish
By Chris Museler
What do the upcoming London Olympics and the Bermuda Race have in common? Both have Lihans aiming for the top spot. The only difference is that Sarah Lihan, the U.S. women’s 470 representative, only has a few other countries to beat to win gold. Her sister Marissa, sailing in the U.S. Naval Academy’s Invictus in the Newport Bermuda Race, has a much more daunting race ahead of her. She’s aiming to beat her dad Tom, who’s in Kodiak.
Marissa’s not bragging (yet). “I’m a realist,” says Marissa. Her dad’s a Bermuda Race veteran, a decorated collegiate sailor at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and a champion Etchells helmsman. Yet a downwind race would help Invictus. “I believe if we have the kite up, we’ll be faster.”
When Tom heard his daughter was sailing, he decided to race, too. “I said, ‘If you do it, I’ll go,’” he says, beaming with pride for both daughters. He’s shared some weather data with Marissa. He’s raced in Invictus, so when asked if he’d offer some tips to Marissa on how to make her go fast, he laughed, “No way!”
An intensely competitive sailor, Tom met his wife en route to winning the Snipe Florida State Championships. They raced a PHRF boat as their two girls rose through the ranks of Optimists and 420s. Sarah was an All-American at Yale, and after a silver medal at last week’s Skandia Sail for Gold, is on pace for a good showing in the Olympics at Weymouth.
Marissa, going into her junior year at the Naval Academy, is also sailing dinghies. But she’s also inspired by her father’s offshore passion, which she saw at Key West Race Week. And, she says, “He’d always bring back great stuff for us from his trips.
Having sailed in the 2011 Halifax and Around Long Island races as part of Navy officer professional development, the youngest Lihan has already cut her teeth offshore and is looking forward to a lot more of it. She also jokes, “And it’s easier than putting together my own campaign.”
Daughter and dad have a bet on the race outcome. If Invictus beats Kodiak, Tom has to drive her car to Annapolis. If it’s the other way around, she has to give him a much-coveted Naval Dinghy Team shirt.
Would they ever sail together? They tried that once in a Snipe. “It was the worst regatta ever,” she says of the time her 6’5” dad crewed for her. “We weren’t very fast. At one point I wanted to give him the tiller. Maybe it’s good that we’re racing on different boats.”