Pine Lake Prep student to compete in international championships

Sailing is more than a hobby for 12-year-old Garrett Mergenthaler of Cornelius.

When he’s not sailing at the Lake Norman Yacht Club, he competes across the country, and he’s good.

So good that he is traveling to Scotland on July 18 to represent the United States in the British National and Open Championships.

The Mergenthalers are a family of sailors. His parents, Dawn and Michael, sailed competitively in college at Old Dominion University in Virginia. His brothers, Kyle, 15 and Josh, 10, are also competitive sailors. Michael is their sailing coach and mentor.

Sailing is both a physically and mentally demanding sport, Dawn said.

She likens it to a game of basketball, where the basket and court are constantly moving and the players you are up against are constantly changing.

“It’s a very intensely physical discipline, but it’s also very intensely mental,” She said. “The breeze changes as you go up the course and waves come up in the middle of the course that you have to navigate through. It’s different every time you race. It requires a very high level of mental concentration.”

All three sons attend Pine Lake Preparatory, where Kyle is on the sailing team. Garrett practices with the team, but he is not yet old enough to join.

Garrett’s used to competing against the big kids. He’s a 12-year-old in an age bracket where he races against children up to age 15.

Weighing 80 pounds only works against Garrett, as his dinghy is more susceptible to the push and pull of the water and wind.

Garrett began sailing at age 7 and has been riding the waves ever since.

Garrett said determination makes a good sailor.

“You’re got to be really focused on one thing and you really stick to it and do it,” he said. “You have to try as hard as you can.”

The type of boat he races in is called an Optimist. The Optimist was first designed more than 50 years ago by Clark Mills. They didn’t have many hills where Mills was from in Florida, so he designed the boat for children without the opportunity to compete in Soap Box Derby races, Dawn said.

Originally made of wood, most Optimists are now made of fiberglass and cost a few thousand dollars.

About 20 other American children are traveling to Scotland to represent the U.S.

To qualify, sailors need to place in the top 25 percent in other major U.S. competitions throughout the year.

Garrett qualified in May during the Optimist Team Trials in Pewaukee, Wis. The frozen lake ice was broken just a week before the competition, forcing sailors to wear wet suits.

Garrett said he is excited about the British National and Open Championships but also about traveling to race in another country for the first time.

“There’s going to be a lot of boats and a lot of people,” Garrett said. “But they’re famous for their cheese and bread and I like grilled cheese.”

When Garrett and his family arrive in Scotland for the British National and Open Championship, they won’t have his sailboat. They will be taking some of his other gear that he uses on the water like his sail, mainsheet and tiller extension. These little things that Garrett has gotten used to make him feel at home on his dinghy even when he’s thousands of miles away.