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The 2001 Collegiate Championships

The Rainbow squad—the University of Hawaii's winning Women's team celebrates in Boston.

Flying Hawaiians, a Georgetown Hoya skyscraper, and an underdog grabbing the biggest bone of all were the hallmarks of this year’s Intercollegiate Sailing North American Championships staged in two venues in New England. It was business as usual in this intense arena, but it came and went with its share of the unexpected.

Ladies First    Each year of collegiate sailing ends with a bang via nine solid days of championship racing. First comes the women’s regatta. MIT and Harvard combined forces this year to host this championship and it went off without a hitch. Racing in Larks and FJs, the 18 teams competed on Charles River in front of the Boston city skyline.

The competition was extremely close throughout this regatta, with a variety of weather testing the competitors. In the end it was consistency that paid off in the shifty conditions, as the Rainbows of the University of Hawaii sailed off with the title. They didn’t grab their reward easily, however, because the regatta came down to the final race and the Hawaiian A-Division sailors made it an interesting one by starting a bit early, meaning they had to restart. Skipper Molly O'Brian kept her cool, however, and clawed back to a fifth place finish; good enough to win the division.

The Rainbows’ team of Molly O'Brian, Sarah Hitchcock, Renee DeCurtis, Marin Diskant, and Jennifer Warnock won the school's first Women's Championship, which sets the stage for an interesting rematch next year when the event moves to their own home waters off Oahu.

Tight action in the Team Racing event with Dartmouth sailors (green) defending against Old Dominion University.

Tag Team    Two days of meetings intervened before the action resumed on the Charles River in big way as the Team Racing North American Championship came to town. Twelve college teams descended on the MIT/Harvard sailing site to duke it out in a three-on-three format that is often a favorite discipline for collegiate sailors. Heavily favored to take the regatta by storm were the Georgetown Hoyas, who won almost every major team race intersectional throughout the spring season, including an undefeated performance at the St. Mary's Invitational.

The team seemed confident upon arrival and sailed well in front of an audience of over 20 parents and close friends. The Hoyas boosters even pulled some strings with friends in high places and got a massive "Go Hoyas" banner hoisted to the top of a skyscraper overlooking the racecourse.

As expected, the Hoyas did dominate, leading from start to finish. The sailors from Harvard made a solid run at the end, but the Hoyas had just enough muscle to keep themselves out front, finishing with an outstanding 18-3 record. Led by team captain Ryan Costello, the Hoyas celebrated the win with a dip into the not so warm river.

During the finale in Rhode Island moderate conditions prevailed for the first two days.

All the Marbles    Then the teams packed up after racing and quickly made their way south to the University of Rhode Island for the final phase of the North Americans—the Dinghy Championships. The fleet-racing event was held in the host school's fleet of FJ's and sailed in the protected ocean waters off beautiful Wheeler State Park Beach. With the relaxing sounds of Bob Marley blaring throughout the event from the pavilion, the weather was beautiful, and the soft, light-colored sand of the beach was covered with college sailors and their makeshift tent "compounds."

As expected, the competition was intense and sailors were tested to the limits. Some people stepped up to the challenge and some seemed to crumble under the pressure. Race One saw the College of Charleston draw the first blood with a comfortable bullet by Marcus Eagan and Sarah Taylor in A-Division. As the day continued however, Boston College Sailors Tyler Pruett and Elise Mazareas sailed well enough to open up a solid lead in A-Division.

In B-Division, it was the women who rose to the top of the fleet. Erin Maxwell and Leslie Sandberg started out leading the way for Dartmouth, but close behind were Margaret Gill and Susan Bonney from Harvard. It got tight between the two B-Division teams after the second day, but a questionable redress win by Maxwell kept her in front until Gill and Bonney went for the jugular on the last day.

The title came down to the final race, and it was heated action throughout.

The last day of racing brought stronger breezes and a sense that this definitely was crunch time. Every point counted as the top five teams were separated by less then eight points. Boston College started the day in the overall lead, but in the final six races in each division, there were eight lead changes.

First it was Georgetown’s Hoyas that claimed the lead, but then race by race the lead changed hands going alternately to the team from Tufts, back to Boston College, and then Harvard, back to BC, and then Dartmouth and Tufts were tied for the lead as the last race started.

The entire crowd on the beach watched the final race in silence; some seemed not even to be breathing. In the end, Adam Deermount and Lisa Keith of Tufts University finished the race in ninth place, which was good enough to secure the win for the Jumbos. With the help of their A-Division winning team of Peter Levesque and Caroline Hall, the Tufts Jumbos became the new champions by a two-point margin. It was a major underdog victory. According to Tufts’ coach Ken Legler, his team wasn’t even supposed to be at the event as they only earned the right to compete via an at-large berth.

The festivities concluded that night with the All-American Banquet. Many competitors were named to the All-American team and Boston College sailor Tyler Pruett earned the honor of College Sailor of the Year. The teams said good bye for the summer, and the seniors said goodbye forever. The undergraduates, on the other hand, are looking forward to next year's championships—in Hawaii.

The Talent Factory

Pure, tactical, team-oriented sailboat racing is alive and well across the country. True, there still exists a form of the sport that emphasizes ability with no possibility of buying your way to the top. In this arena, short, 20-minute courses put a premium on starting and boat handling with racing conducted in host-provided, boats that are evenly matched. The competition is fierce while battling on the water, but common backgrounds provide for close camaraderie when on land. Sound like fun? Well, there is a catch—you have to be in college.

Collegiate sailing provides such an intense, pure-racing environment for sailors that it’s often regarded as a breeding ground of future Olympians and Americas Cup contenders. In races that last just 20 minutes, every inch matters. Boat speed is minimized as a factor because the small college boats are practically identical. Tactics, positioning, lightning-quick decision making, and strong execution are what win races in this arena.

The collegiate circuit allows teams from all parts of the nation compete against each other, weekend after weekend, for the entire fall and spring seasons. And a strict governing body—the Intercollegiate Sailing Association—enforces rigid rules to keep things even. As an example, scholarships are prohibited, which allows schools with small budgets to attract top recruits as successfully as their larger rivals. A varsity team such as the College of Charleston, which has a relatively large budget, has no real recruiting advantage over a club team such as the University of Rhode Island.

Perhaps most importantly, collegiate sailing provides a true sense of team accomplishment. Weight is a major factor and certain boats, such as a Laser (the single-handed boat of choice for collegiate sailing), require a person of large stature. On the flip side, 420 or FJ crews (the most popular double-handed boats in this realm) need to be as light as possible. The team comes together and relies upon all its members in order to climb to the top. A full team needs people to spar against, crews, skippers, women, men, keelboat sailors and Laser racers just to compete, so when victory is achieved, everyone is responsible.

Looking at colleges? Love to race? Ready for a commitment? Check out the ICSA website at for more information about which schools have teams. And if you’re already involved in collegiate sailing, enjoy it. It doesn't get much better than this on the water.


Suggested Reading:

Success at the Swedish Match Cup by Dobbs Davis

Championship Lessons by Dan Dickison

How We Won the J/24 Worlds by Brad Read


Buying Guide: Personal Flotation Devices

Seth Siegler is offline  
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