How to Survive Your First Year of College Sailing
How to Survive Your First Year of College Sailing
As a part of our May issue's 2011 Guide to College Sailing, presented by Sperry Top Sider, we asked current and former college sailors for their best advice on navigating freshman year. We received two dozen entries, the best of which, by Tufts sailor Amelia Quinn, is featured in the magazine. But we couldn't let all this great advice remain hidden, so we've published the five other finalists online.
The Secrets to Your Success
For incoming first-year students, college sailing may look quite familiar. But don’t be fooled, it’s a whole new ballgame. Here’s your crib notes for the first nine months.
By Amelia Quinn
College sailing. For some of us, those two words have become inextricably intertwined, to the extent where we cannot even fathom one existing without the other. On that first day of school, palms sweaty as you assess your competition at the general interest meeting, your coach-to-be will tell you this: academics come first, and sports second. For some of those other freshman, this will ultimately be the truth and they’ll disappear one by one, either phasing out slowly or dropping off the team suddenly as an internship opportunity comes up or when a class monopolizes their afternoons. For the rest of us, though, sleeping before a test will be impossible not because of the appropriate fear of failing chemistry, but because all you can think about is hitting that rail perfectly in a light-air roll jibe.
I wasn’t the typical college sailing recruit. I hadn’t spoken with Tufts coach Ken Legler until, acting on a tip from the program director of Sandy Bay YC in Rockport, Mass., he called me two days before school started and encouraged me to stop by the first meeting. I’ve sailed since I was 12, but I wasn’t a regular on the junior sailing circuit. As a crew, the learning curve is a bit more abbreviated, and I was able to essentially walk onto the team without any issue. The only thing holding me back in those first few weeks was the realization that if I sailed, I would end up doing little else. Embracing that reality was the best choice I’ve ever made.
My first battle was to understand why the powers that be in college sailing had taken away my trapeze and chute and essentially reduced the job of the crew to ballast in the front of the boat, my sole sailhandling task to switch from one jib sheet to the other in tacks and jibes. At first, it seemed as though my role as a crew had been decimated, until the light switched on and I realized how many tiny things in the boat made such a huge difference. Perfect body placement, knowing exactly when and how hard to roll, knowing how to ease controls in different breeze in not only 420s but also Larks and CJs were just a few of those crash-course lessons, as well as reading the nuances of the wind and current as never before. My skipper, a senior who was easy-going and somewhat already checked into the real world, told me to watch the top crews in action. I watched them, and I didn’t miss a day of practice that fall, watching and learning and eating, drinking, breathing—even dreaming of—sailing.
While I like to think of myself as a fairly social person, adjusting to the team dynamics are almost as challenging as relearning everything you’ve ever known about your sport. As a freshman, it pays to know your place on the team; it’s your job to pump the gas, to sleep on the floor at regattas, and to fetch drinks when you’re told. Freshman walk the knife’s edge in a way: everyone wants to get to know you and is excited by the breath of fresh air that you bring, but at the same time you represent their competition and remain an outsider, under constant scrutiny and judgment, until you’ve earned your place on the team.
For the core group of truly dedicated members of the team, the idea of maintaining close friendships with non-sailors is almost laughable. Other collegiate athletes will at least understand the massive time investment that you put in, but they will never really know or care about what a regatta is, that booties are shoes, or that the smell emanating from your bag is actually perfectly normal. Freshman year classes can and should be scheduled around your practice times, but remember that night classes are not your friend. Nodding off from post-practice exhaustion while still in full spandex and wet wool socks is neither enjoyable nor does it endear you to your new professors. It’s best to finish your academic day before heading down to the boathouse.
While you might pack your backpack full of books for every regatta, the chances that you’ll ever achieve more than a couple pages of light reading are slim to none. So it’s important to get as much homework as possible done during the week, cutting team dinners short for a few hours in the library before bed or taking advantage of any open blocks in your day. What college sailing will teach you, perhaps above all else, is that there is never time to waste. Free time becomes a thing of the past, to be experienced only over winter break and in the lazy summer days. Work hard, play hard, and, most importantly of all, sail hard.
Sounds a little overwhelming doesn’t it. But the reward is that you get back what you put in. Crew rankings are very subjective, your standing on the team is heavily based upon with whom you are paired. To get to the top, then, you have to try even harder than your skipper counterparts, prioritizing sailing over just about anything else that would cause you to miss practice or sit out a weekend regatta, until your coach takes note of your skill and dedication. Skippers, too, are only as good as the time they devote, both on the water and off of it, picking apart team racing plays and memorizing chunks of the rule book. At the end of the day—exhausted, bruised, and incredibly content—I’d have to say that I’ve sold my soul to college sailing, and that you should, too.
Sophomore, Tufts University, Medford, Mass.
Major: Biopsychology (pre-med)
Hometown: Amherst, Mass.
Yacht Club: Sandy Bay YC, Rockport, Mass.
Sailing history: Learned to sail at age 12 in 420s. First race at age 15.
Other school activities: assistant features editor for the school paper, weekly one-hour radio show on WMFO, work-study job at the school gym