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.
By John Renehan, Dartmouth ’13
During freshman fall, all aspects of life collide. Minimizing the time between pulling on your spray pants and throwing in your first warm-up tacks is just like studying efficiently for an Economics exam. Fatigue-filled eyes at your Monday classes can be blamed on a long post-regatta car ride back to campus. The fall of your freshman year will test your ability to manage the three most important elements of college: classes, sailing, and a newly limitless social life. Reconciling the constantly overlapping demands will help you get the most out of the year. Here is some advice on how to start doing that.
Turning an overwhelming list of activities into a routine should be the goal of freshman year. Utilize your upperclassmen. Ask questions to help develop efficient processes for both practice and the library. Their framework will keep you progressing even on days when your effort falls short, as it inevitably will. Doing four sets of double-tacks between drills or putting on fleece pants and socks on before leaving campus will make practice more productive for you and encourage your teammates to do the same.
Routines are already built into college sailing teams’ practices, most of all a freshman fall replete with boat handling. But after what is likely to become a full year of boat handling practice you might wonder if roll jibes are really holding you back. As coach John Pearce explained to me: “Focusing on tactics for a year might put you in the top half, but at that point so many competitors are sailing close to perfect tactical races that flawless boat handling separates the top five.” So before second-guessing daily boat handling practice, know that it is insurance against how surprisingly difficult it is to stay ahead after mastering the tactics (or getting lucky enough) to get ahead.
That said, honing racing skills takes a different kind of effort, demanding deliberate observation as well as patience. Many freshmen miss out on a big opportunity to improve their racing minds: watching at regattas. Ask your coach to take you along to an intersectional or to be put in as a heavy crew on a weekend when you are not otherwise sailing. There is no better way to learn how some of college sailing’s best react to the lower Thames’s wild shifts than discussing the racing with a teammate from the upper deck of the Coast Guard Academy’s sailing center. Studying tactics in any concrete manner is difficult, but this is a sure first step.
No matter how determined you and your crew are to throw down the fastest tacks in your division, you cannot ignore the defining trait of college sailing: teammates! They help you work toward your goals and make practice the best part of the day, and it’s your job to help foster this atmosphere. Sophomores’ dirty little secret is that they love to be parents, so ask them questions about starting strategy and your love life and they’ll adore you all the more for it. Save the comments about all-night adventures for the dinner table because they will dishearten teammates who have come to work hard on the water that day. Don’t be afraid to ask your team captain when a lineup seems unfair, so you can learn the logic behind your team’s priorities. Teammates are likely to become your best friends, and the time you spend with them will probably top the time you spend in bed. However, freshman year is a great excuse to meet random people for no reason, and spending time with someone who doesn’t know the difference between a half hitch and a clove hitch can keep you sane in the off-season and provide a reminder that there is a fascinating world of people in college that do not sail.
In addition to friends on the team and on campus, some of the same faces will show up weekend after weekend at regattas. Meet them! To get started, pick out heavy crews sitting around with iPods on light air days who would like nothing better than a dockside conversation. People like each other in college sailing, and racing is way more fun when the guy you pinch off is a buddy. Keeping your ‘enemies’ close makes rotating boats, sharing dock space and often hotels, and occasionally banding together in the misery of an early spring storm in New England that much easier. These will be your competitors every summer until, I am told, you sail boats with keels.
This might give a little perspective on where to start if you jump into college sailing. As much as I have tried to avoid hard and fast rules, there is one that I cannot resist promoting. Make Thursday the new Monday: Get your studying done by the end of the week so you can practice and sleep stress-free on Thursday and travel on Friday. Plan ahead so you rarely have to do more than moderate reading on regatta weekends, which will help ensure they the best days of your week, and life.