College Sailing Spotlight: McGill University

Despite a short cold season, the hard working sailors at McGill University do everything they can to get on the water.

Sailors at McGill University compete in both NEISA and CICSA. During its limited sailing season, the team practices four days a week in addition to land workouts, social events and fundraisers.Luka Bartulovic

Many Canadian schools compete in the New England Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association (NEISA) conference, but recently it became apparent that Canada needed an equivalent organization to promote college sailing. The Canadian Intercollegiate Sailing Association (CICSA) was founded in 2010. The McGill University sailing team is one of the teams that compete in both CICSA and NEISA.

“Right now, NEISA is much more ­competitive than CICSA, and much bigger,” says team treasurer Renee Torrie. Currently there are 18 teams in the Canadian conference, with two to three new teams joining each year.

“CICSA has a more relaxed feel to it, but is nonetheless a very competent, talented and fun group of sailors,” says Torrie.

“Because of the cold, we can practice only until October. We don’t have a spring season because the ice doesn’t melt until finals in late April.”

One difference between U.S. and Canadian sailing is the lack of high school sailing in Canada. “Canadian sailors are less likely to have dry suits than U.S. sailors,” says Torrie. “And despite how cold it is up here, many of our team members tough it out in wetsuits and spray gear.”

McGill’s sailors commute to their sailing facility at the Royal St. Lawrence YC, which is a 30-minute drive from campus. The team stores its 12 420s on the yacht club’s docks, and has access to a building with a classroom and lockers. The team sails on a wide part of the St. Lawrence River called Lac Saint-Louis.

“The current is consistently strong, and we usually see a solid west-southwesterly breeze in the fall,” says Torrie. “Members of the team are automatically members of the yacht club, and it’s nice to be able to take advantage of the facility on our own time. Team members often take out boats on weekends, attend fundraisers at the club and even study for finals there.”

The sailing team is a club sport, meaning it’s completely student-run. The team elects a president, vice president, treasurer, fundraising coordinator and regatta coordinator, and the coach — Jessica Lombard, who has coached the team since 2008 — selects a captain. Because the team is self-funded, fundraising happens through bake sales, samosa sales (a McGill staple), fundraising dinners at the yacht club, bar nights and grocery bagging, which brought in almost $2,500 in one weekend.

In order to remain competitive, the team needs to replace its fleet of 420s, so it has recently stepped up its fundraising efforts.

“Through an online fundraising platform called Seeds of Change run by the McGill Alumni Association, we raised $17,100 in two months,” says team president Catherine Ross. A group of alumni donated enough money to buy a 420 for the team in exchange for the naming rights to the boat. The alumni are naming the boat after a friend, sailor and team leader, Kyle Bailey, who passed away in a car accident in 2013.

“This summer and continuing into the fall, we will be searching for sponsorships for sails and the general upkeep of our new fleet,” says Ross.

Despite its short practice season, the team gathers socially at events including a welcome barbecue and scavenger hunt, family nights, an annual ski trip, and a final celebration where “paper-plate awards” are given.

“What’s special about us is that despite such a short, cold season, and despite boats that are in bad shape, we do everything we can to get on the water,” says Torrie. “The time and effort that being on this team requires calls for a strong passion for sailing — we’re truly a group of kids who love to sail.” — Jennifer Mitchell