At the University of Miami, the recreational sailing club is one of the oldest clubs on campus, having formed in the 1960s, but the intercollegiate team did not take shape until much later. “In 2004, a small group of students, including Olympian Zach Railey, began noticing each other in the dorm cafeterias wearing sailing T-shirts, and began networking in the local sailing community to gain access to boats and a practice facility,” says Olivia Gassner, president of the women’s sailing team at UM. Shortly after the team formed in 2009, they qualified for their first ICSA National Championship.
The team sails out of the Coconut Grove Sailing Club on Biscayne Bay, a short drive from campus. Biscayne Bay is best known for being the host location for youth sailing’s winter regatta, the Orange Bowl and the ISAF Sailing World Cup. But what sailors really enjoy about the bay are its warm waters and range of wind conditions.
The UM team currently sails FJs owned by the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, but Gassner says the team is on track to purchase its own fleet next fall. They have funding in hand for six boats, but are pushing for funds for another two to four boats to complete their fleet.
The team gets funding from a variety of channels, including the university, team dues, donations and teaching sailing classes. The learn-to-sail classes that the sailors offer during their offseason are so popular that they have 150 students on the waitlist, Gassner says.
The UM team is mostly run by elected student officials. “The coed and women’s teams each have their own president, captain, treasurer and social chair,” says Gassner. The teams have separate school budgets, but often practice together and share resources.
The roughly 40 team members work closely together and meet as a whole on Thursdays, along with support from faculty advisors. The team is also assisted by a few coaches, all successful sailors in their own right, who mostly volunteer their time to help the UM team: Craig Johnson, Bill Johns, Pat Downey and Elliott Morrill. The team practices four days a week, and competitive members must attend three of those practices. UM sailors are busy almost every weekend competing in SAISA conference regattas, championships and interconference events.
The team has social traditions as well, such as camping trips in the Everglades and a sailing spring formal in Elliott Key. Favorites of Gassner are “ghost stories at 2 a.m. in the van, driving the road through the Lowcountry into Charleston; annual sailing on Lake Osceola on campus, under the fountain; and Taco Rico and Monty’s after practice.” Gassner says their main goals for the season are to keep growing the team and to qualify for nationals. For the women’s team, she says, the goal is to ultimately position themselves to be the next women’s varsity sport at UM