Summer Spotlight: Collin Weston
Collin Weston decided that he wanted to dedicate his life to boats—building and sailing them—before he even enrolled in high school. This summer, he has taken steps toward making this goal his reality by becoming a Sapling (one of 12 motivated sailors between the ages of 18 to 30) at the Oakcliff Sailing Center, a non-profit training center geared toward cultivating the next generation of professional sailors. Weston, a rising senior and captain of the sailing team at Texas A&M University at Galveston, has especially focused on honing his match racing skills this summer in preparation for the ICSA Match Race Championship.
To be one of the 12 Saplings at Oakcliff, you must be between the ages of 18-30 and aspire to be professional sailboat racer. How would you describe your peers?
It’s a very wide range of people, all with different backgrounds, from myself who grew up racing dinghies and doing college sailing, to people who got into sailing two or three years ago and have been training on 12 Meters. And then within this summer we’ve all gotten to experience lots of different sailing. All of us have done some offshore stuff. Personally, I’ve done a lot more match racing, trying to get ready for the college match racing nationals this fall; it just kind of depends on what you wanted your focus to be, what you are interested in, and what opportunities you took. Obviously we’re close to Newport, and we have so many boats at our disposal; pretty much whatever you want to sail you get to sail.
What was the most difficult part of your first distance race, the Block Island Race?
Controlling my excitement, to be honest. We had some of the Oakcliff staff on the boat, and it was really helpful to learn from them, but for most of the Saplings on the boat it was our first offshore race. It was difficult to work with people who hadn’t done it very much but it was a good learning opportunity.
You are expected to undertake a great deal of independent learning. What kind of personal projects have you set for yourself this summer?
This is the first year Oakcliff has had a full Saplings class, so there are still some things that are getting worked out, but I’ve really loved the freedom. I’ve personally gotten to do a lot more racing, and some people have chosen more to learn more about composites and sail making; I think it suits our age group very well because not everyone’s trying to get to the same goal.
You’ve mentioned that you’ve been preparing for match racing. How have you specifically honed your skills this summer?
I’ve gotten a lot of experience skippering. I’ve also gotten amazing coaching this summer that I would not have gotten if I would have taken a job teaching summer camp. At least once every two weeks, we’ve had a clinic with someone like Dave Perry who comes in and teaches us for four days…I don’t know of any other program like that.
Guest instructors hold seminars on a weekly basis at Oakcliff. What has been the most instructive talk so far?
Dave Perry’s youth match racing clinic. Obviously Dave is a very good coach, and he works up from the ground level, assuming everyone in the room knows nothing so there’s nothing that falls between the cracks. He moves quickly, so if you’re engaged you’ll learn a lot in four days.
**Your schedule starts at 7:30 a.m. with wake up/breakfast, and then you race until dark. Do you ever feel like you need a break? **
It’s amazing, they give us a day off on Mondays—that’s our one day of the week to ‘have a break’—but all of us go sailing anyway. So I don’t think that having a break is really an issue. All of us want to be here so much.
Dawn Riley, the executive director of the Oakcliff Sailing Center, has accomplished a huge amount in her lifetime, including being the first woman to manage an America’s Cup team and racing on four America’s Cup teams. What is it like to work under her?
It’s been great. She brings a lot to the table, not only as a sailing coach but also as a life coach. She knows a lot about the industry, and has been very helpful to all of us, giving us ideas about where we should go, and putting us in contact with the right people to move forward after Oakcliff.
Is there anybody you’ve worked under or with that has been particularly inspiring to you?
Obviously working with Dawn has been inspiring, but working with the whole staff has been really fantastic. They bring a lot to the table in terms of sailing, but there are also guys who are fantastic painters, or great with composites and gelcoat. Mike Komar has been great as far as teaching us boat captain stuff, like splicing. Pretty much I could go on for hours saying all the different names of all the people I’ve gotten to sail with.
The Sapling program is fairly new. What direction do you see it going in?
I think over the next two or three years, it will be a lot more public and more people will know about the program, so the selection process will get much more intense, just by how many people they can possibly can handle here, so it will produce even better Saplings. Where it is now is excellent as far as offering structured learning but also the freedom to learn what you want to learn. And every year is going to be different, as well. This year we had a charter—we chartered the Ker 50 for the summer—so that’s how we got to do all the different New York Yacht Club regattas, Newport Bermuda, and things like that. Next summer it might be different charters for different events; it just depends on what’s going on at Oakcliff at the time.
Have you had a chance to do anything aside from your Sapling duties this summer?
That’s pretty much been it; we sail at least six days a week, if not seven days, and we are either working on boats or sailing all day every day. So, for some people that might get tiring, but Oakcliff is pretty particular in their selection process that they want people who are willing to work and really driven. Of all the people here I don’t know of anyone who’s gotten burnt out. Everyone has said, “Hey, let’s go sailing some more.” It’s been a huge pleasure to go sailing with people who always want to go sailing more. -A.Q.