April 8, 2012

C.U. Sailing Team Aspires to Make A Name for Itself in College Sailing

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Most people picture the sport of sailing in an idealistic setting — on a warm summer day, with a light wind breeze and at about midday. The thought of sailing in conditions akin to a rainstorm then, with wind speed constant at a stiff 20 miles per hour and next to no hope of sunlight, would probably keep most people inside and undoubtedly off the water. Yet if one were to travel to Cayuga Lake, head over to the Merrill Family Sailing Center and enter the Cornell sailing team’s locker room, one would be greeted by 28 sailors geared up to sail in anything that Ithaca’s weather can throw at them.

The team starts practice at 3:00 p.m., when the first cars begin to arrive at Cayuga Lake. Everyone files into the team room to check the practice plan laid out by head coach Brian Clancy, before beginning to dress for the day’s weather conditions. Neoprene drysuits are mandatory in the spring season because the water temperature of Cayuga Lake can get to as low as 37 degrees Fahrenheit and still be considered sailable conditions.

“We sail two person boats, so the skippers and crews pair off. [The pairings] change up every day,” said senior captain Phillip Alley.  “There will be a set of drills … for the day. We get out on the water by 3:30 p.m. and rip right into drills. There’s really not a break until 5:30 to 5:45 p.m. So, a solid two hours of drills on the water and usually a 30 minute debrief at the end.”

Clancy’s debriefs, or “chalk-talks,” are one of the ways that the coach is transitioning the team from a student-run club into a well-regarded sports team — an ongoing process that has taken years to complete. Clancy uses chalk talks to identify specific problems for the team to focus on, as well as to teach lessons on how to maximize boat speed and the use of tactics to win sailing races.

“To put it simply — a boat is a machine that travels through the water propelled by sails,” Clancy said. “In any given wind or sea condition, the machine can only go so fast. It’s not like a car where you can simply hit the gas pedal. … The goal of the people in the boat is to maintain that optimum speed for as long as possible around a given race course.”

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the team begins its day with morning workouts. Everyone needs to wake up by 6:30 a.m. to be to Barton Hall by 7 a.m., where the workouts consist of cardio, core conditioning, push-ups and, most importantly, wall-sits, according to senior captain Martha Peterson

“Wall-sits are super specific to sailing,” she said. “When you’re hiking, especially in breezier conditions, you rely a lot on your body weight to kind of balance out the boat in the wind, and your quads are crushed.”

The sailing team needing to workout might seem like a strange idea to the non-sailor, according to Clancy; however, being physically fit is not just a benefit — it’s a necessity, the coach said.

“People don’t realize that sailing actually is a physical sport,” Peterson said. “It sucks getting up before 6:30 a.m., but you have to find a reason to do that, and [Clancy has] been really good at making us find that for ourselves.”

On weekends, the team travels to regattas, where it competes against varsity and club sailing programs from all over the country

“You wake up on Saturday usually around 7 a.m.,” Alley said.  “The report time for regattas is 9:00 or 9:30 a.m., depending on the region, and runs all the way through until 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. Sunday it’s the same deal — get there at 9 a.m. and sail until 3 p.m., when racing is called for the weekend. So, each regatta is between 12 and 16 hours of straight up sailing.”

As time-consuming as they may be, regattas offer the team a place to showcase its hard work and effort in both practices and workouts. In the fall, Cornell placed third at the 2011 MAISA Women’s Fall Regatta, which was the qualifier for the Women’s Atlantic Coast Championship (ACC), as well as the women’s team’s best finish to date. Alley qualified for the ICSA Men’s Singlehanded Laser Nationals — his second time qualifying — and placed ninth out of 18 overall, which was two places better than his finish in 2010.

The spring season comes with a few particularly important regattas for the sailing team, such as the MAISA Team Race/Capt. Prosser Trophy on April 7 and the America Trophy on April 14. Being in the Top-8 boats at the America Trophy would allow Cornell to advance and compete in the ICSA National Semifinals regatta in May, while being in the Top-3 teams at the Capt. Prosser Trophy would let the team advance on to compete in the ICSA Team Race Nationals in early June.

After winning the North Spring Qualifier on March 31, Cornell’s next major competition on the horizon is the America Trophy. The team set the goal of making it to nationals for a second consecutive year at the beginning of the season, and, according to Alley, is itching to perform well at the America Trophy so as to make it to nationals.

“As a club team, we compete against varsity teams as equals,” he said. “I want [Cornell] to become a name in college sailing.”

Ed. Note: Alex Gatto is a member of the Cornell Sailing Team.

Original Author: Alex Gatto