Get to Know the Ropes

Photo by Maddie Schroeder

Photo by Maddie Schroeder

Corrine Rivers

Every week, a group of students makes its way down US 50 to Lake Snowden with a couple of small boats to take to the water and sail away. The students are part of Ohio University’s sailing team, one of many club sports on campus.

The start of the semester marks the beginning of the sailing club’s season, with the team traveling to races as early as the second week of school. The team includes a president, vice president, treasurer and fundraising chair, but also has positions that are specific to sailing such as a fleet captain, who is responsible for the team’s equipment.

Sailing club team president and junior John Holbrook began sailing at ten years old at a summer camp in Massachusetts, where his father spent his childhood. Now a seasoned sailor, Holbrook spends the hot summer months working as a sailing instructor at the day camp he once attended. Although Holbrook has extensive sailing experience, he says he often encounters members who are completely new to the sport.

“I don’t think [not knowing how to sail] should discourage people from joining because we get a lot of people who have never sailed before,” he says. “… Don’t let your lack of experience stop you from trying it out.”

Because the team welcomes experienced and amateur sailors alike, weekly meetings in Tupper Hall are dedicated to teaching the basics of sailing.

“We talk about things like how sailboats work, what are the different parts of the boat, because there’s a lot of different terminology and vocabulary which is the sort of thing we can teach inside,” Holbrook says. “We teach ideas like points of sail, thinking about how you want to adjust your sails based on the wind conditions and direction, and also racing strategy, which is thinking about what’s the fastest way to go through a race and how to read a course and things like that.”

Like Holbrook, a lot of the officers are also sailing instructors or have a considerable amount of sailing experience. Their expertise enables them to not only teach new members the basics of sailing in the classroom, but also get out on the water and demonstrate sailing firsthand. When the team carpools to Lake Snowden for practices, the officers always make sure to put someone experienced on a boat with someone new.

“When working with new members of the team, I feel I have a dynamic role,” says Katie Sanford, a senior at OU and vice president of the sailing team. “I help with instruction on the boat, as well as, I hope to promote team participation and inclusivity. Sailing can be intimidating for those who have never sailed before, but with enough push and support, new members can really grow as athletes. That can be said for members who have experience in sailing as well.”

With help and guidance from Sanford, Holbrook and other seasoned team members, new members have the opportunity to engage and learn from eager teachers.

“I hope that new members gain a passion for sailing,” Sanford says. “We have so many members with unique sailing experience, which I hope that new members are able to take advantage of. Sailing is such an incredible sport and our team has the opportunity to share knowledge and experience with anyone.

Full of support and friendship, the team cultivates personal connections that go far beyond OU’s college campus.

The club team at OU is one of many sailing teams that belong to the Midwest Collegiate Sailing Association (MCSA). Through the partnership, the OU sailing team can travel to sailing tournaments and regattas, which are a series of boat races, throughout the midwestern area.

The MCSA has 45 sailing teams from Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa, making it one of the largest conferences in college sailing. The OU sailing team has traveled to regattas at Miami University, Ohio State University and Chicago. Typically when the team travels long distances, the boats are provided by the organization holding the event. For the Chicago regatta, local boat owners lent their boats to the college teams for the weekend.

“I think [tournaments] are a really great way to meet a lot of interesting people. Probably my favorite part of sailing in college has been meeting people, not only at OU, but also at other schools that we sail against,” Holbrook says. “It’s really cool to go and see these people at all sorts of different places throughout the year. You make some cool friends.”