Co-ed sailing cruises to national sailing championships

Tufts sailors compete in a race at the Tufts Sailing Team Boat House on April 10. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

The co-ed sailing team is nearing the end of a rollercoaster year, which culminates with a trip to San Diego next week for the Intercollegiate Sailing Association’s National Championships. The team is ultimately where it wants to be at the end of the season, but the journey was not an easy one.

The preseason mindset for the team seemed bleak in the fall after five of the team’s most experienced sailors graduated last year.

“The transition left us with a team that was relatively inexperienced in major and championship events. And the fall season reflected that,” graduating senior skipper Casey Gowrie said.

The fall season presented the challenge of quickly meshing a team that had hardly raced together, resulting in Tufts falling short of qualifying for the Atlantic Coast Championships, the biggest race of the fall. The fall season also presents teams with an opportunity to qualify for some of the spring season’s biggest races, but poor showings hindered Tufts’ ability to lock up those spots.

“Not qualifying early only made the spring season harder,” Gowrie said.

In the fall, the team failed to qualify for the New England Team Race championships, which occur in the spring, meaning they had to fight for the last two spots. Nonetheless, the team came into the spring focused and confident.

“Throughout the whole year, even the offseason, we just continued to focus on getting better and building chemistry as a team,” said rising sophomore Cameron Holley.

Tufts faced a steady dose of tough competition early in the spring season and remained especially focused on team racing. The Jumbos entered team race competitions every weekend, tying for a third place finish at the Sharpe Trophy Regatta at Brown and locking down first place at the Arctic Circle Invite, which Tufts hosts.

For spring break, the team traveled to Maryland for a week of intense practice and tough competition.

“It gave us a chance to face some good teams that we otherwise would not have been able to race against,” Holley said.

This was also the final tune-up before the biggest team race of the season for the Jumbos, the Staake Trophy Regatta at Conn. College.

The Staake regatta serves as the qualifier for the final two spots in the New England Championships. It features five schools and the top two advance. Tufts finished third behind Rhode Island and Conn. College, failing to advance to New England’s and ending its team racing season. This proved to be the lowest point of the season for the Jumbos.

The team shifted its focus to fleet racing season in the beginning of April and have continued to have success.

“Without team racing, we could focus all of our energy on fleet racing practice early. We sailed in some big fleet racing events and had awesome finishes in all of them, so things were starting to come together,” Gowrie said.

Fleet racing features either two of three divisions with each school fielding one boat in each division. The Jumbos relied on strong upperclassmen leadership from their skippers, rising seniors Scott Barbano and Griffin Rolander as well as Gowrie.

The hard work of the fleet racing season culminated the weekend of May 1 in the fleet racing New England championships, which serve as a qualifier for the fleet Nationals in San Diego. There were 18 teams in the regatta, and the top nine advanced to Nationals.

“Going into the New England Fleet Racing Championship, we felt pretty confident in our odds to qualify,” Gowrie explained.

Tufts entered a boat in each of the two divisions, with Rolander and Barbano skippering alongside their crews, rising junior Emily Shanley-Roberts and graduating tri-captain Caroline Atwood, respectively. Both boats raced smartly and efficiently, earning the Jumbos a sixth place finish and qualifying the team for a trip to San Diego.

“We couldn’t be any happier with the result to finish our season, and we’re very excited to be attending fleet race nationals in San Diego,” Gowrie said.

With almost the entire season behind them, the Jumbos will look back on a year with some rocky results, and a remaining opportunity to race against the best in the country at the finale of their season. Tufts is now fully focused on preparing for Nationals at the end of May and hopes to contend with the best teams in the nation for a full week of sailing. The Jumbos are returning a majority of their starters next year and aim to build on the progress they made late in the spring season.