By Brian Swingly, Head Sailing Coach, US Coast Guard Academy
Oyster Bay, N.Y. – At the conclusion of the spring College Sailing National Championships, twenty four sailors from thirteen different collegiate programs came together at Oakcliff Sailing to participate in the first of its kind College Sailing High Performance Clinic. The clinic, which was supported by both Oakcliff (Oyster Bay, N.Y.) and US Sailing’s Olympic Development Program, allowed college sailors to improve their skills and techniques in high performance boats, an opportunity few have during the course of their academic year.
Not only were the sailors exposed to faster and more technical boats than they’re used to, they also had the opportunity to work with a large group of coaches, each having something different to offer to the clinic. The coaching staff consisted of Leandro Spina (US Sailing Youth Development Director), Grant “Fuzz” Spanhake (US Sailing Technical Director), Richard Feeny (US Sailing Youth Development Program Manager), Brian Swingly (US Coast Guard Academy Head Coach), David Thompson (Dartmouth College Assistant Coach), Charles Barclay (Maine Maritime Academy Head Coach), and Mac Agnese (Skiff Expert).
During the first two days of the clinic, the sailors’ time was split between sessions in the classroom and on the water. On land, Grant Spanhake went into great detail on the fundamentals of sail shape and Leandro Spina inspired them with a talk on “Attributes of an Olympian.” A 49er flipped on its side was the perfect platform to view exactly how each sail control affects the sail plan and to discuss proper capsize recovery techniques. On the water, it was all about going fast. Simple drills allowed for a lot of time going straight and working getting the boats as up to speed as possible.
At the end of each day, the excitement was palpable. The sailors were thrilled to have been able to experience something new. The coaches were excited to meet and work with some of college sailing’s top talent. It was a hugely positive experience for all.
“I thought it was an amazing opportunity to have the chance to sail a skiff for the first time. One of my favorite moments was trapping downwind for the first time with the spinnaker up,” said KB Knapp, who just completed her freshman year at Yale University. “The environment was filled with tons of dedicated sailors that are psyched to be there and are willing to put in a hard day of work.”
Nathan Housberg, a rising sophomore at Brown University, had never sailed a boat that tested him as physically as the skiffs. “They were by far the most involved boats I have sailed and required an intense attention to detail, focus, and athleticism that I have not seen before,” he commented. “I feel very privileged to have been around so much talent and knowledge. I was able to learn from my peers just as significantly as I was able to learn from the coaches.”
On the final day, the sailors awoke to a consistent 15-20 knots, a wind range that none were yet comfortable with in the skiffs and catamarans. Lucky for them, Oakcliff also owns a fleet of Sweedish Match 40s that they were more than willing to allow the college sailors to check out. They were split up into five teams with a coach aboard each boat. After two hours of practice, the clinic was wrapped up with several fleet races, which brought out the competitive edge in everyone.
“Today was really cool,” said coach Richard Feeny. “Sailing the big boats taught a different aspect of cooperation and communication. It blew hard and the sailors had a lot fun. There was some funny stuff, like dinghy sailors wrapping winches the wrong way and throwing the 40 footers around aggressively, but a hugely successful day for all.”
This clinic marks just the beginning of a partnership between Oakcliff, US Sailing’s Olympic Development Program (ODP), and College Sailing, which wouldn’t have been possible without Oakcliff’s ability and willingness to provide boats, housing, coaching, and race management. The goal is to continue to offer opportunities like this clinic for collegiate athletes and to potentially host regattas where they can represent their institutions in high performance boats. The next clinic is penciled in for September. College sailors should stay tuned for announcements on how to apply.