Of Wind and the River: Look Homeward, Sailor

Pros and Cons

Out on the Charles, breezing along past the Boston skyline, the only sounds you hear are the flapping of the canvas sails and the constant slap-slap-slap of water on the hull. Sailboats, after all, are very quiet vehicles. As a rule, so are the people who sail them--no one, for instance, has ever accused the Harvard sailing team of dominating the sports pages of any local newspaper. But the Crimson squad, in its own unobtrusive way, has been making a lot of noise.

This weekend, the men's team placed a distant ninth in the 12-team fleet at the Atlantic Coast championships at Yale, rounding out an up-and-down fall season. But despite the dismal showing against the victorious Elis, coach Michael Horn has reason to look forward to an interesting spring season. Remembering the triumphs of last fall--last week's impressive victory in the War Memorial Trophy regatta against a fleet that included Yale and a host of other New England powerhouses, as well as the early-season victory in the Penobscot Bay Open regatta--all Horn has to look for now is more consistency from a team that has already proven it can win the big races.

"We're going to have a very good spring," Horn says. He points to the increasing expertise of co-captains Russell Long and Jim Hammitt, and the depth provided by other skippers such as Steve Strittmatler, Nick Stone and Andy Efstathiou. Horn notes that the team has survived the loss of last year's co-captains Tom Reps and All-American Terry Neff, without going into a tailspin. Now he says all the Crimson skippers need before they have a truly superlative season is a lot more sailing time.

"The problem is that they have not any of them sailed in enough top-flight events yet to avoid silly mistakes" Horn says. Long agrees, and places the blame on a lack of interest among the rest of the student body. "The key is getting enough people down there to give the top sailors the practice they need, to get them honed to a fine edge," he notes.

What keeps the sailors from attaining the high-level consistency of Yale or MIT, both agree, is partly the white-tie-and-tails image of the sport. "People may think it's a very elite, high-powered thing, but it's really a very open thing," Horn contends. Gone are the days when the Ted Turners of the world would hop into their boats, still tuxedo-clad, after an evening of nightclub-hopping; sailing is now a down-to-earth, serious sport. Unfortunately hot everyone realizes that, and the fall crop of freshmen can't compare to the turnout for "normal" sports such as football and basketball.

But Horn is still hoping. This year's freshman class produced a larger-than-usual bunch of sailors, and Horn is busy publicizing the program every chance he gets. While the sailing program will probably never catch the eye of the big-name alumni recruiters who work such wonders for Restic and Cleary, Horn apparently believes there are growing numbers of people who have come to recognize the joys of wind-blown transport.

So when next spring rolls around, the baseball team might not provide the only action in town. Head down to the River and listen; Horn is convinced his sailors will be happily sounding off.