With the Lower Basin of the Charles River still sealed in ice, the Harvard sailing team began its spring season by adjourning to the warmer waters of Charleston, S.C. Judging by its sixth-place finish, the Crimson itself may still be thawing.
Harvard sailed under conditions that ranged from 10-knot winds on Saturday to strong breezes and heavy rain on Sunday as it wrapped up the Bob Bavier Team Race with a 5-9 record.
The regatta was not only the team’s first competition of the spring—it was, in effect, its first practice as well.
“On the whole, the team hasn’t practiced in the winter,” said sophomore Clay Johnson. “Our boat handling and communication were a bit rusty, but I’m confident we’re going to get back in form. It was better that we got the screw-ups out of the way.”
In the double round-robin tournament, the Crimson won both races against Dartmouth and split races with Boston College, the College of Charleston and Stanford. Harvard lost both to Old Dominion, the University of South Florida, and St. Mary’s College.
The Crimson’s three boats for the regatta were skippered by junior captain Vincent Porter, Johnson, and freshman Kyle Kovacs, and they were crewed by junior Ruth Schlitz, sophomore Sam Fink, and sophomore Emily Simon, respectively.
Harvard’s sextet met with mixed results, as Boston College dominated the initial team racing and posted 12 wins against only two losses.
The Big Green, the Cougars, and the Monarchs finished the tourney with 8-6 records to advance to a final four-team race, which saw the Eagles besting all competitors for the regatta victory.
“I wouldn’t read too much into the results,” Kovacs said. “We were so rusty that it overshadowed everything else.”
The sailors made a few mistakes that were almost certainly the product of jumping into racing after months out of the water.
“We did a lot of stupid things,” Kovacs said. “All three of us went over the line one race, so we all had to restart. I flipped in another race, which meant I finished a mile behind everyone else.”
The regatta provided a chance for the Crimson to wet its feet after a dry winter as well as reflect on grounds for improvement.
“This regatta’s not the biggest deal as far as we’re concerned,” Porter said. “We sort of went into it as a learning experience, to get an analysis of where we’re at compared to the other teams.”
Lingering ice has inhibited practice on home waters, but the team decided to begin sailing early this year. In years past, team racing has begun in April.
“We’re a young and inexperienced team, so we wanted to get a jumpstart on the season,” Johnson said.
Nevertheless, the regatta saw the return of one of Harvard’s best skippers, as Porter sailed for the Crimson for the first time in the 2004-5 season after spending the fall semester studying abroad. Porter was the 2003 ICSA/Vanguard men’s singlehanded national champion, and a Sailing World preseason article proposed that he could follow Cardwell Potts ’04 and keep national College Sailor of the Year honors at Harvard.
“Last semester, we were struggling to find skippers,” Johnson said. “He’s an awesome skipper. He’s going to make things a lot easier.”
If anything, the Crimson is trying to find how best to use the skippers it has. The team potentially has five, but it only launches three dinghies per regatta, so in the early spring season, the team will have to assess how best to use the personnel available.
Spring also poses another challenge: a change in the format of the regattas the team will race, for spring is Harvard’s team racing season.
Fleet racing, the focus of the fall season, pits individual boats against each other in a large—often 18-boat—field, and a squad’s performance is the sum of individual performances.
Team racing is, as the name indicates, a team sport, pitting three boats from one team directly against three boats from another, with both teams striving to combine finishes for the lower score. The objective is not only to make one’s own team faster, but to make one’s opponents slower, within the rules permitted by intercollegiate sailing.
“It’s a lot more like three-on-three basketball,” captain Sloan Devlin said. “There are plays to slow people down.”
The Crimson has a legacy to maintain in the sport. Harvard tied for sixth last year in the Team Racing National Championships, but light winds helped the Crimson to the team title in the spring of 2003.
Then-freshmen Porter and Schlitz were on board for the last team championship at skipper and crew, respectively.
“Especially for team racing, it sort of makes a bigger difference having practice under your belt,” Porter said. “For team racing more than anything experience matters.”
—Staff writer Samuel C. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.