Sailing Looks to Individual Performance for Team Success

Sailing at Full Mast
The Harvard sailing team will brave the cold on the Charles once again this year, getting its sea legs down for the fall season. The Crimson is confident in its incoming talent this season, as it looks to piece together individual performance and string it into wins.

Collegiate sailing is an elusive sport. While water polo and swimming find comfort in a heated pool, the Harvard sailing team braves the cold and unforgiving outdoor waters. The team must embrace the elements, for the wind and water determine whether they will succeed—or fail.

"We are excited for a great season on the water," junior Divya Arya said.

This institutional diaspora must confront earth’s most uncontrollable feature—the weather. Athletics often entails the training of one’s own abilities and then the integration of those repetitions to hone on near-perfect form for game situations. An athlete’s effectiveness is very often correlated to personal factors such as conditioning and physicality.

This fluid process from practice to competition does not work so simply for Harvard’s sailors. Training is focused on attempting to control the uncontrollable.

“You’ve just have to go out there, stand up in your boat and look upwind and survey everything,” junior Nick DiGiovanni said. “There are so many different factors that can contribute to it. There can be current, and there can be different pressures in the wind. There can be things blocking the wind. Like, in Boston, you can have buildings that are messing with stuff.”

As the sailors go out to practice every day, they learn to break down the conditions and find the most favorable path forward. Once the team is on the waters, they are essentially on their own without coaches to guide them.

“It’s just a fourteen foot boat,” DiGiovanni said. “So you’ve only got two people in each boat…. You’ve got the skipper and the crew in one boat. You’ve just got to talk together and map out a plan.”

This fall semester the team will collectively participate in 34 different regattas. With the team spreading across multiple locations each weekend, the collective success of the team rests on individual leadership. The fall season is especially focused on gaining sea legs as the team builds up its fleet, racing across two different divisions. Often one pair is on land while the other pair is out racing.

But at the end, there is still a distinct team component, which serves both as an accountability measure and support system.

“It’s still a team thing at the end of the day because you are always combining your scores with your teammates in the other division,” DiGiovanni said. “At the end, it all sort of adds up together and then you get the rankings overall.”

This dynamic will play out as the team gets further into the season and as they look towards the spring playoff season. This plays out most of all for the new sailors joining the Harvard team, who may have good individual success, but less experience competing as a group.

“We have a lot of depth now, a lot of new young kids,” said DiGiovanni. “They have a ton of talent and they are coming off of some really good high school racing.”

These new recruits will go through a unique development process of practicing as a team, but competing almost as individuals. As they compete across New England, they will encounter road bumps—or waves—but will also enjoy the opportunity to mature. As the season begins and the sailors disperse to their various regattas, they hope their competitions will collectively lead to team success in the spring.

—Staff writer William Quan can be reached at william.quan@thecrimson.com.

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