The Charles River is not like the Gulf Stream, springtime in New England is very different from spring in Florida (or anywhere else for that matter) and collegiate sailing in the Northeast in March is not at all similar to racing in the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit (SORC). So what else is new?
The Harvard sailing team, like any other team north of New York City, has been all too painfully aware of these discouraging facts for a long time. But if the sailing conditions are great down south, why are the best teams in the country schools like Tufts, University of Rhode Island, Michigan and Harvard?
In fact, given the Charles River and winters in Cambridge, how is it that the Harvard sailing team has been ranked number one in the nation since January by Soundings and Yachting magazine:
"It was nice to be ranked number one at a time when no one was even sailing," a skeptical coach Mike Horn said yesterday, "but rankings are sort of questionable at any point. In 1974, we were ranked fourth going into the North American championships, we won, and we were ranked sixth coming out."
The current rating is based upon last fall's regatta results, when the Crimson squad walked away with the Mid-Atlantic and Atlantic Coast championships. Harvard finished the autumn schedule with three straight wins over highly-regarded Tufts, featuring Sam Altreuter, last year's Outstanding Collegiate Sailer.
"Tufts is unbelievable, they practically recruit," senior skipper Tony Leggett said, "Most sailers who come to Harvard come to study. There are a couple of natural sailers, but most of us have to work at it."
For Leggett, the top national ranking is a great psychological lift to have through the long cruel New England winter months and a thesis that he hopes to finish this week. "I always used to go into regattas with an inferiority complex," he commented. "Now we have to defend our pride."
The thesis, which has sent many seniors into straightjackets this spring, prevented Leggett from competing in the first regatta of the season March 13. But judging from the reports from the East River, where the Admiral Moore Trophy regatta was held, Leggett may be just as glad that he was in Cambridge.
"The river stank," Russell Long, one of the crews in the event said. "The water was brown and odious, there was 2 1/2 knot current and the wind gusted from 0 to 44 at one point."
Despite the miserable conditions, a rusty contingent of Tom Repps skippering with Long and Jim Hammit with crew Dave Poor took second place behind the home team, New York Maritime. Though Tufts, the team's biggest rival, was not at the event, it was an impressive finish nonetheless. Especially considering the mid-Atlantic competition in the regatta had already been on the water three weeks.
The showdown with the rest of the top ten begins next weekend when 17 teams vie for the Boston Dinghy Club Cup, out of the MIT boathouse. The Crimson squad will be without the services of All-American Terry Neff, who found out that St. Petersburg is nicer this time of year than Cambridge.
Neff is racing his 470 at SPORT (St. Petersburg Olympic Regatta Training) with freshman Arty Rousmaniere. It is still a question mark as to how often Neff will be able to sail for Harvard this spring. The junior, who took last year off after a sensational sophomore season, could be looking towards the Olympics.
"If he's really interested in the Olympics, he should have taken this year off," Horn suggested. "He's an unbelievably talented skier."
But Neff, one of Harvard's "naturals," is not the only reason for the Crimson squad's success. "Neff sailed in only one of the final regattas last fall," Leggett said, "there were three skippers responsible for the victories."
Those autumn victories and the national rating are all the team has in common during winter drydock. Most go separate ways during the months the Charles River is frozen over, picking up a winter sport of staying in shape lifting weights or running. Some fanatics even take on Marblehead harbor in off-season frostbiting.
And some, like Leggett, have to worry about a thesis before celebrating the thawing of the icy river and the opening of the boathouse at the end of March. It is a welcome relief.
"Working on my thesis, I've developed sores on my rear end," Leggett complained. "The good thing about sailing is that you hang out over the boat by your knees."
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