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The No. 1 Harvard co-ed and women’s sailing teams made a statement to future opponents by qualifying five sailors for last weekend’s North American men’s and women’s singlehanded championships.
By the end of the regatta, Harvard had hammered home its message: the Crimson five are some of the nation’s best.
Each of the five sailors—three women, two men—placed in the top-four of his or her respective division, highlighted by sophomore skipper Vince Porter’s first-place overall finish.
Both Porter and freshman Clay Johnson navigated their way to strong position at the regatta’s onset, placing second and third, respectively, in the race’s first stage. Though the pair took different routes to the finish, they wound up nearly in the same spot—first and third, separated by just eight points.
Porter steered a straight and narrow course throughout the three days of competition. He was never more than five points out of lead prior to seizing first place in race eight of 15.
In the race’s beginning stages, Tufts’ Alexander Kirkland took his place at the head of the pack with top-four finishes in races four through seven, gaining a three-point lead on Porter.
But the Crimson sophomore countered with a strong surge of his own beginning in race six, crossing the line first to begin a streak in which he finished in the top-four in five of the next six races.
In the last of those, a third-place Porter finish, Kirkland collapsed.
His 15th place finish in race 11 opened up a 13-point lead for Porter, and three finishes of 12th or worse for Kirkland in the final four races sealed Porter’s victory. Porter added an exclamantion mark to his overall victory with a win in the final race.
Johnson, on the other hand, battled from far back in the pack to move within striking distance of the lead on the competition’s final day.
“The first couple of days were particularly shifty [in terms of wind],” Johnson said. “It was really patchy wind. If you just don’t get a break at the starting line, you don’t get a break, you find yourself coming from behind.”
A 12th and ninth place finish in the regatta’s opening five races put Johnson behind, but a disqualification sent Johnson reeling.
Johnson was determined to be at fault after he and an opponent collided in a battle for position around a buoy. His eventual seventh place finish was officially changed to a 17th—the number of the boats in the race plus one. The extra 10 points would ultimately cost him the title.
An 11th place finish in the following race left him 27 points back, but Johnson—an expert with the laser sailboats used for the race—was not prepared to simply lay down.
“I was 30 points out of first and ninth place overall,” Johnson said. “I expected to be doing a lot better and I told myself I was going to be more aggressive at the starting line and in every other aspect of my decision making. Once you get that rhythm you just keep going.”
Johnson, the 2003 high school singlehanded national champion, rattled off a streak of seven top-three performances to conclude the competition, slicing 20 points off his deficit and finishing in a tie for second with Kings Point sailor David Wright, who won the tiebreaker with his two race wins compared to Johnson’s one.
Though unable to match Porter’s title, sophomores Genny Tulloch, Sloan Devlin and captain Jennie Philbrick swept second through fourth in the women’s draw.
“It was mostly about keeping your head out of the boat and racing well and not necessarily focusing on the technical aspects,” Philbrick said.
Old Dominion’s Anna Tunnicliffe took first in the opening race and never looked back, winning six of the remaining 14 races to coast to an easy 27-point victory.
Though her expertise in laser sailing certainly provided an edge, many of the sailors were familiar enough with the boat type to at least compete.
But Tunnicliffe had another advantage, according to Philbrick.
“She’s jacked,” Philbrick said. “She’s so strong. It helps a lot in singlehanded results.”
Under ordinary circumstances, sailors would be partnered with a crew member in doublehanded competition, providing extra hands and muscle with which to control the vessel. But in singlehanded competition, individual strengths become magnified.
The Crimson women bested Tunnicliffe in four of the 15 races.
Tulloch broke away from the pack in race nine. She finished in second overall, 20 points behind Tunnicliffe and 10 points ahead of Devlin in third.
“All the racers were more or less up and down,” Philbrick said. “Third through seventh was really close and it was a tight battle the whole way.”
But with timely judgment of wind shifts, Devlin and Philbrick propelled themselves out of the main pack and into third and fourth.
“The entire regatta was all about looking up wind and seeing where there was more velocity,” Philbrick said. “During those races I was able to get to the puffs, to get where I needed to be first. I guess the reason I did well was when I did it the best.”
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at email@example.com.
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