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Defending a national championship is never easy, but that is the task on which the Harvard sailing team embarked upon this fall.
The Crimson captured the Fowle Trophy, awarded to the overall sailing National Champion, in the spring of 2002 and began its defense in September.
Spanning the fall and spring seasons, sailing has multiple national championships in different sailing formats, the combined scores of which decide the winner of the Fowle Trophy. And although Harvard came up short against rival Tufts on more than one occasion near the end of the 2001-2002 season, it is now in a strong position to challenge for a repeat title run.
The fall season ended in early November in Houston with the Men’s and Women’s Singlehanded Championships. And although no Crimson sailor won first place outright, the team nevertheless had an impressive showing. Senior Clay Bischoff and freshman Vince Porter finished in second and third place, respectively, in the men’s division, and junior Clemmie Everett and freshman Genny Tulloch captured a seventh and a ninth place, respectively, in the women’s division.
Entering the spring, the team was concerned about the late thaw of the Charles River, which kept Harvard’s boats out of the water until late into the season. That winter rust may have contributed to the team’s slow start to the spring.
Once underway, though, the Crimson gained impressive momentum and qualified for the North American championships in Women’s Racing, Team Racing and Coed Dinghies. Even last year, when it won the National championships, Harvard did not qualify in all three Spring national championships.
The only result that bodes badly for the Crimson is that Harvard finished behind Tufts over two consecutive weekends in Team Racing and in Coed Dinghies. However, the team avoid focusing on worries about Tufts, a perennial rival.
“We’re not concerning ourselves with Tufts or other teams,” Bischoff said. “When we sail up to our abilities, we can win no matter who we are up against. So we’re just trying to improve our own tactics.”
Those tactics will be tested by the conditions in Detroit, the site of nationals, where the Crimson expects conditions different from the normal sailing conditions on the Charles.
“I expect choppy sea conditions with a weak sea breeze, possibly current as well, at Detroit,” Bischoff said. “In other words, the opposite of the Charles River.”
In preparation for those choppy seas, the Crimson has joined with other local teams to practice sailing 420s on Boston Harbor. Training in these boats serves the dual purpose of acquainting the team with conditions and with the boats themselves as the 420s are the boats utilized at Nationals, but are not part of the FJs that make up much of the Crimson’s fleet.
“We’ve been sailing a lot in the open water against other New England teams to work on our 420 boathandling skills and keep our racing abilities sharp,” Bischoff said.
One factor working in Harvard’s favor is the depth of its team: five Crimson sailors were recognized amongst the Top-10 in New England. Bischoff and junior captain Cardwell Potts were acknowledged as two of the best skippers in the New England region, and seniors Michelle Yu and Lema Kikuchi, in addition to junior David Darst, were recognized as amongst the 10 best crews in the region. That depth could be an important consideration, given the close scheduling of the three National championships.
“We are one of the most versatile teams in terms of pairing boat combinations to accommodate different breeze velocities, so the variability in wind and sea conditions will be favorable to us,” Yu said.
Hopefully that advantage, coupled with the talent on Harvard’s roster, and weeks of training time, will combine to be enough to propel the team past rivals like Tufts and St. Mary’s. The team certainly thinks so.
“We’ve had a history of training very effectively for Spring Nationals and having some good performances there so we’re hoping for the same success this year,” Bischoff said.
—Staff writer Timothy M. McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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