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For the opponents of the Harvard women’s sailing team this past weekend at the 38th Women’s New England Championships, depth was going to be a problem. The Charles didn’t have enough of it and the Crimson had just too much.
Rotating six sets of hands through its two boats, Harvard’s sailors stayed conspicuously dry while boats, masts and challengers crashed into the waters all around them, earning them both the Jerry Reed Trophy and a berth in the Women’s National Collegiate Dinghy Championships in June.
Facing fierce wind gusts in Saturday’s early action, both Crimson entries attempted to ride out the most powerful puffs without resorting to heavier crews, hoping to maintain balance without sacrificing speed.
Initially the strategy worked in both the ‘A’ and ‘B’ divisions as Harvard steered to within striking distance of each fleet’s lead. Sophomore skipper Genny Tulloch and senior crew Diana Rodin notched one win and three top-four finishes in the first five races in the first tier, finishing no higher than seventh, while second flight counterparts Sloan Devlin and Mallory Greimann shook off an opening eighth-place finish with four consecutive top-four finishes, punctuated by a win on the third course.
“I think because the wind conditions were so shifty that [the course] really favored groups that worked really well together and basically had unspoken communication skills,” Devlin said. “We both knew what to do and how the other person would respond.”
She and Greimann notched their second victory of the day in race six, but after Tulloch and Rodin hung a 10 on the scoreboard and the stubborn winds hinted they would linger throughout the day, both crews were swapped for taller, slightly heavier reserves at the expense of the familiarity that had served both teams so well in the first third of the regatta to avoid a costly capsize. Senior Clemmie Everett joined Tulloch for the day’s four remaining races, while senior Caroline Dixon served as Devlin’s crew for the seventh race.
“You want to have as much height for hiking out up wind and keeping the boat as flat as possible,” said Rodin, adding that, at approximately 5’10, Everett and Dixon are two of the taller women’s sailors on the circuit.
The savvy move paid instant dividends for the ‘A’ boat, which closed the day with a win and three more top-five finishes, cementing the Crimson’s position among the top three headed into Sunday. Devlin and Dixon recorded a fifth-place performance before Greimann returned as crew.
The blustery stretch proved to be the series’ decisive juncture, as no team that failed to employ a heavy-wind sailor emerged in the top three in either division. That reluctance to trade speed for balance cost several boats, leading to 39 capsized vessels and several collisions along the route, both of which were aggravated by the Charles’ lack of depth.
After taking a spill, several sailors found themselves digging their masts from the river bottom or avoiding other capsizing boats which had flipped while steering too hard a course to avoid other incapacitated crafts.
“It was a huge mess and it was chaos at the starts,” Rodin said. “Watching ‘B’ division from the dock, there were times only half the division was on the line because of the shifts. Being at the right place was more influenced by luck than skill than in most races.”
The increased traffic heightened the incidence of penalty turns, disqualifications and incomplete races, which hit prime contender Yale the hardest. A disqualification in the ‘A’ fleet and a did not finish in the ‘B’ tacked on 36 points to the Bulldogs’ score, 141, 22 higher than the Crimson’s winning total, 119.
“That was relatively early in the regatta,” Devlin said. “We weren’t really worried about just Yale, but everybody. It didn’t make that much of a difference in terms of how we raced.”
With the regatta’s 17 races per division pared down to 15 on Sunday morning on account of calm wind conditions, Harvard had all but locked up one of the top six positions required for a trip to the national tournament. For good measure, the two original ship pairings hammered home the message with eight top-four results, highlighted by three wins—one in ‘A,’ two in the ‘B’—to comfortably edge Tufts, Yale and Connecticut College for the title.
“It’s really exciting,” Rodin said. “That about sums it up.”
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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