TO SAY THE LEIST: Sailing: It's Better Live!

There’s an apology I have to make here. As the beat writer for the Harvard sailing team, I’ve been responsible for covering the squad since March. Being honest, before I picked up the beat, the only thing I knew about sailing was that it took place on the water, and that there seemed to be some sort of racing involved.

My personal experience with sailing is very limited. It includes approximately three trips on my childhood friend’s 27-foot catamaran. Sunbathing on the front of the boat while her dad sailed it is nothing at all like competitive collegiate sailing.

In the last eight months, I’ve learned a lot about the sport. For instance, did you know that each week, the team competes in a different kind of boat? Or that while most competition is doublehanded, some regattas also have one or two singlehanded divisions as well? Yeah, until last spring, neither did I.

But still, it wasn’t until I got an e-mail from co-ed captain Jon Garrity inviting me to last weekend’s regatta that I decided that it would probably be a good idea to actually watch one of these events for myself.

(For the record—number of live regattas covered: Kate, 1, former sailing beat writer and current Crimson President Malcom A. Glenn, 0).

And so, here are the five things I learned this weekend about my beat.

Lesson One: Getting to Harvard’s boathouse is easy.

Fifteen minutes after leaving my room in Claverly, I was at the Charles River Basin, where home regattas are held. Two stops on the red line, a five-minute walk, and there I was. That’s about the same amount of time it takes me to walk across the river to cover women’s hockey, so my first excuse for not attending is shot.

Lesson 2: Everything about a regatta in November is cold.

All of the sailors—and all of the hardcore spectators (i.e., everyone but me)—were decked out in layers of fleeces, wind pants, and winter hats. I was wearing just a sweatshirt. No gloves, no hat, no nothing. In retrospect, a poor decision, since now I have a cold.

But if I was just standing by the river watching, imagine how cold it must be to be in a boat, exposed, in the middle of the river. With the wind whipping across your boat. For hours a day. All weekend long. Props.

Lesson 3: Sailing is hard.

When I got to the river, the women’s A division had just finished a race, so all the boats were on the dock and the B-division sailors were hopping in. Once the boats left the dock, the first thing I saw was one boat tip nearly all the way over. The two women in it scrambled to the other side of the boat and pulled it back upright. Close call, I thought. Actually, that’s the way sailing goes. Now I understand why the team lifts twice a week.

Turns out, getting a boat to sail in a straight line when the wind is coming pretty much perpendicular to the course you’re trying to take is difficult. Even the little things, like getting all the boats to stay put on the starting line at once, I had never considered.

Also, the race course is short. It is sailed many times. This involves a lot of turning. How 18 boats all sailing around the same tiny buoy manage not to hit each other…in my opinion, a bona fide miracle. In reality, a whole lot of technical skill.

Lesson 4: Sailing is a cult sport.

I’m no stranger to the “cult sport” concept. I swam competitively through high school, and it’s the same idea. Nobody on the outside really gets what you’re doing. Competitions take hours, if not days, to complete. And parents get really, really into it.

I watched the co-ed competition from the deck of the MIT Sailing Pavilion. Joining me were a fair number of parents and siblings, easily identified by the team-specific fleeces and hats they were wearing.

I listened to debates about the course, explanations of technical details, and lots of sailing gossip. I think I learned more from listening to oneparent talk about a race than from every single time I’ve had to Wikipedia an abbreviation I didn’t understand, combined.

Lesson 5: Sailing rocks.

I’d already developed a very soft spot in my heart for the Crimson sailing team. They always call me back, even when I don’t start my story until two hours before the deadline. Women’s captain Megan Watson has patiently explained pretty much every basic essential about sailing to me (and I’m sure to every other person who’s ever covered the sport). Freshmen Emily Lambert and Annie DeAngelo were probably my two most enthusiastic interviewees of all time when I wrote a feature on them earlier this fall. And the thank-you email I got from Elyse Dolbec ’08 at the end of last year was one of the more thoughtful notes I’ve ever received.

So thank you, Jon, for getting me to go out to the Charles this weekend. I have a much greater appreciation now for what you all do on a weekly basis. I should have come sooner, and I apologize. But better late than never, right?

I'll be watching you at the ACCs, Harvard sailing, and anxiously awaiting the results.

—Staff writer Kate Leist can be reached at


Recommended Articles