Skipper Succeeds On And Off Water

Kate M. Obst


Senior Alan Palmer first became hooked on sailing as a nine-year-old cruising the coast of Maine with his parents.

After years of challenging competition, he came to Harvard three years ago ready to make his mark on collegiate sailing.

“We were the young guys, like the ones in ‘The Mighty Ducks 3,’ where they beat the varsity team,” Palmer said of himself and the team’s other freshmen. “So that was our whole thing: we knew we were just going to do really, really good.”

At the start of his debut regatta, it looked as if Palmer and his teammates might follow through with their promise. But things didn’t go quite as planned.

“We were winning the race, right at the finish line,” Palmer remembers, “and then all of a sudden we just all flip.”


Luckily, the Crimson’s opponents lost control at about the same time, giving Palmer a chance to reclaim the win.

But as soon as his boat was ready to go, they flipped again—this time just short of the finish line, resulting in a last-place result.

“You could hear the coaches in the background, and they were just laughing hysterically saying, ‘Oh my god, these guys are so bad,’” Palmer says. “But now it’s kind of funny because we’re all sailing together again and actually doing well.”

In fact, Palmer and his Harvard teammates are doing great.

After being named US Sailing’s Sailor of the Week two weeks ago, Palmer led the Crimson to a victory at the Captain Hurst Bowl, skippering all 14 races in the A division.

But Palmer’s talent isn’t limited to just his sport.

“Alan Palmer is a legend,” senior roommate Dillon Powers says. “He’s one of the smartest people—if not the smartest person—I’ve ever met at Harvard.”

As an applied mathematics concentrator, Palmer excels in statistics as well as a number of other challenging fields.

After deciding to take CS50 last year, Palmer found that he had an uncanny gift for programming, and in one of the problem set competitions easily beat out his entire section.

“On the investment trading pset I found a bug in the program where you could instantly make, like, quadrillions of dollars,” Palmer says with a laugh. “So I just exploited that until I was winning…I’m pretty competitive, I like to win.”


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