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Women's Sailing Places Fifth in Stu Nelson Trophy

Chris Sail
Racing on the Thames River in New London, Conn., the women's sailing team had to deal with challenging currents and a mix of upriver and downriver sailing.
Rarely is the outcome of a contest fully determined before it begins.

However, in sailing, where positioning behind the line and acceleration to the start are of tremendous importance, the contest can be over before the clock starts.

This weekend, Harvard women’s sailing rose and fell by its starts, finishing fifth overall in a field of 13 teams competing for the Stu Nelson trophy.

However, in the final race of the weekend, a stellar start managed to offset some of the earlier challenges and brought the Division B squad a third place overall finish on the weekend.

“We ended up in fifth after yesterday’s racing, but after today we got a bullet in the only race of the day, which put us ahead by two places, so we went into third place,” said sophomore Emma Jakobson, who sailed in the Division B boat. “We just had a really good start for this race and were able to play the currents pretty well to stay ahead.”

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Even in standard conditions, the beginning of a race is hard to perfect.

“It’s a complicated game,” said assistant coach Bern Noack when asked about a race's start. “There’s a countdown, and you can’t be over the line until the countdown hits go, so there’s a lot of preconditioning to set yourself up to accelerate and then hit the line with the go.”

Varying currents make this already challenging facet of racing particularly difficult. The Stu Nelson regatta, hosted by Connecticut College, is held on the Thames River, which brings a combination of upriver and downriver sailing — and plenty of changing currents. When boats reach the end of the course, they turn around and double back, forcing the sailors to quickly adjust their steering styles.

“In different areas of the water, the water was moving in different directions,” Jakobson said, “so you had to be very aware of where you were on the course, and the way the current was going so that you could sail in the proper current.”

Changing currents also place an even greater importance on the start.

“If you have a currents-affected race course, a lot of times there’s sort of one pathway that’s optimal to go up the race course,” said Noack. “If you don’t have a good start, it’s really hard to pass anyone because everyone’s sailing up the same part of the race course.”

The Crimson had a promising open to the regatta, with the Division A boat of senior Taylor Gavula and sophomore Emily Wang winning the third match. However, Harvard encountered some difficulties with starts by the middle of Saturday, hitting 10th for Division A and 11th for Division B during the fourth round of the regatta.

As the regatta progressed, Harvard felt out a better sense of how to start and where to sail. Only two rounds after taking spots 10 and 11, the Crimson managed a win for both boats in the sixth round.

The Division B team of Jakobson and freshman Anna Kaneti went on to notch another win in what turned out to be the only race of a light-winded Sunday, securing a third place finish for Division B and a fifth place overall finish for the weekend.

Harvard women’s sailing returns to action next weekend on October 14 for the Women's Showcase Finals at Brown.

“[It’s] the biggest women’s [sailing] event of the fall,” said Noack. “It’s probably the 18 best women’s teams in the country next weeked. So that’ll actually be a really good mark for where all the teams are at right now.”

Jakobson is also looking forward to the next race.

“We got our new fleet of D420s, so that’ll be good practicing in those this week to prepare for the weekend,” the sophomore sailor said.

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