(San Francisco, CA)- A revolution in the making? US Navy Midshipmen learning how to sail, plus sail fast and smart? No one would’ve predicted that outcome in the recent College Sailing Match Race Nationals this fall. After all, the US Naval Academy has been known over time for fielding some good dinghy teams, occasional good women’s teams and were, of course, expected to win, place or show in their own regatta held in those massive lead-mines known as Navy 44s (hardly a sailboat, some say, as they drag half the world’s Seven Seas behind them once they achieve 6.666 knots of boat speed).
Nevertheless, the “Middies” pulled off what many see as the “coup of the century”, at least in this relatively young 21st century (just 88 more years to go to break more records). Co-hosted by the California Maritime Academy and St. Francis Yacht Club the top college sailing teams in America gathered together on the infamous San Francisco Bay to challenge one another in StFYC’s matched J/22 one-design fleet to determine the top intercollegiate match racing team in America.
As some of the older college sailors will recall, the Sloop Nationals used to be a fleet-racing regatta often sailed in various locations in J/24s, Shields and what not. Recently, the decision to change over to match-racing to reflect the times and interests of college sailors seeking new and different challenges led to this new format. It was a popular decision that led to renewed enthusiasm for this fall classic.
Ten teams representing all seven ICSA conferences sailed the J/22s with spinnakers; each team had one skipper and two crew members aboard. Racing took place in front of the Golden Gate Bridge under a range of weather conditions including light wind, rain and strong current (to be expected, of course).
The first day of racing began with a southwest breeze 8 12 knots with shifts, a variety of puffs and an ebbing current. As the day progressed the current got stronger making pre-start techniques between the boats more difficult because they had to fight with the current and position themselves properly to beat one another at the start. The current played such a role in the start that at times boats were starting on port because they could not make the line on starboard tack, a highly unusual situation. It was a long day of racing with the race committee and volunteers completing 45 races. The US Naval Academy team of Jason Carminati skippering with team-mates Taylor Vann and Killian Corbishley lead after the first day of racing with a record of eight wins and one loss. Roger Williams University team skippered by Alec Anderson with crew Annie Schmidt and Dylan Vogel was second with seven wins winning a tie-breaker over Tufts University– they were skippered by sophomore Will Haeger with crew Maggie Bacon and Dave Liebenberg also with seven wins. Stanford University was in fourth with six wins.
Day two racing was postponed all morning due to a lack of wind. The breeze was only 2 4 knots, which was not enough for the boats to sail in given the strong current on the course. At about 2 p.m. racing resumed and the format of the regatta had to be amended due to the late start. A Gold Round Robin was eliminated for the top six teams, which would have determined the seeding for them in the quarterfinals. The Repechage round instead began the days racing with the teams in 7th 10th places competing for the last two spots in the quarterfinals. University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin advanced to the quarterfinals with the original top six teams. The light winds continued and the current remained a challenge for the teams especially on the downwind leg where the current swept the boats sideways across the course.
The third and last day of the event sailors were again greeted by light breeze on the Bay and the usual strong current. Sailing resumed with the remaining races in the quarterfinals as boats fought the current and light wind. The teams who advanced to the semi-finals were Navy, Stanford, Roger Williams and University of Southern Florida. In a repechage semi-final round the remaining teams sailed for 5th 8th place. Simultaneously, a knockout round between the University of Oregon and the University of Texas A&M took place with the teams finishing 9th and 10th respectively in the event.
After all of the semi-finals racing completed it was on to the finals with a match-up between Roger Williams and Navy and University of Southern Florida (USF)(skippered by Bill Stocke with Abagail Featherstone and Chris Stocke as crew) and Stanford (skippers by Nick Dugdale with crew of Kevin Laube and McKenzie Wilson). After the first few races there was a large wind shift and some rain came in which caused the finals and petit finals racing to be postponed. With everything re-set the racing continued with Stanford and USF in the petit finals and Roger Williams and Navy in the finals. Stanford won the petit finals placing third at Nationals and USF therefore finished 4th. Going into the third finals race the racing was close and Navy and Roger Williams were all tied up. The breeze had increased with the wind shift making for better sailing at this point. In the end Navy took the last race winning Match Race Nationals and Roger Williams finished second in some fantastic sailing.
Ian Burman, head coach for the US Naval Academy Sailing Team attributes their success to having a strong keel boat skipper Jason Carminati 12, who placed third at Sloop Nationals two years ago and great crew work on the boat by Taylor Vann 13 and Killian Corbishley 14. Really a great deal of the credit for our success goes to our assistant coach Brendan Healy who lead the charge in match racing and was with the team every step of the way. It was a real team effort and we also had a lot of people practice with us and give us a lot of help so that we were prepared for anything at this event, explains Burman.
St. Francis Yacht Club and California Maritime put on a great event along with the help of volunteers and umpires who are an integral part of match racing. The racing was competitive and in challenging conditions, but the Chicago Match Race center kept viewers up to date with live video feed and Twitter updates. Sailing photo credits- Chris Ray For more ICSA College Match Racing sailing results.