SAILING | Despite Irene damage, regatta will go on

Two weeks ago, the sailing team was surveying the damage Hurricane Irene wrought on its boathouse. On Saturday, the team will kick off its latest quest for the national championship from that very boathouse.

Some of the top sailors on the No. 5 coed team will host 20 other schools on Saturday and Sunday in the Harry Anderson Trophy, their only home regatta of the season. Meanwhile, coed captain Joseph Morris ’12 and three crew will travel to the Coast Guard Academy for the qualifying rounds of the national sloop championships. Finally, the No. 1 women’s team will send four of its top sailors to Boston to defend its high preseason ranking.

“This opening weekend will show not only what our strengths are, but also our weaknesses,” Morris said. “Hopefully we can build on what we learn.”

While Morris is racing in an unfamiliar boat — sloop championships are held in three- and four-person boats, while the vast majority of collegiate racing uses two-person boats called 420s and FJs — women’s captain Margot Benedict ’12 will provide veteran leadership in familiar waters. She will crew for Chris Segerblom ’14 in one of Yale’s 420s at the Harry Anderson, while Cameron Cullman ’13 will skipper the other with Genoa Warner ’12.

Those four will try to reclaim the trophy the team last won in 2009. Winning will be no easy matter: five of the visiting teams are ranked in the national top ten, including No. 1 Boston College and No. 3 Roger Williams.

B.C. is coming off a victory at the 2011 Dinghy National Championship, but graduated many of the top sailors from that team; Yale, on the other hand, graduated none of the skippers who sailed at nationals.

The participants at the Harry Anderson trophy will sail in sight of dozens of badly damaged houses along the coast of the Long Island Sound. Hurricane Irene, which passed through the area at high tide, lifted waves through the first floor of many low-lying houses.

The Elis are accustomed to storms, and have a process in place for pulling their two docks — each of which weighs about 3,000 pounds — out of the water when they expect bad weather. The team floats the docks to their boat ramp, places PVC pipes underneath them, then gradually rolls the docks over the pipes and out of the water.

“It’s like Egyptian slave labor,” Segerblom said.

Despite the sailors’ best preparations before the hurricane, it carried water as far ashore as the Yale boathouse and boat storage shed. The doors of the shed were ripped off, and six FJs were carried out by the water. All six washed up on shore nearby and were returned intact, but with cosmetic damage, by neighbors.

The waves also made their way up to the boathouse, badly damaging the base of its walls before draining away. Both the boathouse and the home of head coach Zachary Leonard ’89 lost electricity and running water. When visiting teams arrive for the Harry Anderson regatta’s 9:30 a.m. start on Saturday, they will see a boathouse with sides made of two colors: bright tan for the three feet at its base where the shingling was stripped away and has been replaced in the past week, and dark grey above that, where the old shingling remains.

The boats that will be used for the regatta, however, were not damaged, and Leonard said the team is ready to play host.

While Benedict and her teammates race in the same waters they practice in each week, four sailors from the women’s team will take on the notoriously tricky winds on the Charles River at the Toni Deutsch Trophy regatta, hosted by MIT. The winds on the Charles are known to shift frequently and unpredictably, skipper Marlena Fauer ’14 said. Fauer and crew Eugenia Custo Greig ’14 will race in the B division, while Claire Dennis ’13 will skipper Yale’s top boat with Anna Han ’14 as her crew.

Because of their No. 1 ranking, the four will be sailing with targets on their backs. Still, Fauer said that she is mostly focused on returning to racing form in preparation for a long season.

“There’s a little pressure on us to perform to the level people are expecting,” she said. “But first we have to work out the kinks.”

All three regattas begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and go through Sunday.

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