For several Yale sailors, racing success in Hawaii wasn’t sweet enough — or far away enough — to satisfy their competitive instincts.
Instead, after strong finishes in the college sailing Nationals, which were held in Honolulu, Yale skippers Isabelle Kinsolving ’02 and Stu McNay ’04 took to the international circuit in preparation for the U.S. Olympic qualifiers in the late fall.
The pair, joined by fellow Bulldog sailor Ross Anderson ’03, spent their summer vacation on a whirlwind trip throughout Europe to compete in top international regattas in order to ready themselves for this fall’s Olympic Trials in Houston, Texas.
In countries like Germany, Greece, Estonia, and France, the racers have posted impressive results and shown steady improvement in speed and boathandling throughout the summer.
“Stu’s and Ross’s highs have been higher than I thought they would be, while Katie and Isabelle’s progress overall has been fantastic,” Bulldog head coach Zach Leonard ’89 said.
The trio of Yale sailors are all part of the U.S. Sailing team, with McNay and Anderson racing as a pair and Kinsolving crewing for Katie McDowell, a former member of the Brown sailing team. Both pairs compete in the 470 class of boats, which are half a meter longer than the boats sailed by the Elis in home regattas.
The U.S. Olympic Sailing Committee maintains a ranking of the sailing pairs, and the top five duos have the opportunity to contend for the one U.S. spot at the 2004 Olympics, to be held in Athens, Greece. The scores from various U.S. and international events are factored into the rankings.
Last winter, both boats were ranked second in the 470 class despite only having had sailed together for a short while. That high status qualified all four athletes for the major international regattas they competed in this summer.
McDowell and Kinsolving have dealt with various setbacks such as boat breakdowns and volatile wind conditions, but for the most part they have performed well all summer, beating all the other American boats at the international events.
“Our goal for the summer was to break into the top 10 at a regatta. We came close with Kiel [in Germany] and ISAF [held in France],” said Kinsolving, who helped guide last year’s women’s sailing team to a fifth place finish at college nationals. The pair’s overall finishes at Kiel and ISAF were 15th and 12th, respectively. The ISAF regatta was the first race in which they placed in both the top five and top 10 with consistency.
In addition, the pair nearly finished the race at Kiel without capsizing — a tall feat considering they faced a squall gusting fierce rain and winds of 20 to 25 knots.
On the men’s side, McNay, who is captain of the Bulldog co-ed team, and Anderson have had a strong rookie season. In their appearance at the Kiel Race Week, which is said to be the largest regatta in the world, they braved the onset of the same squall en route to finishing in the top half of a fleet that numbered nearly 40 boats.
“After the first regatta went great at Kiel, Stu and Ross struggled when it was not so windy,” Leonard said. He noted, however, that they have improved and that their upwind sailing remains one of their strengths. Leonard spoke to McNay several days ago, and added that the All-American thought the European experience has been very valuable because he is getting to sail against the best in the world in preparation for Houston.
The final regatta of the summer stretch, the World Championships, begins today in Sardenia. The U.S. team has been training there for just over a week, and in an online posting, U.S. 470 coach Skip Whyte expressed confidence in his team, saying that the women especially are “making a determined assault on the established pecking order.”
Kinsolving, who will help coach the Bulldogs in the fall while training at the Yale sailing site for the U.S. Olympic qualifiers, said that she enjoyed her summer but that the biggest obstacle she and McDowell had to overcome was the sheer length of it all.
“I would say that the toughest part of the summer has been its length. Katie and I have been over in Europe since June 20th, and it has been tough to stay focused for this long of a stretch,” Kinsolving said. “Since we move around every two weeks, the entire summer has been spent living out of suitcases, our car, and our trailer.”
Regardless, when the Yale sailors come back to the team in a few weeks, they will have tremendous experience under their belts just in time to attempt to earn the right to return to Athens as Olympic athletes.