While the Yale sailing team practices at the Yale Corinthian Yacht Club in Branford each week for its intercollegiate battles, Stu McNay ’05 and Isabelle Kinsolving ’01 are sailing under sunnier skies.

This year, McNay and Kinsolving are traveling through Europe and North America, training and preparing for the Olympics in 2004. And from Cadiz, Spain to Athens, Greece to New England, they have been succeeding.

The Veterans

Kinsolving crews for former Brown sailing superstar Katie McDowell. The duo has been sailing almost nonstop for several years now. In addition to campaigning with McDowell, Kinsolving spent the fall of 2002 as an assistant coach for the Yale sailing team. The pair formally announced their Olympic campaign in mid-2001 and started their own Web site less than a year later. Their commitment and experience have worked in their favor — Kinsolving and McDowell are ranked No. 1 on the U.S. women’s Olympic team, and they are preparing to defend that ranking in the 2004 Olympic team trials Nov. 6 to 16 in Houston, Texas. Both McNay and McDowell-Kinsolving sail in 470s, fast two-person boats first introduced to Olympic competition in 1976.

McDowell and Kinsolving were the top-finishing American team in the 470 Women’s World Championships, held Sept. 18 to 24 in Cadiz, Spain. The pair finished third in the silver fleet and 28th overall in a large field. A month before that, they finished 5th overall in the pre-Olympics in Athens, Greece. They also finished 10th in the less important Spanish nationals in Rota, Spain, Sept. 5 to 9.

2002’s national women’s single-handed runner-up and 2002 New England women’s single-handed champion Molly Carapiet ’06 sailed last year in the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta, where she finished 13 of 25 in the Europe Dinghy class. At the event, McNay placed 12th in the men’s 470 class, and Kinsolving placed first in the women’s 470s.

Carapiet said she thought Kinsolving and McDowell’s chances were good.

“Isabelle is a very talented sailor,” Carapiet said. “She works very hard, and I think she and Katie have a good chance of making it to the Olympics.”

The Undergrad

McNay, in contrast to Kinsolving, is still in school — at least theoretically. McNay has taken a leave of absence from Yale, expecting to return in fall 2004, after the Olympics. McNay and crew Arthur Kinsolving ’03, Isabelle’s brother, missed a key qualifying regatta in 2003 that cost them a ranked spot on the U.S. team. But they still have a fair shot at qualifying for the 2004 team, provided they do well in the 2004 Olympic team trials Nov. 6 to 16 at the Houston Yacht Club in Texas.

McNay said that, like McDowell and Isabelle Kinsolving, he and Arthur Kinsolving are hoping for a gold medal but that their chances may not be as good.

“Our ultimate goal is to win a gold medal in the Olympics,” McNay said. “But in order to do that we have to get 1st place at the U.S. Olympics Team Trials. In the U.S. 470 fleet, we are not ranked 1st — we are slight underdogs going into the trial regattas. For this time around, the gold medal is well within [McDowell and Isabelle Kinsolving’s] grasp. For Arthur and I, our realistic hope is for 2008.”

Kate Littlefield ’04, the co-ed captain and a longtime teammate of McNay, said not being on the “official” team this year has not hurt McNay’s long-term Olympic chances.

“They’re coached by the U.S. coach, and they’re treated as members of the U.S. team,” Littlefield said.

McNay’s absence has, however, hurt Yale’s team. The co-ed team, especially, has suffered from the loss of its top skipper, falling to 20th in the national rankings as of Sept. 30, a significant difference from its No. 9 ranking on Oct. 15, 2002, when McNay began his junior year.

Littlefield said although McNay’s absence was difficult for the young team to cope with, she was confident it would be well worth the wait for the team to have him back in 2004-2005.

“It is certainly hard that Stu has decided to take a leave of absence,” Littlefield said. “Other coed skippers [including star B-fleet skipper Brandon Wall ’03] have graduated. But I think when Stu comes back he’s going to do extremely well in the collegiate sailing world, with a ton of experience under his belt.”

McNay said he was happy with his decision to take a year off because he could focus his energy on Olympic sailing instead of splitting it between academics, collegiate sailing and the Olympics. He said he, like Littlefield, is confident in the team and excited to come back in 2004-2005.

“When I come back, the younger members of the team will be a year older, and hopefully I can continue to do and even build upon what I did last year,” McNay said. “Maybe our team can rise to be one of the top three in the country, which is my dream for Yale sailing.”

Yale’s Legacy, Yale’s Chances

Yale sailing has a distinguished history in the Olympics as well as in the America’s Cup, the Holy Grail of the sailing world. Three Yalies have won Olympic medals since 1984, and Peter Isler ’76 is a two-time America’s Cup-winning navigator. In addition, Yale sailors have won world championships 14 times in nine different boat classes, and the team has boasted an impressive number of All-American athletes — in 2002, McNay earned an honorable mention and Littlefield was an All-American crew.

Such achievement may seem unusual for a team the Yale Corporation voted to make varsity only 20 months ago. But although Yale was one of the last Ivy League schools to confer varsity status on its sailing team, the Yale Corinthian Yacht Club is, in fact, the oldest collegiate sailing club in the world, established in 1881.

Of course, as any good investor knows, past results are not necessarily indicative of future success. Littlefield said she knows this better than most.

“It’s really difficult to say what their chances actually are, because in the end its one regatta that determines who the medal goes to,” Littlefield said. “Even if you’re off for one day, that’s the only chance you get. But I have faith in them, and all of them will come out of this with incredible experience under their belts, whatever happens. And, of course, there’s another Olympics in 2008.”