Ayla Besemer

As winter thaws, Yale’s coed and women’s sailing teams will return to icy waters aiming to defend their four consecutive national team racing titles this spring.

Currently, both Bulldog teams are ranked No. 1 in the New England Inter-collegiate Sailing Association. The coed team finished the 2016 fall season in first place after claiming the Schell Trophy at the New England Fall Championships, while the women’s team finished fall competition in sixth place at the Women’s Atlantic Coast Championship. Looking to the 2017 spring season, the teams are determined to defend their College Sailing Spring National Championships from last May, including a four-year win streak at spring team-racing nationals.

“We want to get better than we are now as fast as we can,” head coach Zachary Leonard ’89 said. “Other teams are trying to get better too. You don’t want to be what you were last year; you have to do something better than that.”

Throughout the fall season, both Eli squads focused on traditional fleet racing. In fleet races, one boat representing Yale races 17 other, each representing one school. However, with the seasonal change the coed team will adjust its focus to team racing, which consists of three boats from each school racing in tandem to collectively outpace their opponents. When racing in this format, sailors have to keep track of their own boat, their teammates’ boats and their competitors’ boats.

The coed team specializes in team racing during the spring, and will compete in five weekends of regattas before the New England Team Race Championship on April 8–9. The top four teams from that event will continue on to compete in the College Sailing Team Race National Championships, which will take place between May 22 and June 2.

Unlike the coed team, the women’s team will continue with fleet racing for most of the spring, and its season will conclude with the Reed Trophy on April 22–23. Qualifying teams will continue to sail at the women’s semifinals in late May and possibly the national championship, which will be hosted by the College of Charleston. Though the women’s team is entering the spring season as the underdog, the Bulldogs plan to move forward with the same confidence as their coed counterparts, according to crew Isabelle Rossi de Leon ’17.

“I’m really looking forward to the women’s circuit in the spring because it’s pretty competitive,” skipper KB Knapp ’18 said. “I think we also have a great team this year as far as pushing each other to get better. Everyone’s really fast and working hard.”

Both Yale’s coed and women’s teams finished the fall season ranked first in the New England region. According to the Inter-collegiate Sailing Association Team Race Preview & Coaches Poll published in February, Yale’s team racing squad is the favorite to win nationals for the fifth consecutive year. The Elis will have to watch out for Boston College and Georgetown, however, two teams the coaches poll project as the second and third place recipients at nationals, respectively.

On the women’s side, Yale has its eyes set on the Coast Guard Academy, which won the Women’s National Championship over fifth-place Yale last season.

With the class of 2020 settled in, the Bulldogs are looking to take full advantage of their relatively large team this spring. While holding just 19 names before the arrival of the senior class in 2013, the roster has since hovered near this year’s total of 28 sailors. This wide pool of talent means that coed squad will be able to field many three-boat teams for team racing competitions, according to Knapp.

The four freshmen on the coed team bring added value to team racing competitions despite not having the collegiate experience of the seasoned upperclassmen. One advantage of welcoming fresh faces, according to Knapp, is the increased ability to switch out crews. Skipper Louisa Nordstrom ’20 noted that having a coed team conveniently allows the pairing of larger male skippers with smaller female crews while still ducking the requisite weight limits.

Because of the New England weather, the sailing season takes place in two parts. Though odd to some warm-weather natives who usually sail year round, such as Nordstrom, the colder weather and rougher waters might actually give the Bulldogs an advantage — Yale sailors gain experience in harsher weather that might be unfamiliar to Southern schools.

“One thing that helps us a lot is our venue: We get waves; we get wind,” Rossi de Leon said. “I think being able to practice in all different conditions really helps us.”

The sailing team takes time off in the offseason, but not without meetings to strategize for the spring and working out at the gym even when they do not have access to the water.

The 2017 season sets sail for the women with the Old Dominion Spring Intersectional Regatta this Saturday at 9 a.m. in Norfolk, Virginia. The coed team will also start spring competition on Saturday with the Sharpe Trophy at Brown and the Bob Bavier Team Race in Charleston, South Carolina.