The Hillsdale College Sailing Club competed in the Midwest Collegiate Sailing Association Sloop Championship on Saturday and Sunday at the Detroit Yacht Club.
The Sailing Club took two teams to Detroit to participate in the regatta. The first Charger team, skippered by freshman Kaitlyn Rowland and crewed by junior Michael Whitman and freshman Julia Powell, took sixth place in the regatta.
The second Charger team, skippered by sophomore Ben Dietderich and crewed by junior Pearce Pomerleau and sophomores Hannah Hayes and Owen Fingerhut, took last place in the event.
“Most teams were better than us, but it felt good that one of our teams didn’t finish last,” Dietderich said.
Finishing order dictated the scoring of the event. Officials placed buoys in the river according to wind conditions, and the sailors had to guide their boats between them as they raced for time. The total position finish after eight runs down the course made up the final scores, making the lowest scoring team the winner of the regatta.
Despite the official scoring of the event, amateur sailing is about improvement.
“It didn’t feel like we were racing the other teams, we were just trying to beat our own time,” Hayes said. “The other teams were so friendly and supportive.”
Grand Valley State University won the event with 12 points and Michigan State’s team finished close behind with 18 points. The Hillsdale team skippered by Kaitlin Rowland finished in 6th place with 51 points ahead of the Indiana Hoosiers and the other Charger team which earned 61 points. Rowland’s boat finished in 5th place three times during the competition.
“I am proud of the group. By Sunday, we did much better. On our last race we got 6th and beat Indiana,” Dietderich said.
The Detroit Yacht club furnished the boats for the events which were Flying Scot models that fit a crew of three comfortably. Though college regatta normally use club 420 model boats with two people, the new members of the Sailing Club didn’t know any different.
Hayes had never sailed before the event.
“I had no idea where the port side was or what a jib was,” she said. “It was a like learning a foreign language at first.”
After fumbling with some rigging, Hayes heard older men shouting at her from the shore. But after she explained that she had never been sailing before, they quickly changed their tune.
“An older man took me aside right when I got back to shore and we went straight to the basics. He taught me how to tie some knots,” she said.
Pomerleau has experience sailing in Michigan after learning on Lake Michigan near Traverse City. And though he has years of sailing experience and though the club had participated in an regatta at Hope College in Holland Michigan last April, prior to this event, he had never sailed on a river before.
“Sailing on the Detroit river had different issues with it. Not only do you have to deal with the wind, but you have to deal with the current,” he said.
The new leadership from Rowland and Dietrich impressed Pomerleau as did the response of the new members.
“A number of freshman helped crew the boats and they had great participation and engagement from the start,” he said.
The conditions were nearly ideal for sailing last weekend with afternoon gusts between five and six miles per hour. “The weather was super nice and sunny. But for sailing we needed wind which did not come until the afternoon, Hayes said. “Each morning we just sat around at the yacht club studying until the wind picked up at 1 p.m.”
The hospitality of the sailing community impressed the team, especially after the organizers of the regatta housed the teams in private residences and fed them.
“On Saturday night, we stayed in a 50 foot yacht together. It was tight but we all either got to share a bed or sleep on deck,” Pomerleau said.
Some of the details of sleeping on a ship perplexed Hayes.
“We had to make sure the windows of the yacht were closed, because they said that they had a raccoon problem,” she said.
Pearce thought that the opportunity to stay on the yacht was an appropriate introduction to the sport.
“It was a great ‘Welcome to the team!’” he said.
The Sailing Club has big aspirations moving forward. Pomerleau said that the club is hoping to buy gear and boats with the help of a donor within the next month. He also said that the group can practice on Baw Beese, which has sufficient wind for sailing and is large enough for full race courses.
With the help of new leadership and excited new members, the Sailing Club hopes to perform better each time they hit the water.
“It was a fun weekend. We definitely improved upon where we started,” Dietderich said.