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Sunset at the Detroit Yacht Club, where the sailing team placed fourth in the Sloop Cham­pi­onships. Courtesy | Patricia Marsh

Emily Marsh, a freshman from Annapolis, Maryland, has been sailing for as long as she can remember. In high school, Marsh was a member of her school’s com­pet­itive sailing team, and as soon as she came to campus, she joined Hillsdale’s sailing team. 

“I love sailing and I knew right away that I wanted to sail for Hillsdale,” Marsh said. “I was really excited to sail with stu­dents from the Hillsdale com­munity.”

Not all incoming freshmen, however, are as expe­ri­enced on the water as Marsh. The Hillsdale sailing team has become skilled at training brand new members who have never been on a boat before in helping them become com­pet­itive sailors who par­tic­ipate in national regattas. Although the club now has its own sail­boats, con­structive prac­tices, and 20 active members, it changed sig­nif­i­cantly to get to where it is now.

“The dif­ference between where we are now versus where we were when I joined is like night and day,” the team’s co-fleet captain and junior Maggie Ryland said of the sailing team. “When I first joined, we didn’t have boats. Now we do and we have the ability to practice, we have sailors who are willing to go to regattas and compete, and I just can’t believe that we have the potential to be a com­pet­itive team now. It’s really cool.” 

Ryland, who shares her position with sophomore Francis Luc­chetti, said one of the biggest obstacles in training new team­mates is helping the new sailors acquire a sense of famil­iarity with a sailboat. Before learning racing strategy and skills for winning com­pe­ti­tions, a sailor has to master how to move effec­tively on the boat, and, according to Ryland, this is the most chal­lenging skill for new sailors.

“We have to work on prac­tices because we have a lot of new­comers, but in the past we’ve done a lot of classroom ses­sions,” said Ryland. “We explained a lot about sailing the­o­ret­i­cally, like on a chalk­board, because we didn’t have boats.”

Ryland said that many stu­dents, espe­cially freshmen, join the team without any pre­vious sailing expe­rience, since it is not a requirement for joining the team. New members are encouraged to join since the team’s leaders have expe­rience in training new sailors and are eager to spread their love of the sport with any incoming team­mates.

“We really want new members who are com­mitted, which doesn’t mean having expe­rience but it means wanting to take it seri­ously,” Ryland said. 

Fur­thermore, Ryland believes that new members benefit by joining the sailing team since they can learn a new skill and have fun at the same time.

“I really like sailing, so I was thinking of joining the sailing club all of freshman year,” Carmelina Pestritto, a sophomore who joined the sailing team just this year, said. “Them saying that new sailors were welcome and that they could work with us made me want to try it.”

The team has sig­nif­i­cantly improved due to growth in resources and com­mitment from members, Ryland said. Members are more willing to put in the time that it takes to cul­tivate a great sailing team.

“The people who have lasted def­i­nitely commit more of their time, effort, and spirit,” she said.

Kaitlyn Rowland, the com­modore of the sailing team, also said that the sailing team has greatly improved from past years. Rowland is trained as an instructor and a sailing coach by the United States Sailing Asso­ci­ation, a national non­profit that oversees the sport throughout the country. From this training she learned how to coach sailors to be more com­pet­itive during races. Rowland also worked at a sailing school for eight years with people of all ages, an expe­rience she said con­tributed to her ability to help others hone their sailing skills. Rowland has even helped develop current team board members, who didn’t know how to sail before joining the Hillsdale team, into the sailors they are today. 

According to Rowland, who learned how to sail before she knew how to drive, the biggest chal­lenge for a new sailor is getting com­fortable with the move­ments involved in steering the boat.

“Getting actual sail­boats was a huge deal,” Rowland said. “We had an incredibly gen­erous donor donate them and they will improve prac­tices so much.” 

Since the largest chal­lenge for beginning sailors is getting com­fortable with the boat itself, she said, it was dif­ficult in prior years for new team­mates to develop the nec­essary famil­iarity. 

“We sail on Baw Beese Lake now that we have our own boats, and being able to hold prac­tices and teach sailors is going to be expo­nen­tially easier because of that,” she said. 

 In addition to more effective prac­tices and equipment, Rowland attributes the sailing team’s increasing success to their growing numbers. In the past, the sailing team was reg­is­tered as a club under the Student Fed­er­ation. Now the team is rec­og­nized as a club sport and is affil­iated with the Midwest Col­le­giate Sailing Asso­ci­ation.

“We have been actively recruiting a lot more, but getting MCSA affil­i­ation was a really big deal because we have nearly tripled our team size,” Rowland said.

Rowland hopes that new members can develop the same appre­ci­ation that she has for the sport. 

“I hope the freshmen get some sailing expe­rience, that they can gain some practice and some skill from us, and overall, I hope they just have fun.”