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.”