Knot your average sport

Journal staff experience a day on the water with the Queen’s Sailing Team, one of the University’s best-kept secrets

Students try out for the Queen’s Sailing Team on Lake Ontario Thursday. The team recently purchased 10 new boats with the Kingston Yacht Club’s help.
Image by: Tyler Ball
Students try out for the Queen’s Sailing Team on Lake Ontario Thursday. The team recently purchased 10 new boats with the Kingston Yacht Club’s help.

Among the dizzying array of facts that bombard new students during frosh week, Kingston’s status as the freshwater sailing capital of the world is often overlooked.

But as Journal staff found out on the water during Queen’s Sailing Team tryouts, the team is doing its part to make the best of that reputation and can act as a draw for students interested in spending their out-of-class time on the water.

Recruitment co-ordinator Kate MacLennan, Law ’10, has been active with the team since she started her undergraduate degree at Queen’s in 2003. Last Thursday, MacLennan took the Journal for a spin in one of the team’s coaching boats—a hefty orange number that can reach higher speeds than its size would suggest.

Her passion for sailing became clear as she sped between the new Queen’s sailors, yelling advice.

“This is when we’re going to see who can actually sail,” she said as she prompted the sailors to line up for a race.

Tryouts were held during Frosh Week for the first time this year so the team can get as much time on the water as possible, she said. The majority of top sailing competition is found in the U.S., where most universities head back to school in late August.

MacLennan said the earlier start also encourages more first-year students to make time to sail.

“This way, people can’t use class as an excuse to not come,” she said. “It seems to have worked well,” she added, gesturing to the 20 new recruits vying for spots on the team.

MacLennan, the team’s first recruitment co-ordinator, said Kingston’s prominence in the sailing world leads many young sailors to attend Queen’s.

“That’s why I came. That’s why a lot of people come. We’re the only [sailing program] in Canada that does well in the States,” she said.

Greg Douglas, Sci ’12, is one student who came to Kingston for its waters. Douglas sailed for Barbados this summer at the Beijing Olympics, placing 30th.

“Just being in the [Olympic] village … that was breathtaking,” said Douglas, who was in Beijing for a month, training and sightseeing as well as racing.

At last week’s tryouts he sailed a 420—a boat designed for two sailors, a skipper and a crew— but he said he’s going to be sailing a Laser—a one-person boat, which he sailed in Beijing—for Queen’s.

“I’m a bit too heavy for the [420], so I’m not as good,” he said.

Douglas, who said his goal this year is to qualify for nationals in the U.S., has been coming to Kingston to sail for a number of years. But he said he also applied to Queen’s because of its academic reputation.

“I wanted to be an engineer and it’s one of the best programs, so I decided to come for that as well.”


Seth Whitmore, ArtSci ’09 and Queen’s Sailing Team president, said the team originally began in the early 1970s. But in the late ’70s, Whitmore said, interest faded

—partially because the team didn’t have any of its own boats—and wasn’t reignited until 1992.

At the time, the sailing team was an AMS club, receiving $2,500 yearly and unaffiliated with Queen’s Athletics. In 1995, Queen’s Athletics invited the sailors to become a club team and receive $5,000 every year, as well as rental cars for road trips. The following year—and ever since—the Queen’s Sailing Team has received $2,500 from Athletics and rentals aren’t always covered. Whitmore said because the Athletics Review just came out last year, the amount probably won’t change for the time being.

Since it put forward a motion for an opt-outable fee two years ago, the team has also received funding from students. Last year, the AMS fee brought in about $6,000, Whitmore said, most of which was used for rental cars and a membership at the Kingston Yacht Club (KYC).

He said the majority of funding comes from sailors past. The Queen’s Sailing Team has an account with the Office of Advancement to raise funds through alumni, for whom they’re hosting a regatta on Homecoming Weekend.

“If we can keep our alumni involved … that helps with that institutional memory,” Whitmore said. “The help that we’ve seen in the last few years has really been the money, but I hope that through more interaction we can get more support.”

With the financial support provided by alumni, the team was able to purchase 10 new 420 boats this year, which cost a total of $76,864.39, Whitmore said. 420s are designed for two sailors—a skipper, who controls the mainsail and steers the boat, and a crew, who controls the jib sail. The cost was split with KYC, who uses the boats for junior programs.

Whitmore said it took about a year and a half to raise money for the purchase.

Another expense for Queen’s sailors is regattas. While the team covers the cost of regatta fees, students have to pay for gas and food.

Last fall the team travelled to the Student Yachting World Cup in La Rochelle, France, where they placed ninth out of 15 universities.

The majority of the trip’s cost fell on sailing team members, who raised about $3,000 in total.

“Athletics didn’t have any more money for that,” Whitmore said, adding that the Athletics department was “on edge” last year and working with a limited budget because of the Athletics Review. “I guess we kind of understand where they’re coming from.”

He added that the sailing team went to France to represent not just Queen’s, but Canada.

“How many Queen’s teams have gone to a World Championship sanctioned by the international organizing body of the sport? I would venture we’re the only one,” Whitmore said in an e-mail to the Journal.

He said they’re still deciding whether another trip to France is in the cards this year.

“It’s going to be tight. Our airline sponsor who gave us tickets last year … just went out of business, so we’ll have to see,” he said.


Sitting down at KYC before last Friday’s tryout—which was postponed because of 25-knot wind speeds—sailing coach Vaughn Harrison said a number of students with a passion for sailing are drawn to Queen’s.

“It’s pretty simple—if they want to keep sailing—that Kingston tends to be the place,” he said. Sailors hear about Queen’s when they come to Kingston for regattas, such as the Canadian Olympic Regatta Kingston in the summer.

“They get to know the town a little bit and the waters,” he said.

Kingston is the highest-rated spot for sailing in Canada because of the thermal wind, created by different levels of heat-induced pressure over the lake and the city. The Kingston waters made their way to the world stage when sailing events for the 1976 Montreal Olympics were hosted here.

“The fact that Queen’s is in Kingston, that’s huge to attract the sailors,” he said.

Harrison, who has been coaching at Queen’s for two years, said new members of the team don’t necessarily need to have grown up in a sailboat—he’s looking for consistency and willingness to learn, more than anything.

“It comes down to just spending a lot of time in the boats,” he said.

Right now there are about 20 active sailors who practice and race with the team, and about 50 sailors who go out on the water when they have time.

“There are soon to be a lot more,” he said, adding that this year twice as many people as last year tried out for the team.

“This year is actually very impressive.”

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