Team sails into ninth

Queen’s sailing team adapt to new, bigger boats at world championships in France

Members of the Queen’s sailing team race in France. The team finished ninth overall.
Members of the Queen’s sailing team race in France. The team finished ninth overall.

Many Queen’s varsity teams have accomplished great things so far this term, but none have travelled as far as the sailing team.

Ten sailing team members sacrificed two-and-a-half weeks of classes and put in weeks of training to represent Canada at the Student Yachting World Cup.

The regatta took place from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3 in La Rochelle, France.

Fifteen universities from around the world competed in the event with Queen’s finishing an impressive ninth place overall, ahead of the Italian, French, Welsh, Slovenian and Japanese teams.

Switzerland won the regatta.

The Queen’s sailing team usually sails in 10-foot dinghies, which are one-person vessels, but for this event they had to adapt to 32-foot keelboat sailing.

Skipper Dirk McLaughlin said the adjustment wasn’t easy.

“Expectations weren’t too high going in, because we were very inexperienced on the boats that we were sailing,” he said. “The first day we had a bit of trouble, but we learned from our mistakes and steadily improved throughout the competition.”

McLaughlin said the team needed to learn how to communicate with other people, which isn’t necessary when sailing in dinghies.

“It’s a lot different; most of us are single-handed sailors, which means we sail alone in a one-sail boat,” he said. “The tactician Ethan [Holtzer] would be calling stuff and sometimes I’d argue with him, but he has the final say. We ended up trusting him more and more towards the end.”

The Queen’s team was originally supposed to face Guelph to determine who would represent Canada, but the Gryphons withdrew, leaving Queen’s as the lone team prepared to compete.

Many academic adjustments had to be made due to the two and a half weeks of class the 10 athletes missed.

“I’m still dealing with the repercussions right now. I had two mid-terms cancelled and marks displaced elsewhere,” he said. “A lot of people had to do essays during the trip which was difficult.”

Sailing team president Seth Whitmore, who acted as a proctor for a teammate’s exam while overseas, said most of his professors were very understanding.

“Four of my professors were accommodating, but one wasn’t,” he said. “Unless the University has a policy on something like this you’re going to have a situation where a prof can refuse to help.”

Whitmore said the team gets $2,500 a year from the University as a competitive club, but received no extra funding for its trip. Instead, they relied on corporate and private donations from companies such as Zoom Air and Virgin Mobile, but also had to pay a lot themselves.

“The vast majority of it came from our own pockets,” Whitmore said.

Tactician Ethan Holtzer, who already has a plethora of international sailing experience, said the trip was worthwhile.

“People didn’t have international experience and it was really cool to meet people from different countries. It was a really good experience.”

Holtzer said the fourth race of the regatta was a highlight.

“The wind was 25-30 knots, and we were going downwind. People were flipping over and we finished sixth, which was our best result yet.”

Surprised at their own success, the sailing team is eager to return and improve on their ninth-place finish next year.

Holtzer said more planning would be required for a return trip.

“ I think it’s a great thing and I think we should make it annual, but also just stress the need for us planning really far ahead,” he said. “There could have been better planning for more financial help that we could have gotten.”

Holtzer added that he was disappointed in the lack of exposure at the University.

“We were representing Queen’s every single day. Coming into the harbor, there would be hundreds of people watching us flying the Queen’s flag and the Canadian flag. Queen’s got a lot of advertising. Hopefully next year people will be more behind us.”

Holtzer said the team has a great future in international sailing.

“The potential is there for us to do a lot better,” he said.

“We see a top-five or a top-three finish as a legitimate possibility.”

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