Queen’s sailing team cruises to world championship victory

Keelboat team places first overall in French regatta 

Queen’s is the first Canadian team in history to win the Student Yachting World Cup.
Queen’s is the first Canadian team in history to win the Student Yachting World Cup.
Credit: 
Photo supplied by Queen's Sailing

If you aren’t first, you’re either last, or in the case of Queen’s sailing team, you’re the first Canadian team in history to win the Student Yachting World Cup.

In November of this year, the world cup was hosted in La Rochelle, France, with Queen’s chosen to represent team Canada to compete against seven other teams from around the world, coming home with the country’s first championship in 36 years of competing.

In this installment of the race, eight teams took part in six races throughout the week, pushing themselves to achieve gold after almost a year of preparation. After their first five races, Queen’s was sitting in first place of standings, three points ahead of the closest contender. Queen’s had to come in at least fourth in the final race to maintain their overall lead. 

“There are so many events you come away from and there will always be a ‘what if I’d done this instead’ or ‘what if I’d done better,’” Sam Thompson, Sci ’17, said.  “But we walked away from this event saying we couldn’t have done better. That sort of relief is a weight off your shoulders.”

The eight-person team practiced for over a year and focused the entire semester’s training schedule on keelboats —  a weight slung under the boat that is used to leverage against the force exerted on the sails, to propel the boat forward— to prepare for the regatta. 

Daniel Sheedy, ArtSci ’16, remembers at a team meeting prior to travelling to France where they worried about not meeting the regatta’s weight requirements. If they went over, a team member had to be cut — a huge handicap for the eight-person crew. 

The team adopted a no salt, low carb diet for a week alongside 24 hours of dehydration. The night before the weigh-in, the teams’ boys turned the hotel’s bathroom into a makeshift sauna for a two hour sweat-down. 

They met the 1190-pound weight requirement, by 17 pounds. 

But outside of a tour of Paris, the sailors met steep competition and rough conditions.

The team’s endurance was challenged further as the races progressed, with each one lasting over an hour.  After spending time practicing on Lake Ontario, changing to ocean conditions was a major shift. While there are bigger gust of winds on a lake, the ocean brings high waves. One of the races took place over the course of three hours and 18 nautical miles — at night.  

To cope, every turn of the boat required all hands on deck to work in unison and develop their communication as sailors. 

The team’s endurance proved pivotal in the coastal races, as well as the ongoing pressure of the five days. Nonetheless, Queen’s established a lead over the first four days. But on the final day’s last race, the sailors missed the race’s first wind shift — causing the boat to lose momentum.

Sheedy described the tension in race’s final moments when the team was just outside of the spot they needed — sailing in fifth place. 

“After all those hours, it came to the last race,” he said, describing how their boat gained ground on fourth place. “It was the second last leg of the last race and we passed the boat we needed to pass.”

The team made it into fourth, clinching the championship by one point. 

“Everyone stayed positive — very stressed — but positive,” Thompson said as he attributed much of the success to endurance and teamwork. 

Team America, represented by the California Maritime Academy, finished behind Queen’s by one lone point. 

The moment vindicated over four years of cooperation and training for Sheedy and Thompson. Since they began at Queen’s on the Sailing Dinghy team — a novice level of racing with only three people in the boat — in their first year, they eventually transferred as teammates to the keelboats that landed their championship.

Thompson noted that the training went far beyond the keelboat team representing Canada in France.

“This effort wasn’t just the eight of us,” he said. “There’s 45 members on the whole Queen’s Sailing team. Everyone’s involved, everyone’s working and training together, whether it’s in the gym or on the water.”

Both Thompson and Sheedy agreed that the win was a testament of Queen’s Sailing’s growth and support from around campus. Since they’ve returned, the sailors have been flooded with congratulations on social media and on the street.

But it’s all just a continuation of the race’s final moments off the French coast.

“Crossing the finish line with the team was probably one of the best moments of my whole life. It was just one of the most rewarding, most fulfilling things,” Sheedy said, adding that there were plenty of tears as the close-knit crew received their trophy. 

Queen’s Sailing plans to defend the title next year.

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