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Conversations within the sport of sailing - Zack Leonard

It is often said how sailing is unique as a sport, where the opportunity is readiliy available to compete against the very best in the sport. Occassionally we get the chance to chat with them too.

Zack Leonard
(June 8, 2009) In the realm of college racing, nothing screams “good season” like winning the Fowle Trophy, which is awarded to the school with the best overall performance in the six National Championships: Men's Singlehandeds, Women's Singlehandeds, Sloops, Women's Dinghies, Team Race, and Coed Dinghies.

The winner of the award for the 2008-2009 season was Yale University, which last week completed the spring nationals where they won the Women’s Dinghy, were fourth in Team Racing, and were second in the Coed Dinghy.

The conditions were pretty snotty for the Women’s and Coed Dinghies, with the San Francisco site serving up its typical summer brew of big winds and current, and during the ebb tide, chunky waves too (see photos). To be successful, the combined points total by the A and B Division teams in each event would be vital, with each division sailing 14 races in the Women’s and 18 races in the Coed’s. Scuttlebutt checked in with Yale coach Zack Leonard following the event to get some insight:

  • What other venues compare with the Women’s and Coed courses?

  • Racing off the breakwater from St Francis Yacht Club was not too different from our home site at Yale and others like Kings Point, Charleston, and possibly Navy or Brown on the right day.

  • How much background did you do to understand the big currents?

  • I've sailed there before in I-14s, so I've seen what it can be like, plus we sail in Charleston a bunch where current is strong, so we didn't do too much scouting. The courses in college are so short that macro knowledge can sometimes mess you up. The factors affecting our course were so obvious that it really came down to execution.

  • What strengths did the course and conditions play to?

  • This was an event that was dominated by the bigger skippers, so for the smaller skippers like Coed B Division skipper Joe Morris, they had to sail really smart to keep up. The College Flying Junior in waves and breeze doesn't like the combination of small skipper-bigger crew as much as big skipper-smaller crew. That said, their speed was fine until it got really windy at the end, when they weren't quite big enough. We had a tremendously talented crew in B division who worked so hard, but they got a little out of their wind range at the end. St. Mary's really had a good combo for that wind in B division so you have to give them credit too.

  • Both events were close up to the end, with the Women’s finishing with two A division races and the Coed’s closing with two B division races. Can you describe how you and your team handled these final races?

  • In the women's event we were enough points down that we needed to have a great race and count on a mistake from the other teams, which lucky for us happened so that one didn't require a lot of thinking. Then after we gained the small lead going into the last race, there were three teams very close so we just needed for Jane Macky to sail the best race possible and try to win, which she did (Note: Senior Jane Macky was honored as the Quantum Women's Sailor of the Year). For the Co-ed event, we needed to start so that we would be ahead the first time the two teams crossed. This didn't happen for a bunch of reasons, but really speed was the largest reason as it had gotten a bit too windy for Joe (Morris) and Mike (Hession).

  • Yale is a tough school to get into. How does that affect your recruiting?

  • The pool of sailors that are academically strong enough to get into Yale is small, but in a sport like sailing, there are a fair number of strong students which makes it easier than it might be in some other sports. The flip side is that Yale has so much to offer that once someone comes to visit the University and sees the tremendous opportunities that it can provide, they are usually really excited about it.

  • How does the team look for next season?

  • With skippers Jane Macky (A Division) and Kate Hagemann (B Division) graduated, we will have some new faces on the Women's team. We are lucky to still have Sarah Lihan coming back and we have some strong girls coming up so I think we will be competitive again. On the Coed side we will have the same skippers (Thomas Barrows and Joe Morrie) back next year but we will no longer have two of our best crews, Grace Becton and Adriane Levin, who will have graduated.

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