Friday, May 16, 2014

College Sailing On Cloud 9!

Fun Racing J/80s In EDHEC Regatta
(Les Sables-d’Olonne, France)- The Course Croisiére EDHEC Sailing Cup is the biggest intercollegiate offshore regatta in the world, with the 46th edition in Les Sables-d’Olonne, France having just completed all their events over the long April 25 – May 3 week.

Making the trip from USA was University of Chicago, Drexel University, Tufts (2 teams) and Georgetown. Andrew Mason on the Georgetown University team provided this report on the event:

“Even the casual reader of Scuttlebutt is aware of two topics endlessly debated on this newsletter: 1) “how do we build interest in sailing for the Xbox generation?” and 2) “how do we make college sailing in the United States simultaneously more competitive and more inclusive?” After a week at the 46th Course Croisiére EDHEC, there is perspective to be gained by looking across the pond at a college sailing model that is completely foreign to our own.

J/80 sailing EDHEC off FranceAfter winning the Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta at Larchmont Yacht Club this fall, a team representing Georgetown received a waived entry fee to compete at the CCE. From April 26th to May 3rd over 1,500 sailors primarily from France, but including teams from Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Poland, Belgium, Spain, Norway, the United States and Canada descended on Les Sables d’Olonne, of Vendee Globe Fame. Unlike our typical two day college sailing events, which by design are done with easy preparation by the host school and conducted over multiple venues for nearly a dozen weekends each semester, CC EDHEC brings 180 boats across three one design classes, J80s, Longtze boats and Grand Surprises, and three handicap divisions.

Like in the United States, the range of professionalism amongst the French teams at CC EDHEC varies. Stateside, big-name sailing schools like Georgetown, Tufts and College of Charleston enjoy a good deal of support from the university. Sailors at the top US programs follow a regiment akin to other varsity athletes and annual team budgets are well into the six figures. The top sailors will often go five or six regattas in a row without a weekend off. Obviously, this institutionalization and support varies across conferences and even across sub-sectors within conferences.

On the French side, the top teams are flashing corporate sponsors on their sleek jackets and new sails from the likes of KPMG, Total, Sopra Group and Altran. Meanwhile other teams were groups of friends with varying levels of sailing experience looking for competitive racing, a vibrant atmosphere and a roof-blowing party. After seven days, I think all of those bases were more than covered.

In my college sailing experience, when the races end, the event is usually over for the day. Because of the team-centered dynamic of college sailing, the institutional structures that surround college athletics and the mountain of studying that must get done after a long day on the water, the enjoyment of camaraderie amongst competitors often feels somewhat lost.

Of course much of this is for good and obvious reasons; athletic departments and universities must avoid the potential liability nightmare college partying entails. For better or worse, the simple post-race drink you buy a competitor that you “think” you crossed on port in Race 3A cannot exist.

college sailing in FranceOn the water, Les Sables d’Olonne delivered with the conditions and the race committee was not hesitant to push competitors’ limits. Four of the six racing days saw breeze in the high teens to mid twenties coupled with huge, hull battering swells. The Grand Surprise and J80 fleets counted almost 40 entries apiece making for big starting lines, crowded mark roundings and some spectacular spinnaker ripping, fiber glass cracking, mast breaking, carnage. Having never sailed a J80 before the first race, our entire team was pushed to keep the boat in one piece and sailing fast.

After adrenaline filled, exhausting days on the water, après sailing takes on a whole meaning dockside. As the sails come down for the day, the regatta village, complete with sponsor tents, food tasting, full bar, sun deck, video screen and a beach volleyball court, bursts to life. Short of the America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race stopovers, such an elaborate village has never been erected for a sailing event on American soil.

After the 9pm sunset, the après sailing in foulies migrates to an adjacent huge nightlife tent dedicated specifically for concerts featuring some DJ the average Scuttlebutt reader will never know. These dance parties stretch until the morning hours making several snoozes on the 6:30am iPhone alarm par for the course throughout the week. The morning after the opening party, I sheepishly asked one of the organizers from EDHEC Business School if there would be another party that night. In an accent that makes American knees melt for French girls she perplexedly replied, “of course there is- why wouldn’t there be a party every night?”

The Lollapalooza atmosphere meets intense conditions and competitive fleets of the CC EDHEC meant we were hammer down for a week straight. Our “Xbox generation” hates sitting idly and feeling our time is being wasted more than anything else. Unfortunately, in a sport where we are at the mercy of the wind gods our ADD is constantly tested. However, when we are full plane, kite reaching to the finish in 20+ knots or dancing until 2am our video games, Facebook profiles, and whatever else do not exist. We dialed in during racing and were able to decompress as college kids once the day was over.

Obviously American college sailing has its dozens of pluses and there are some pretty insurmountable hurdles for this CC EDHEC model to be adopted en-masse here. Would schools be able to sponsor varsity or even club teams if there is a party-type atmosphere associated with the event? Would college sailors be more eager to participate in fewer, larger events during long weekends and school breaks, instead of the current 12 to 18 boat, two-day, dinghy-focused events? Would incorporating more keelboat racing encourage or discourage people to join college sailing teams?

At the end of the day, if we were to take CC EDHEC as a model, we have to ask: would it keep more college aged kids interested and engaged in sailing both while in college and post-college? All the endless debate about keeping people in the sport always boils down to one word: fun. I am in no position of authority to say what should or should not be adapted from this model to our own college sailing system, but all I know is we sure had a freaking blast experiencing how the French do college sailing.  The Georgetown University team finished 6th of 38 boats in the J/80 fleet.”

Here’s the report from Tufts University coach Ken Legler, leader of the Jumbo’s Sailing Team:  “Bonjour!  For the 14 Tufts seniors, one coach and one dad, the EDHEC Sailing Cup surpassed all expectations.  The wind and waves, the boats and competition, the hospitality and accommodations, the life-long friendships and lessons were all incredible.

Saturday, April 26: Boat prep as Tufts team trickles in including three that just completed the Boston Marathon.
Sunday, April 27: Training day blown out.  Even the regatta village is evacuated for fear of tents blowing over, and there were more than 60 tents.  A good day to study.

Monday: Morning postponement for waves to subside, one afternoon race for each class.  Our one-design circle has three classes; a professionally laden 40-boat GS-32 fleet, a nearly all student 38-boat J-80 fleet, and a mostly student fleet of ten Longtzes.  Tufts enters both a GS-32 and a J/80 and Georgetown and Chicago are also in J-80s.

J/80s sailing EDHECTuesday: More wind and waves. Tufts Will Haeger in the GS-32 aces one start and team makes only a few errors to get on track. Georgetown's men, skippered by John Labossiere, also finds a good pace in the J-80.  Tufts J-80, four women and a guy, are still a bit nervous in the 1-3 meter seas but finish steady mid-fleet.  Somehow they avoid collisions all around them; mostly by targeting a one or two-length overstand at every weather mark.  Drexel and Chicago have less experience but show great seamanship and sportsmanship finishing every race despite minor breakdowns.

Wednesday: the light air day, 8 knots building to 13, still pretty lumpy.  It's the North Atlantic in April.  Haeger aces two more starts before the pros take the pin away and with minor mistakes, Tufts posts a 2-4-13 on the day.

Thursday, May Day in France:  J-80s keep racing on W-2's.  GS-32s and IRC Handicap fleet sail a long coastal race.

Friday: Tufts GS-32 team gets another 6th but gets holed and misses two races.  Georgetown continues to sail well finishing in top ten almost every race in the J/80s.  Tufts gets redress to finish 6th, as does G'town in J/80’s.

Saturday, the finals:  Fifteen finalists get to compete in the "GANT" (nice apparel company) final, with top competitors selected from each of six classes.  Switzerland, the top student and top international boat, opts for the GANT final, along with slick corporate boats Altran, KPMG and Total, all with pro skippers.  In the end, the pro’s dominate.  No matter, this is not a championship but one of the greatest regatta experiences these college seniors will ever have.

Some numbers: the 46th annual regatta is run by college students, except FFV supplies the race officials.  175 boats; 88 one-design on the outer circle, 87 on the handicap circle closer to shore.  Nearly 1,600 sailors from 22 nations and another pile of students playing games ashore.  Yes, there were parties with world class bands, an Old El Paso Mexican dinner, and a big marque with lots of flashy lights and electronica music.  Each team also got a full shopping cart of pasta and other "necessities."  Use your imagination.

The regatta village was amazing and the excitement was at a fever pitch throughout.  Tremendous thanks to the EDHEC team, particularly Thomas Gazeau, and our hosts in the international tent, Nicholas, Marion, Charlotte and Maille.  This was one regatta none of us will soon forget.”  Thanks for contributions from Tufts (Ken Leger) and  Georgetown (Andrew Mason) and Scuttlebutt Sailing News.  For more CC EDHEC Sailing information