Sailing club pushes for new members after year of firsts

By Joe Katz

Too often, people make the mistake of thinking that academics and sports are mutually exclusive. For members of Chicago’s sailing club, their team is living proof that mental and physical exercise can go hand in hand.

“It’s like a chess game. You need to point the boat at the right place at the right time, and the more you’ve raced, and the more you’ve practiced, the better you’ll be.” third-year rising racing team captain Ben Gage said. “It’s about instincts. You don’t have to be that physically agile, so if you put in the necessary hours, anyone can be a good sailor.”

“Sailing is all about tactics and strategy, about precision and speed in maneuvers, and about carefully observing and feeling the wind, waves, and your own and other boats. It is one of the most cerebral of sports,” fourth-year outgoing commodore David Strubbe said.

After a season of firsts, team members are hoping the intellectual nature of their sport will help pull in more participants from the student body. Sailing has now been holding special instruction practices for beginners for a full year, and will be looking to bring in more newcomers in the fall. While the team has had 10 to 20 members in recent years, the officers want to be growing and developing more members of the racing team from within their own ranks.

“We’re hoping with this program to get people who haven’t sailed that much before to a pretty good level by their third or fourth year,” Cook said.

“I had never sailed before this summer. The people who had experience helped the beginners a lot, and were very patient,” PhD candidate Antonie Dvorakova said. “They take good care of you. I even got to race with Adrian at the last regatta, though I was more obstructing than helping.”

The team will increasingly rely on newcomers, who make up approximately half of the club’s membership, as three of the five people most likely to race for Chicago in the fall will be in their fourth year. Replacing the classes of 2005 and 2006 may not be easy for the club. Many of those who will graduate have been there since the team’s earliest days.

Chicago’s sailing club was first established in 1977, and has swung in and out of existence ever since. Matthew Wurtzebach, A.B. 2003, founded the most recent iteration in 2001. The group began racing in the Columbia Yacht Club (CYC) Frostbiting Series in the fall of 2002, and traveled to its first regatta in the spring of 2003. This young organization has taken several important steps over the 2004-2005 academic year, most notably moving from its tradition practice location at the Jackson Park Yacht Club to the CYC’s facility by Navy Pier for spring quarter.

The racing team practices twice a week during the fall and spring. With some aid from the yacht club, the club holds additional instructional clinics for beginners on Saturdays.

“Sailing is about practice and experience, more than anything else. To be a good sailor, you mainly just have to be smart,” Cook said.

The new practice facility was just one of the big steps the program took this year. Sailing made some waves on the competitive circuit, coming in 14th overall at the Nelson Roltsch Invitational in New Orleans in February in the team’s first ever regatta outside the Midwest. The team also grabbed second and third at the Southsider Regatta in May, their first home regatta since the club was refounded.

“Traveling to New Orleans, even though we didn’t place well, was a big step for our club. It was a good learning experience to compete against some great teams from other regions,” Strubbe said.

In the fall season, the Maroons came home second at the Last Call Regatta at IUPUI in October, scored a pair of eighth-place finishes at the Area West Qualifier at Wisconsin and at the Blow Harder Regatta at Northwestern in November, and had boats in seventh and 12th in the autumn frostbiting series. The team did some damage in the spring beyond the Southsider, as well, coming in 12th at the Wisconsin Three-Way in Madison and sixth at the FuJ regatta at the University of Iowa in April and holding down the ninth and 10th spots for the spring Series.

“Our goal is to finish respectably in the middle. Other teams we face train four times a week, and we’re not doing that much,” Gage said. “Particularly in the fall, because school starts earlier for them, we’re just getting our season started when they’re halfway done.”

With the team working off of a $2,600 budget, transit for the three to four hour trips to race sites and accommodations upon arrival are somewhat less than luxurious. Team members generally rely on each other for rides, and often find themselves sleeping on the floor for the duration of the weekend. Boats are provided for the team by the race organizers.

“If we can’t get a boat, we probably won’t go, which is one of the reasons we don’t go to more regattas,” Gage said. “It’s also a big commitment. You need sleep as a Chicago student, and you only get about six hours from Friday to Sunday at a race. There’s not many people willing to do that.”

However, team members rate the overall regatta experience highly.

“I joined the team because I wanted to see the Midwest,” Gage said. “It’s nice to meet people who go to state colleges and have that experience.”

“Traveling to the regattas has given me the chance as a native New Yorker to see a lot of places in the Midwest and meet a lot of interesting people,” Strubbe said. “The great opportunity to experience the lake has also been rewarding for me. There is nothing like sailing on a warm, sunny day in the spring, seeing other sailboats and tour boats cruising by, feeling the wind and water.”

Those interested in getting involved or general information should check the team’s website,