SAILING Come Sail Away National Champions, Campus Mystery By John-Paul Hezel Hoya Staff Writer

Tim Llewellyn/The Hoya Last year, Georgetown’s sailing team captured the school’s first national championship since 1984 to minimal fanfare.

When Georgetown students and faculty think of sailing, they may recall Dennis Conner (a sailor), Stars and Stripes (a boat) or the America’s Cup (a race). Or they may just think of a family member who owns a yacht or sailboat. But whatever sailing association enters their minds it is likely not that which deserves the most recognition, that which has its closest ties to the Hoyas – the national champion Georgetown University Sailing Team.

Over the past year, GUST has won Georgetown’s first National Championship since the 1984 basketball team and had six members selected as All-Americans, more than any other school in the nation. Since Coach Mike Callahan (SFS ’97) took the helm in the spring of 1999, Georgetown has had eight All-American selections, more than the six it earned in its previous 61 years combined.

GUST goes unnoticed by the majority of the Hoya community partly because it receives less media coverage than basketball, football, soccer and lacrosse, partly because most people have no knowledge of the sailing team’s existence and partly because often don’t recognize sailing as a legitimate, competitive sport.

The Sport

Collegiate sailing is one of the fastest growing sports in the nation, with more than 200 schools from around the country competing each year in fall and spring seasons. During the fall, the top teams on the East Coast compete in the Atlantic Coast Championships, while the best West Coast teams race in the North/South Championships. During the spring, the Intercollegiate Sailing Association, sailing’s equivalent to the NCAA, hosts three national championships – Women’s, Fleet Racing and Team Racing. No men’s class exists because of weight limitations. The ideal weight capacity for the two-person boats in which teams compete is a combined 260 pounds – it is difficult to find two healthy men with that weight total.

Team racing, dubbed “sailing’s highest art form,” pits three boats from one school againstink of sailing, they may recall Dennis Conner (a sailor), Stars and Stripes (a boat) or the America’s Cup (a race). Or they may just think of a family member who owns a yacht or sailboat. But whatever sailing association enters their minds it is likely not that which deserves the most recognition, that which has its closest ties to the Hoyas – the national champion Georgetown University Sailing Team.

Over the past year, GUST has won Georgetown’s first National Championship since the 1984 basketball team and had six members selected as All-Americans, more than any other school in the nation. Since Coach Mike Callahan (SFS ’97) took the helm in the spring of 1999, Georgetown has had eight All-American selections, more than the six it earned in its previous 61 years combined.

GUST goes unnoticed by the majority of the Hoya community partly because it receives less media coverage than basketball, football, soccer and lacrosse, partly because most people have no knowledge of the sailing team’s existence and partly because often don’t recognize sailing as a legitimate, competitive sport.

The Athlete

There exists a common misconception that sailors are not athletes, that they do not bear the same physical demands on the water as football players do on the turf or sprinters on the track. Yet the conditions under which sailors compete, from no wind to 50 miles per hour gusts, from 90 degree farenheit to zero degree weather, demand the same, if not more mental and physical preparation than competitors in other sports. Coach Callahan agrees.

“In sailing, you need to be in great shape just like any other sport,” he said. “You’re on the water in extreme conditions.”

According to Callahan, the worst sailing conditions are light air, where the wind can blow unexpectedly in any direction, and gales of 30 to 40 knots (34.6 to 46.1 mph).

“I made a speech last year to the athletic department [in which I said that] people think of sailing as sipping on cocktails in a big boat or watching a sailboat race as watching grass grow or paint dry,” Callahan said. “But when the wind gets going, it can be as physically grueling as any sport you can do. It’s difficult.”

All members of GUST played numerous sports in high school and most sailed. Yet experience on a boat is not a requirement for willing men and women to become sailors.

“If they’re willing to make the commitment, then we’ll take them as long as they have the athletic ability,” Callahan said.

The Hoyas practice every Tuesday through Friday for nearly three hours at the Washington Sailing Marina about one mile south of National Airport. The season extends from the end of August through mid-November and from the end of January through the beginning of June. They work out in the weight room two mornings a week for two hours, strengthening their stomach and leg muscles to keep the boat flat on the water and building their upper body to pull the sails in and out. They have one three- to five-mile team run per week, and they meet regularly for “chalk talks” in classrooms to go over set plays and strategy.

“Mentally, you need to be on top of your game,” Callahan said.

The Team

Last spring, Coach Callahan’s second at Georgetown, the members of GUST arrived on campus with only one goal – to win the coed National Championship in team racing, the most prestigious event in sailing. On June 5, 2001, they accomplished that goal on the Charles River in Boston, defeating Harvard for the Hoyas’ first title in their 63-year history, and ranking Georgetown among the elite sailing schools in the nation.

But GUST has not always been a powerhouse.

Sailing at Georgetown began in 1937 under the leadership of artin Quigley, a Georgetown alum and present supporter of GUST. The team became a varsity sport in the 1940s and became the first team at Georgetown to give a varsity letter to a woman, Kathleen “Skip” White of the nursing school, in 1955.

Tom Curtis, the only sailor inducted into the Georgetown athletics’ Hall of Fame, coached GUST through the 1960s, after which, save for the women’s team in the early 1970s, GUST disappeared into relative obscurity. Only in the past five years has the team has risen to its present status as one of the best teams.

Callahan, the Georgetown Athletic Department’s Coach of the Year for the past two years, credits the dedication, diligence and encouraging attitude of his players – for the Hoyas’ ascension into the national sailing limelight.

“In our sport, we probably get the least amount of funding,” Callahan said. “We could totally use that as an excuse, but we don’t do that.”

“We’ve built something from scratch .We decided we would treat ourselves as a varsity sport. We got to the point where we stopped trying to beat each other and [now we] support each other.”

The Hoyas entered the 2001 fall season No. 2 behind Harvard in Sailing World magazine’s national coaches poll and are poised to defend their championship. GUST returns three All-Americans, senior crew Leah Williams, senior skipper Brian Bissell and senior skipper and commodore, sailing’s equivalent of team captain, Ken Ward. Junior skipper Bryon Lamott captains the coed team, while junior skipper Elizabeth Sampson heads the women. Senior skipper Curtis Flood and senior crew Melanie Wood and Kat Pemberthy will make strong contributions. And the GUST sophomore class is the best in the country with Tyler Haskell, Thatcher Spring, Bill Jorch, Derek Webster and Eliza Ryan.

GUST graduated an average of three seniors per year from 1990 through 1998, but it graduated 10 seniors last year and expects to graduate 13 this coming spring. The students are staying with the program, and the results show.

“They’re believers in the system, they’re sticking with it, and that’s a big difference,” Callahan said. “It’s so much fun knowing every practice makes a difference, every weekend makes a difference, every morning in the weight room makes a difference . [And] winning makes it easier.”

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