Year in and year out, regatta after regatta, the Georgetown sailing team and its individual members excel in their conference competitions. In the six most significant yearly conference championships, the Hoyas regularly beat out the 53 other teams in the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association, etching Georgetown’s name in coveted trophies — in all but one event, that is.
“Last year, we won five of the six. Years past, we won five of the six. We’ve always been winning five out of six. The one we’ve never won is the women’s singlehanded,” Head Coach Michael Callahan said.
Since the MAISA Women’s Singlehanded Championship was established in 1994, sailors from seven different schools have earned the Faye Bennet Trophy, awarded to the winner of the championship. Not one of those sailors has been a Georgetown student-athlete — until this year.
On a windy weekend in late September, one Hoya blew past her competition in eight races. After sailing off from Benby Beach in Annapolis, Md., she beat her competitors by more than one minute in some races and entered her name into Georgetown history as the university’s first-ever winner of the MAISA Singlehanded Championship.
And she did it all before she had been a student at Georgetown for one entire month.
Freshman Haddon Hughes is one of the newest members of the sailing team, but she is quickly making her mark on the program. A world champion before coming to Georgetown, Hughes also competes on the U.S. Sailing Development Team, the pathway for young sailors to join the U.S. Olympic team.
Hughes’ experience with sailing began when she was a 9-year-old in Houston and started sailing with her local yacht club. Hughes met Olympic Sailing Coach Allan Coutts not long after. Coutts has coached Hughes over a nine-year span and has been through some of Hughes’ toughest regattas, but he considers their introduction to be the most memorable moment he has had as her coach.
“For me, the most memorable is the day I met her; she was only nine at the time and the confidence and enthusiasm she showed that day will always be a lasting memory,” Coutts wrote in an email.
Though Hughes liked sailing when she tried it, she briefly walked away from the sport.
“I actually quit for a year because my dad would always go out on the water, and I’m super stubborn so I was like, ‘No, I’m not sailing anymore,’” Hughes said.
But even then, Hughes’ competitive spirit could not keep her away from sailing for too long.
“Then my brother started doing really well, I was like, ‘Oh, well.’ I’m always competitive with my brother,” Hughes said.
Since her return to the sport, Hughes hasn’t looked back and has continually pursued the best competition she could find. Hughes’ first boat was the Optimist, a singlehanded boat for sailors 15 years old and younger. With that boat, Hughes began travelling across the globe, beginning with a trip to England when she was 11. Even though her first international competition was a qualifying time trial that Hughes said was “probably the lowest for what you could qualify,” Hughes said it sparked a lifelong passion to pursue sailing.
“It really opened my eyes to what sailing could be and how international the sport was, and at such a young age, too,” Hughes said. “I didn’t necessarily know how high my dreams would become, but I really liked the competitive aspect to it.”
At 14 years old, Hughes transitioned from the Optimist to the Laser 4.7, part of a class of boats that would allow Hughes to continue competing at the highest level of sailing. After racing the Laser 4.7 for a brief time, Hughes moved up to the Laser Radial, an Olympic-class boat that Hughes still races today.
Hughes’ success with the Laser Radial brought her to Cyprus for the International Sailing Federation Youth Sailing Championship for the first time in the summer of 2013. Hughes finished in fifth place in the competition and would place second one year later, but competing in her first ISAF world championship made it Hughes’ favorite event she has ever competed in.
“That was probably the highest-level regatta that I’d ever been to and really experienced and it was like what people will tell you, that Youth Worlds is a miniature Olympics in a way,” Hughes said. “It gave me the feeling like, ‘Wow, I want to pursue this to the highest level.’”
Ryan Minth, principal at C-vane sailing and Hughes’ Laser Radial sailing coach for two years, mentioned Hughes’ win at the 2014 Orange Bowl International Youth Regatta as one of Hughes’ best performances.
“It was that regatta where I mentioned to some of the U.S. sailing leadership that Haddon makes her boat go through the water extremely well and makes great racing decisions, and those are two incredibly important qualities to have,” Minth said.
Now at Georgetown, Hughes spends most of her practices working on women’s doublehanded sailing, the type of competition that will dominate Georgetown’s spring season. Though Hughes did not begin working on doublehanded sailing until arriving at Georgetown, the process of learning how to work with another sailor and the technicalities of a new boat has been a positive process for the freshman.
“Haddon is clearly good at sailing — really good at sailing — so it hasn’t been a hard transition for her at all,” Callahan said.
At the moment, Hughes has her mind set on the ICSA Women’s Singlehanded Championship, the national competition for collegiate sailors Nov. 8. The closest Georgetown has ever come to winning the event happened last year when then-freshman Lola Bushnell took fifth place in the competition.
With Hughes and Bushnell both bound for the national competition this year, Georgetown will havea huge opportunity to claim a national title in women’s singlehanded sailing. And with Hughes on its side, Georgetown might have its best chance yet.
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