When many people think of sailing, they think of a leisure activity, effortlessly gliding along sandy coasts through aqua blue waters. But for about 50 Western New York teens, sailing is much more: an ultra-competitive team sport that would be described as anything but leisurely.
Starting Monday – depending on the weather and the ice melt – high school sailors will come to the Buffalo Yacht Club to practice sailing after school. The sailors are split into two sections: a Monday/Wednesday group and a Tuesday/Thursday group. On these days, the sailors practice technique on the water through a series of drills with coaches TJ Wright, Justin Hayes, RJ Buchard and head coach Andy Wright, an Amherst native.
“We usually will run about three different drills in a given day,” said Wright, 25, who has been sailing for 17 years. “Each drill has a purpose, pertaining to different parts of sailing, whether it’s boat-handling, tactics-related or mechanics.”
Sailing may seem easy to the layman’s eye, but it’s actually quite complicated and scientific. For instance, a boat cannot sail directly into the wind, so if a boat needs to get somewhere into the breeze, they must do so by zigzagging back and forth at a 45-degree angle.
Each boat carries two people, a skipper and a crew. The skipper is the “captain” of the boat, and is in charge of making key decisions throughout the race, such as where to pass the starting line at the beginning of the race. The crew helps the skipper with the equipment on the boat, such as managing the tiller, which helps to steer the boat. While the skipper may call the shots, the crew is also essential to the success of a boat.
On Fridays, both groups come together to conduct a series of races. One of the coaches sets the course – a buoy that the boats must go around and come back to the starting line, sometimes multiple times. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Since sailboats do not have engines, they rely entirely on the wind and their sails to move. The wind, the waves and the position of the other boats all come into play. Before each race, the crew and skipper consult with each other on which line is the fastest to take to give them the best chance of winning.
A sailboat race starts like this: The starter blows a whistle three times, to indicate the beginning of a three-minute start process. It is at this time that the boats begin to go in circles through the starting line and back. The point of this is so that the boats will have some momentum coming out of the start. The skipper and the crew communicate with each other when to turn around and when to go forward. A bad start can ruin a team’s chances of winning, especially if they are over the line when the final whistle goes off after three minutes, because if that is the case, the sailors of that boat have to turn it around and restart.
Sounds like fun?
Just ask Alyssa Vianese, a senior at Fredonia High School who has been sailing since she was 8 and racing sailboats for five years.
“This is my third year in the program,” she said. “I really like the coaching staff here. They’re very good and very knowledgeable. They are always willing to help, no matter what the problem is, whether it’s a boat issue, or a tactic, anything really.”
Think you’re too old to start sailing? Think again.
“Just go for it!” said Alyssa. “Sailing is a sport for anyone and everyone, and it’s a lifetime sport. If you really want to get into it, just come to the Yacht Club for the day and give it a try.”
Andy Wright said he agrees.
“Even if you don’t know anybody or know anything about sailing, and just want to give it a try, you should sign up,” he said. “Everyone here is really nice, and after a few days in the boat with a more experienced sailor, you’ll already start to understand all the science and technique behind it.”
For more information, call the Buffalo Yacht Club at 883-5900 or visit www.buffaloyachtclub.org.
Sean Wright is a junior at Clarence High School.