Unlike some other teams over at "Canoe U.," the Naval Academy's varsity offshore team has had a particularly fine year.
The team of midshipmen sailors has become a force to be reckoned with up and down the East Coast, and more of the same can be expected for the future.
They compete with four boats ranging from Morning Light, a Frers 48 and Cinnabar, a Sparkman & Stephens 49, to Thunderbolt and Fair American, a pair of New York 36es, as well as a group of four Navy 44s -- Flirt, Lively, Swift and Vigilant.
Looking back on the team's accomplishments, John Ahrens of Short Hills, N.J., the team captain and skipper of the Navy 44 Lively, observed, "There was a lot of desireon the team this year. We always had talent on the team, but this year there was a lot more focus and concentration."
In addition to fine coaching and lots of practice with the big boats, Ahrens gave credit for the team's strength -- which translates neatly across the board with all eight crews having scored impressively during the past year -- to the input from a structured J/24 program.
The program offers underclassmen valuable training on a smaller scale before first- and second-classmen are put in charge of offshore boats as skippers and executive officers (XO).
Many colleges and universities supportdinghy racing teams, and Navy is no exception. In fact, its dinghy team is one of the best collegiate racing programs in the nation, and routinely produces a number of All-Americans, Olympic candidates and national champions.
In terms of collegiate sailing, however, the difference between the academy and other schools is a result of the excellent offshore, or big-boat, opportunities for midshipmen who meet the rigorous qualification requirements to become part of this elite group.
Because the dinghy team competes primarily in a fairly closed
world against other collegiate teams, while their offshore counterparts compete against the rest of us, the offshore sailors are probably the most visible part of Navy's sailing program. They are awareof their visibility and serve capably as ambassadors of a sort, too,even though only a few outsiders are fully aware of what goes into making the Navy offshore team work.
Navy's offshore team members recognize and appreciate that they have unique opportunities for sailors in their age group and work hard to make sure they are well-qualified to handle those opportunities.
"Where else in four years can you go from grinding a winch to skippering? We all go through a broad spectrum of jobs on the boat to find out what we're good at," said Morning Light executive officer Tex Kelly of Annapolis. "And then there's the social interaction -- we practice pretty hard at that."
Theytrain extensively in the skills required to serve in every position from foredeck to afterguard on a competitive racing sailboat. And they also spend a lot of time learning and performing other duties associated with a serious racing campaign, as well as practicing valuable teamwork and leadership skills.
Maintenance and preparation are ultimately the responsibility of each boat's skipper and his crew. Evenduring the winter the midshipmen crews spend several afternoons eachweek attending to their boats and learning valuable repair and maintenance skills, in addition to studying rules, tactics and other aspects of sailing and racing.
"If you forget something, or something breaks or goes wrong, it's the skipper's fault," said Rob Schult of Severna Park, skipper of Fair American. "You don't just sail, you have to learn what goes into it."
In addition to taking part in numerous CBYRA-sanctioned races and regattas here on the bay, the teams are routinely away from the academy for several weeks each summer.
They participate in such events as the Newport to Bermuda Race, the Annapolis to Newport Race, the Marblehead to Halifax Race and the Storm Trysail Club's Block Island Race Week. These provide another importanttest of a skipper's and executive officer's leadership and organizational skills.
"You're gone for 10 weeks with a crew, and you're incharge of it," said Bo Hornbuckle of Rock Hall, S.C., skipper of Morning Light, as he reflected on the long-term maintenance, organization and preparation that is part of such an endeavor.
Asked to pick one of the many events in which the Navy offshore sailors did well in1991 as the most significant, team captain Ahrens barely hesitated as he mulled over the long list of his team's achievements. "The LloydPhoenix," he said, referring to the USSA National Offshore Championship regatta a couple of weeks ago at the academy.
In that regatta,Kyle Weaver's Thunderbolt team represented Navy and placed second against top-ranked civilian competition from across the nation.