With the Fairfield University Sailing Club, students experience the elements in a way they won’t find on campus.

With the Fairfield University Sailing Club, students experience  the elements in a way they won’t find on campus.

In the last weeks of autumn just before finals, it’s not uncommon to see students burning off tension at the RecPlex, or sipping coffee to bolster themselves for late evenings of study. Meanwhile, the Fairfield University Sailing Team finds respite from the semester’s stress on the water.

Usually the team practices in the afternoon four days a week; however, on one special November evening they prep their boats to launch for a nighttime sail – an end-of-semester tradition like Midnight Breakfast or the University’s holiday tree lighting, except you won’t find it anywhere on campus.

They sail their boats in a protected inlet not far from the University, with lights on the rigging so they can see their sails. Then, beneath the darkening sky, they take in a view like this: a quiet cove; their rocking boats; the blue herons, deer and foxes they might spy on the shore; the glow of the sails from other boats slicing up into the night.

“It’s therapeutic,” said Ryan Carlucci ’18, the team’s secretary, “to take a break from school and be out on the water for a couple hours a day.”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” added Dave White, the team’s volunteer coach. “They love getting out there with nature. It’s healthy. It’s freedom.”

Of course, there’s more to the sport than relaxation and the view. Lillian Vincens ’19, the team’s captain, said, “I’ve learned leadership skills that without sailing I wouldn’t have. Sailing’s allowed me to use my weekends to explore the waterways of New England.”

Then there’s racing: From September to Thanksgiving and from March to April, the team’s 20 men and women use their Flying Junior dinghies, Lasers, Hobie catamaran, small keel Ynglings and five powerboats to prepare for regattas up and down the region.

Some of those include Fordham University’s Jesuit Open on Long Island Sound, in which the Fairfield team is one of only two from New England. Throughout the season, they go head to head with top tier programs from Ivy League schools, Olympics-qualifying athletes and collegiate teams from around the world.

The accompanying challenge and excitement are as personal as they are physical. “You have to believe in the decisions you’re making,” Lillian said. “Everybody makes mistakes on the course, but you can’t let it affect your ability to trust your intuition.” Just like the wind is always changing on the water, “you always have to leave the last race behind and use a completely new strategy.”

And speaking of wind, the sailors also have to keep in mind that sailing is completely variable based on what the wind decides to do any given day or hour. “On high wind days,” Ryan said, “sailors are challenged to keep themselves cool and collected in high-pressure situations where scores of other sailors are speeding in close quarters. On low wind days, you have to be patient, think ahead, calculate every move made in the boat.”

But then, in the blink of an eye, the race is done. What then? Ryan said, “Once the race is over, and often during the races, everyone is friendly. There’s a lot of camaraderie between sailors, even off the team.”

It’s that camaraderie that has helped Fairfield’s team thrive in recent years. Founded in the 1970s, the sailing team — one of 25 club sports on campus — went dormant in the 1990s until Coach White reinvented it in 2011 as a team that would practice jointly with sailors from Sacred Heart University. Since then, the two groups have continued to sail against each other, but on special occasions have also joined forces. In fall 2013, the Fairfield and SHU teams banded together to sail a Tripp 37 at the Storm Trysail Foundation’s Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta at Larchmont Harbor, the largest intercollegiate regatta in the world. Some boats sustained shredded headsails and faulty equipment in the day’s rough weather, but the allied teams worked in tandem and emerged unscathed.

Dave said they also build new relationships by co-sponsoring events like the Catholic Cup, an eastern seaboard regatta for high school sailors. “It’s a form of friendly outreach,” he said, “but it also puts Fairfield on the map for potential students who are serious
about the sport.”

Sailing — the unpredictable winds, the changing tides, the prospect of the open sea not so far away — helps give these students perspective on the demands of everyday life. For everyone on the team, White said, sailing at Fairfield “opens up the world for them.” ●F