Northwestern Sailing stays connected through virtual sailing

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Illustration by Carly Schulman

After their spring season was cancelled to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wildcats have turned to virtual sailing to keep their skills sharp.

Carly Schulman, Reporter

The Northwestern sailing team is used to having Lake Michigan as its practice facility, with a view of the Chicago skyline as its backdrop.

This spring, their practices look a little different.

On March 13, the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association (ICSA), which governs all college sailing competition in the United States and parts of Canada, canceled the remaining 2019-2020 season due to COVID-19. The Northwestern sailing team operates as a student-run club sport, but competes against both varsity and club teams across the country.

Last spring, the Wildcats finished as one of the top three teams in both the coed and women’s Midwestern Collegiate Sailing Association (MCSA) championships, qualifying for the ICSA national regattas.

Before the cancellation, co-captains Will Davies and Eva Bambakidis, both sophomores, said the team was looking for a chance to once again qualify for nationals and place among the top teams in the MCSA.

Despite the abrupt end to their spring, the captains have been finding alternative ways to stay connected after having their plans upended by the coronavirus.

The team has been using an online program called Virtual Regatta Inshore that allows sailors to practice from home and learn the basics of sailing. Instead of traveling across the Midwest to rival schools like Wisconsin and Michigan for regattas, team members are competing in the comfort of their own homes.

The captains host meetings over Zoom twice a week where members of the team can race together through the program. They have even been joined by sailors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Davies said the program has been a great way for the sailors to stay sharp off the water.

“Like any sport, if you’re not doing it every single day or doing it consistently… you become rusty and your skills become dull,” he said.

Bambakidis said one sailor in particular has taken a keen interest in these practices. Peter Spoerri, a first-year who had no sailing experience prior to joining the team, has participated in every single practice this spring. The team captains said they have really enjoyed watching him learn more about the sport.

“It’s been really fun to watch him not only get a better handle on the game, but also he’ll understand better the significance of being on the starting line, the rules of sailing and all the penalties that are incorporated into the game,” Bambakidis said.

Spoerri said despite having little sailing experience, he thinks these practices will help him once the team is able to resume in-person activities.

Aside from their success on the water, Davies, Bambakidis and Spoerri all agree that the most important part of the sailing team to them is the people. Staying connected as a community is a top priority for the team, and team members often stay on Zoom calls well after practice ends to catch up with their teammates across the world.

Looking to the future, the captains are hoping the ICSA will resume competition in the fall, and members of the team are anxiously awaiting the day they can reunite with their teammates on campus.

“I’m excited a little bit for the actual sailing aspect of it, but the people even more so,” Spoerri said.

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