Active Endeavors: Sailing at The Bay School

When you think high school sports, football is likely first in line. Maybe baseball surfaces, all-American and dusty, or basketball, sneakers screeching  across the court. Sailing just doesn’t scream “action” or “intensity” the way teen dramas ask their token sports to; really, sailing doesn’t seem to scream at all. The connotations of sailing tend toward dignified, often East Coast-soaked and designer-clad, sometimes verging on the pretentious. But sailing is no more stuffy than it is a rowdy cousin of football; as far as The Bay School sailing team can tell, the sport’s defining characteristics fall more in line with intellectual stimulation, community connection and constant improvement.

Thanks to its proximity to the wind-whipped inlet from which it takes its name, The Bay School is ideally positioned to foster a sailing team. Add a partnership with the Saint Francis Yacht Club, which supplies everything from boats to coaches, and you’ve got everything a sailing team could ask for. “Saint Francis Yacht Club is just right down the street,” Sammy ’15 says. “We walk down there after school, rig up our boats and sail right in the Bay.”

“The Bay School is one of the schools that’s most well set up in terms of having a sailing team like any other school sport,” Isabelle ’14 adds, citing the decision to fund sailing as an athletic team as well as the proximity to the Yacht Club. “We just walk down for practice every day,” she says, “It’s a really gorgeous walk through the Palace of Fine Arts.” It’s no surprise, then, that at 15 members, The Bay School’s team is the largest at the Yacht Club.

How did so many kids know they wanted to sail? Most members have a story – a tale of initial interest stemming from parent or guardian enthusiasm, childhood memories or later love of water. Isabelle tells of her car seat-bound introduction to sailing and Nolan ’15 relates his father’s long-time involvement with the sport (he was even a Commodore!), to name a few examples.

But not all positive associations with sailing are inherited. Everyone, it seems, has a different reason to love it; Isabelle cites the feeling of floating on water and Chloe ’16 likes, among other things, the fact that the team is coed. Sabrina ’14 appreciates the intellect involved: “I think it’s really interesting how you can use wind to travel and there are all these different little, little things that you learn over time about how you can better maneuver the boat just by … all these little things that are more advanced. I like that no matter how much you know – and think that you know – about the basics, you can still keep learning more and more and more.” Other reasons include connection with nature, the regatta competition structure and – most importantly – the community that develops among competitive sailors within and between high schools.

No matter how they become involved or what else they might like about the program or sport as a whole, everyone on the sailing team seems to agree on two points: that sailing is unlike other sports and that the sense of community is striking. Sammy says it simply: “I really like the community part of it. You meet kids from all over, and I know kids from all over now, which is a really cool aspect you don’t necessarily get with other sports.” Isabelle agrees, “Imagine your favorite hobby or something that you’re passionate about; you’re suddenly with 100 other people who all have that common ground. The fact that it’s more specialized makes the connection a little bit stronger, too.”

It isn’t just socializing with other teams that makes the regatta format uniquely social; traveling makes for good intra-team bonding time as well. “Because we travel together, we become really good friends,” Sabrina says. Whereas “the volleyball team goes to the East Bay,” Chloe adds, “we have a regatta coming up in Monterey and more in San Diego, so it’s sort of like a vacation with a team. It’s not just some 45-minute drive where you go, play the game and come back.”

But it turns out that the community that keeps so many sailors coming back for more doesn’t depend solely upon the travel schedule, either. The structure of a sailing race itself helps forge alliances among teammates: “You’re only sailing with maybe three people on the team at any given time because you have to practice for the regattas,” Sabrina says. “You have to build strong friendships and be good teammates with one or two people on the team so you have that chemistry while you’re sailing so there are things that you don’t need to say.” Isabelle adds that “the general attitude around sailing is more laid-back,” a trait that certainly doesn’t hurt the bonding aspect

Just because sailing seems to attract calm personalities doesn’t mean it’s easy, Isabelle stresses: “For non-sailors, there’s kind of this attitude of, ‘Sailing, oh, it’s relaxing.’ People kind of envision champagne and strawberries, but it’s hard work.” Between the upper-body strength needed to work all those ropes and the practice of using one’s body weight to balance and turn the boat, the sport is quite physically demanding. Some challenges require more strength than even the best-trained sailors can muster. “When we capsize – and because we’re sailing in the most consistently windy place on the entire West Coast, we capsize a lot – getting the boat back up and pulling yourself back in definitely requires some muscle. So, I’m working on that,” Isabelle says. “That little myth that it’s not a real sport?” she finishes, “let’s just squash that right now.”

Hard as it is, The Bay School sailing team has managed an unheard-of improvement in the past two years. “The team, two years ago, was in 56th place overall and last year we finished 20th overall,” says Nolan, who – along with Sammy and Keith ’15 – formed what was lightheartedly known as last year’s “Freshman Dream Team.” In fact, The Bay School was able to compete in the Pacific Coast Interscholastic Sailing Association’s Gold Fleet category, which is invitation-only and sends a contender to nationals each year.

Due to sailing’s gaining popularity at The Bay School, the team is able to be more selective, directing those with less sailing experience to the Yacht Club’s seven-Sunday learn-to-sail course and only bringing on members who are certain to be serious about the sport. “This is the first year where we’ve had things like try-outs,” Isabelle says. “We’re gauging people’s interest and their competitive ability. It’s really cool to finally have a core team of people who are committed to sailing and want to compete and want to do well.”

“The core of our team is sophomores and juniors now,” Sammy adds, “so the only place we can go is up.”

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