With fourth-place finish, sailors cruise to Nationals

by Jon Kling | 5/10/05 5:00am

The Big Green dynasty that is the Dartmouth sailing team once again stood up to snuff and defended its name this weekend against 18 other teams in the 64th annual New England Dingy Championships.

The sailors pulled together a last minute rally through 25 knot winds and rain to grab fourth place overall and the last qualifying spot to Nationals by just a single point.

As you may have noticed, the weather this weekend was not what most of us would call pleasant. However, it is in the heavy winds and rain that the Dartmouth sailors tend to show their grit, steeled by weeks of practice on Lake Mascoma, sailing in drysuits and navigating around the still-frozen ice, desperate for tiller-time. (That's "wheel time" for you land-lovers -- the tiller is the steering stick for racing dingies.)

The race committee at Yale was greeted with gusts up to 30 knots and had to postpone racing after just one race Saturday morning, after the A-division boats sustained significant damage in the unrelenting wind. Racing started up again at 3:30 that afternoon, and all the sailors did not get off the water until 7:30 that evening, de-rigging their boats in the fading twilight. At the end of Saturday with only eight races completed, Erik Storck '07 and his crew Jimmy Attridge '07 were winning A-division by one point over Boston College, and Peter Fleming '05 and crew Todd Whitehead '06 were in eighth place in B-division, just behind Boston College. Overall Dartmouth was in fifth place, psyched to get back on the water Sunday, as only the top four teams qualify for Nationals.

Typically, crew weight is a large factor in boat performance. No matter how skilled a crew, a boat will not go fast if it is really heavy. However this applies mostly to regattas in light air.

In heavy breezes, like this weekend, the skill of the crew and coordination with its skipper is a much larger factor in winning races. Only the best crew skipper teams can keep a small boat under control in merciless winds.

It is no surprise then that the team of Storck and Attridge, who were both named to the All-New England Team this weekend, flat out won five of their 10 races this weekend, never finishing below fourth place in any one race! This dynamic duo and All-American hopefuls crushed the competition, winning A-division by a spectacular 30 points.

This huge margin stands out all the more in contrast to the close point-by-point competition on Sunday. Through the first 10 of the 12 additional races sailed on Sunday, no team emerged as clearly dominating the regatta. With just one more race in each division, the top six teams were separated by only 20 points and were vying for the fourth place finish -- a ticket to Nationals was within six points.

Such margins seem tiny compared to the separation already achieved in A-division by Storck and Attridge. However, it is important to remember that in two races a team can score anywhere from two points to 36 points.

As the teams stacked up with two more races to go, Brown (86 points), Harvard (93 points), Boston College (97 points), Yale (101 points), Dartmouth (102 points) and M.I.T. (107 points), the regatta and all national qualifying spots were still up for grabs.

With this in mind, teams rallied in the last minute with a whirl of effort and boosted energy. Of the top six teams just mentioned, Boston College and M.I.T. cracked under the pressure and dropped to fifth and sixth place respectively, leaving the qualifying positions to half the Ancient Eight: Brown, Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth.

Looking back, you may recall that New England qualified these same four schools (Brown, Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth) along with Connecticut College to the Women's Nationals and qualified Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale to Team Racing Nationals.

The New England sweep of Nationals in Austin, Texas, this year seems once again imminent.

The Dartmouth sailors are looking forward to a weekend off to practice and focus on how to bring home the first ever Big Green sweep at Nationals.