It’s not over till it’s over.
After finishing sixth of eight teams in the New England Schools Sailing Association team racing championships on Saturday, the regional high school sailing team thought they’d lost their chance to move on. The top two teams at the championship would compete at the national team racing championships in Houston. The third and fourth-place teams would travel to the National Invitational Tournament in Cambridge. And the rest would return home to vie for their respective league titles. There was still potential for victory, but consolation prizes nonetheless.
It was a bittersweet moment for the Vineyard, which had qualified for the regional championship Fritz Mark trophy, known as the Mark, for the first time in program history. They boasted a 19-3 season record and were the number-two ranked public school program in the region.
“Getting in is the hard part,” head coach Andrew Burr said Saturday afternoon, watching the Vineyard sailors on the water at the Wianno Yacht Club in Osterville. A sea breeze rolling off the sound and an overcast morning had given way to blue skies; it was a perfect day for sailing.
But hampered by race challenges and a spate of bad luck, the team had a shaky first round of sailing at the Mark, going 1-6 against the competition. And though they rallied in the afternoon to win five races in a row and close the day 6-8, the recovery was not enough to boost them in the standings.
But as it turned out, the late surge and hard work paid off. On Sunday evening, Coach Burr received a call from NESSA treasurer Kevin Dooley informing him that number-four Hotchkiss was dropping out of the NIT because of a conflict with graduation. Did the Vineyard want to take their place?
It was a no-brainer.
“Yeah, of course we’ll go,” Coach Burr recalled telling Mr. Dooley.
To the untrained eye, team racing is a deceptive sport. From the shore, the movements of the six distant boats — three for each school, each manned by two sailors — don’t look structured. The pace can appear almost leisurely. It’s only up close that the jostling and outmanuevering, the planned interference, the blocked tacks and almost-crashes become apparent. The goal is not just to be the first boat across the line, it’s to make sure your teammates are also crossing the line in prime position. All for one, one for all.
Varsity Vineyard captains Eli Hanschka, Charlie Murano and Raz Sayre, and crew Anna Flaherty, Ellie Reagan and Zana Van Rooyen are all juniors. Some have been sailing with Coach Burr since they were in sixth grade. They are all completely at ease on the water, and with each other, but the Mark Trophy contest is an endurance test that would challenge even the most experienced sailors. Two round robin stages with 14 races, not including any challenged results that require a do-over, are held over the course of eight hours. It’s a marathon made up of sprints.
The day began with a well-sailed race against Cape Cod Academy, who would go on to win the Mark Trophy. The Vineyard had taken a lead and was en route to picking up a victory when a rudder broke on a Cape Cod boat. The race would be resailed later and the Vineyard would fall.
Another win against St. George’s was contested after the St. George’s sailors requested a re-race on the grounds that they had missed a mark on the course. As with the Cape Cod Academy race, the Vineyard lost the re-sail.
The team’s lone first-round victory came against Milton Academy.
Junior Maddy Moore and sophomore Lucas Dutton stepped in for Van Rooyen and Flaherty as the second round began, and despite the reinforcements, losses in the first two races appeared to signal a repeat of the first round.
But when the Vineyard faced Portsmouth Abbey, the defending Mark Trophy champions, in the third race, things began to change.
“They turned it on big time,” Coach Burr said. The Vineyard boats finished in a winning 1-2-5 combination.
“Just textbook,” Coach Burr said. “It was absolutely brilliant. It wasn’t even that they were winning; they were working for it. That just gave them so much confidence. It turned the day around, really.”
Four straight victories followed. The Vineyard would not go down without a fight.
“They were grinding, grinding, grinding, and making the right plays,” Coach Burr said. “Maddy and Lucas went in and just got in some of the best team racing of the day.”
“You could see it in their eyes; they were so pumped,” Coach Burr said.
And thanks to a little bit of luck and lot of hard work, the season’s not over. The Vineyard is taking its energy on the road again this weekend. Bring on the Invitational.
The Interscholastic Sailing Association’s National Invitational Tournament takes place May 24-25 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Photo gallery: Vineyard Sailing Competes at New England Championships