The Martha’s Vineyard high school sailing team cruised to its third consecutive Cape & Islands Division team racing title this spring, and placed second at the league’s annual fleet racing competition. With no returning seniors and a batch of fresh recruits, the Vineyard team’s success on the water was a welcome but unexpected surprise.

“We entered the season a fairly new team,” said team co-captain Juliet Morse. “We have a lot of students who only sail during the school year as they’re working and not spending all day sailing at yacht clubs and different team racing events [during the summer].”

Both Morse and her co-captain, Henry Coogan, called this season a “rebuilding year.” Their focus was on bringing new sailors up to speed and showing them the ropes.

Back on land. — Courtesy Andrew Burr

“We ended up working pretty hard to get down… boat handling and boat speed, and then later moving into team racing,” Morse said.

In team racing, two teams with three small boats each compete in a tactical head-to-head. The race rarely lasts longer than 15 minutes.

Success demands communication between crewmates and across boats, Coach Burr said. “What’s my teammate gonna do? What am I gonna do? What’s my opponent gonna do?”

“There’s just so much stuff that you have to understand [about team racing] before you get to the situation because if you get there and you don’t know what you have to do, your brain is going to go poof,” he added.

The team’s strong performance in their division took them to the New England Schools Sailing Association (NESSA) championship at Connecticut College, where they faced off against large, private schools like Tabor Academy and the Hotchkiss School. Although the Vineyarders placed 14 out of 16 teams at the NESSA championship, Coach Burr said that “every single race was contested.”

“I feel like everyone in the team improved a lot that day,” Coogan added.

The Vineyarders also managed to field an all-girls sailing team this year, which competed for the Herreshoff Trophy, awarded to the best all-girls team in New England, but the team failed to move past qualifiers.

Now, as the team looks to the future with the whole squad back next year, Coach Burr said his focus will remain on sailing rather than winning.

“I try and preach to the kids [that] it’s more about appreciating what they can make a boat do and how intuitive [sailing] becomes,” he said.