By Joel Tichinoff, Sports Editor
Every sailor knows that moment. The wind snaps out the sails, the boat surges forward and water sings from the stern. The sailors of the Dalhousie sailing team know that moment well as they take to the waters of the Atlantic four times a week – sun, rain or snow. Dal is the only East Coast school to field a competitive sailing team, the only other Canadian sailing teams belong to the University of British Columbia, Queen’s, Toronto and McGill. With the Atlantic Ocean lapping the shore only minutes from the Studley campus, Dalhousie students have had a long connection to the sea. However, a first-year management student from Kingston, Ontario created the Dal Sailing team in its current incarnation in 2005. Matt White, who graduated from Dal last spring, came to Dal in 2005 having formerly been head coach of the Kingston Yacht Club and, finding no real sailing program being offered, set about creating one. Four years later the Dal sailors regularly compete, and win, at regattas hosted by the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association (NEISA).
White, who also established an annual business ethics case competition at Dal, has moved on, but current team president Peter Dixon has continued his work. Dixon, who will complete a combined honours degree in Biochemistry and Neuroscience this year, grew up sailing out of Toronto’s Royal Canadian Yacht Club and was already an accomplished sailor when he began his studies at Dal in 2006, having sailed solo in several world championships. Dixon’s skills as a coach and sailor have been a major boon to the Dal Sailing program. Assisting Dixon in his work have been management student Seamus Ryder of the Royal Nova Scotian Yacht Squadron (RNSYS) and commerce student Paul Brickis of Ottawa.
A typical practice runs roughly three hours with the team assembling at the docks of Waegwoltic club and being ferried across the Northwest Arm by zodiac to the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. North America’s oldest yacht club, the RNSYS has been instrumental in supplying boats and facilities to the sailing team. The Dal team recently received its own sails from the school but team members supply most of their own personal equipment, neoprene wetsuits are a must for a sailing team that practices well into November.
Team members pay dues of $160, much of which goes toward insurance and operating expenses, the Dal sailors also shoulder most of the travel expenses on top of the team fees. The university provides some funding but as with many Dal teams there almost a sense of pride in the fact that students compete for Dal with minimal assistance from the school itself.
“We basically get money for sails and rental cars,” says Dixon. “(Dal Athletics program manager) Shawn Fraser has been supportive and awesome funding-wise, but two years in row we applied for funding from the DSU and never heard back. This year we didn’t apply.”
The Dalhousie team competes against American schools such as Yale and Harvard, which have their own fleets. When asked if Dal is looking at acquiring a fleet of its own, Dixon is philosophical.
“Some teams are able to replace their fleets and NEISA (New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association) facilitates schools obtaining second-hand boats. Its not impossible, but it would take a commitment of funds that we’re unlikely to see Dal putting into an athletics program.”
The purchase of a small fleet would be roughly equivalent to a varsity team’s annual budget, excluding storage and maintenance costs. Currently the team trains with 420 dinghies lent by the RNSYS, the relationship between the squadron and Dal is strong with many Dalhousie alumni members of the club however this year the Squadron has limited its partnership with Dalhousie to the competitive team only.
“We had a huge rec program before where pretty much anyone could come out and sail,” Dixon says. “But there were too many inexperienced sailors and not enough veterans. It was too risky for us to put people who didn’t know what they were doing out on the water. Too much can go wrong. We had to make it just the team this year but I still get tons of e-mails every week from people who want to come out.”
Dixon is working with RNSYS to accommodate the large volume of Dal students interested in sailing. Through an adaptation of the Squadron’s Learn to Sail program, Dixon hopes to give more Dal students the opportunity to experience sailing.
Dal fielded competitive boats in four NEISA regattas this year. The NEISA regattas generally feature two-man crews racing up to four races to determine a winning team. “We mostly race Flying Juniors (class of boat) against the NEISA teams,” coach Ryder says. “But we can handle all types.”
Two teams competed at the Northern Series Two Regatta at Dartmouth College in September placing 16th and 18th. A team of Paul Brikis, Brittany Duraul, Andrew McNeil and Alana Keider travelled to Montreal in mid-October. Racing out of the Pointe-Clair YC, Dal placed third overall at the McGill Cup behind Tufts and McGill. The season highlight came on Oct. 25 when Anna Millar, David Castle, Ted Murphy and Warren McDougald captured first place and the Wellahan Trophy at the Northern Series Three race. Dalhousie also placed fifth at the Team Racing Series Two, held at Newport, Rhode Island over the Halloween weekend.