Smooth Sailing

    The Portland State University Sailing Club took first place at the Kathryn Hammond Memorial Intersectional Regatta, hosted by the University of Texas at Austin Yacht Club on Oct. 21 ?” 22. The success helped to give Northwest sailing some much-needed recognition.

    ”It was a huge accomplishment for us. It’s kind of a big deal to get recognized in front of the other districts,” said sophomore A-division skipper, Alexander Bettencourt.

    With 12 races completed in both the A and B divisions, PSU pulled out the victory with a final score of 56 points. Each point proved to be very valuable as the second-place team, Tulane, finished only two points behind, posting a 58, while the host team, University of Texas, finished fifth with 77.

    There are two divisions of sailing, A and B, which are combined for a total score at the end of two races to determine the winner. Under A-division, Portland State came in third, putting up a score of 37 with Bettencourt as skipper and sophomore Sky Cunningham as his crew. The B-division team won the regatta with an impressive 19 points, with senior skipper Kevin Stravers and sophomore crew Kelly Walden.

    ”Most of the West Coast schools sail FJs, East Coast schools sail 420s,” said Bettencourt.

    A skipper and one other crewmember man an FJ-sized boat. The crewmate’s job is to trim the jib, or the smaller front sail, and watch out for positions of other boats and the “right of way” rules associated with positioning. The skipper steers the boat, trims the main sail and tries to keep the boat gunning at optimum speed while thinking through tactics for getting up the course.

    A key skill for these two-man teams is communication. The skipper and crewmember need to pass information back and forth to complete the race as fast as possible.

    ”They have to be in communication and working together if they want to do well,” said sophomore crewmember Sky Cunningham.

    ”That’s what separates the good sailors from the inexperienced, is being able to communicate,” said Bettencourt.

    In order to build the necessary skills and relationships for communication, a great deal of practice is needed. The racing team practices three days a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 3 p.m. at Willamette Sailing Club. The team travels every weekend year-round to participate in regattas. If not traveling, the team uses the weekend to prepare for important races.

    ”It’s a year-round sport. We have regattas from January all throughout the year,” Bettencourt said.

    ”Right now we are focusing on our boat handling and speed,” he said. “Repetition, it’s all about repetition, doing things over and over again, like mark roundings, tacks and jives.”

    With an FJ the races are short, so getting off to a good start is key. With a bad start, the sailors would find themselves behind in the race and constantly trying to catch up while the lead boats cover their paths, Bettencourt and Cunningham said. Quick starts are heavily practiced.

    PSU Sailing Club both competes and sails recreationally. The club is currently looking to build its membership both on its racing team and for recreational sailing. Sailors of all skill levels are welcome to explore the joys of sailing. The club even holds classes for individuals who have no previous experience at all.

    ”We’re always looking for new members,” said sophomore crew Kelly Walden. “Half the team has never done it before.”

    ”It’s open to everyone at PSU,” said Bettencourt.

    While a club sport at PSU, they often compete against Division-I teams from around the country. Teams can become eligible for national championship competition by excelling in their districts. The larger a district is, the more teams it can send to national competition. PSU competes in the small Northwest district, which currently has nine members.

    ”The Northwest is a growing district and that’s what we’re trying to push for right now, is to expand and get more berths for nationals,” Bettencourt said.

Information about PSU Sailing can be found at their website (, which also includes practice and club sailing times. Another option would be to stop by the Rec Clubs office.