By PATRICK STUTZ
Special to 77 Square
Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2010 4:55 am
Which organization boasts of possessing the largest nonmilitary fleet in the nation? The UW Sailing Club, which owns 120 boats and sailboards.
That group is hosting an event that is as large in magnitude as the club is in stature — the Intercollegiate Sailing Association’s national championship, a 10-day affair that kicked off Tuesday on Lake Mendota.
“These are the finals for all collegiate sailing and we will have more than 400 of the nation’s best collegiate sailors here in Madison,” said UW Hoofers Sailing Club Commodore Brad Strock, whose team has home-water advantage. “It is pretty much the best of the best.”
The sailing club won the bid to host the competition in 2007 and, with the help of the Mendota Yacht Club and other supportive groups, has spent a large amount of time, energy and money to ensure the event is memorable.
UW Sailing Club national co-chair Christine Porter has led the organizational efforts since she was a college freshman. For the last three years she has coordinated fundraising, organized banquets and made other preparations for the biggest event on the college sailing calendar.
“It has been pretty difficult,” said Porter, an electrical engineering major from East Troy. “I don’t know any other school where a student runs the event, and as a student there were times when you have to make the decision, ‘Do I study, do I attend a meeting or do I work on the race?’ There were definitely times where it was almost a breaking point.”
Now entering her senior year, Porter said she is hoping to create such a positive impact with the ICSA that Madison will be at the top of the list of host cities when the Midwest gets another opportunity to hold the event in 2018.
UW Sailing Team co-captain Margaux Stutz said this is a great chance to show off Madison and the university, and to try to raise interest in the club and the sport.
“This is an important event for the Midwest and our district because we are not known as an area for sailing,” Stutz said, “but we are a great city with many outlets to lakes and we have many opportunities here.”
That’s also the payoff for the Mendota Yacht Club, the largest area sailing organization, which assisted with coordination for the event. MYC will host two additional sailing events in June — the Payton Regatta on June 19-20, a members-only race; and the A-Scow NCASA Championship, which will draw entries from all over the Midwest for the June 24-27 competition — and is gearing up to host the prestigious Inland Lakes Yachting Association regatta in 2012.
“In the Chamber of Commerce, DMI (Downtown Madison Inc.), and other magazine publications, everyone highlights the lake, and in almost any picture we’ve got sailboats on them,” said MYC commodore Trey Sprinkman. “And yet the community knows very little about the lake and sailing.
“There’s a misconception about our group, for sure. With ‘Yacht’ in its name, people think of Monaco and 120-foot vessels. Our racing boats are dinghies, and we do compete right here on local lakes.”
For the ICSA event, Stutz and her teammates will compete against 33 schools, including Yale, Boston College, Harvard and Stanford. The competition is split into segments for men, women and co-ed racing.
She noted that the UW team didn’t place well at last year’s finals, in part because the competition in the Midwest doesn’t match that available to East Coast schools. But Stutz hopes the increased exposure over the 10-day event and the growing popularity of the sailing sports in the area will someday lead UW to add it as a varsity sport.
“We would like to receive more sponsorship from the university and become a varsity program,” Stutz said. “There are so many people who are involved in this, and I mean these are varsity-level athletes and one of the highest levels of competition you will find.”
Porter expects the event to bring in an additional 2,000 people to the Madison area. ESPNU will record the Co-ed National Championship, the final of the competition’s three events, from Tuesday to Thursday. A condensed version of that competition will air in the future.
“This race is basically what everyone works for,” Porter said. “It is the end of the year for most sailing teams and it is the one everyone strives to be at.”
In addition to training, the UW Sailing Club had to raise $40,000 of the $115,000 budget for the event to secure housing, banquet halls, the more than 40 sailboats needed for the competition, and the 23 motorboats for course patrolling and shuttling sailors between the shoreline and the racing vessels, along with other expenses.
Mendota Yacht Club and other outfits from around the state have helped by providing many of those motorboats — as well as volunteers and money — and its members are hosting several race officials for the duration of the regatta.
“Basically it is about putting on a show,” Porter said. “I have competed in national championships before, and people always ask me, ‘What is Madison like?’
“It really is special to be able to put this together and influence the experience here. It will be so rewarding to be able to compete at nationals on our home waters and on our own lake.”