There are currently 154 collegiate sailing teams competing across the country. Each team belongs to one of seven regional districts. The majority of schools have fleets of either Flying Juniors (FJs) or 420s, but a few programs, including Tufts, Bowdoin, and Harvard, sail a fleet of Larks. Many schools also have a few Lasers so that sailors can train for singlehanded championships throughout the season.
Larks are larger than 420s or FJs (a Lark is 14 feet long) and have a greater sail area. They are light boats that can plane more easily than other collegiate classes, which makes them ideal for areas with traditionally little breeze. Collegiate sailing teams don't bring their own boats to regattas; rather, they sail the host school's fleet and alternate boats after a set number of races to keep the playing field level.
Regattas take place every weekend within each district at all levels of competition. Events range from the MIT No Ringer regatta, which is designed for less-experienced sailors, to the Admiral’s Cup at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, a three-division, highly competitive regatta that draws on team depth. Racers compete in either a fleet or team racing format.
Each weekend there is also usually an Intersectional event, attended by the top sailors from each school in several districts. Every two weeks, a panel of coaches evaluates the regatta results and releases national rankings on the Intercollegiate Sailing Association (ICSA) Web Site, www.collegesailing.org.
During the spring semester, teams start training harder than ever in an effort to qualify for the ICSA Nationals. Each district hosts a qualifier event in the late spring to determine which schools will compete in Nationals.
There are 18 berths for the fleet-racing Nationals events, and a great deal of controversy surrounds the allocation of these berths. Until now, a formula depending heavily on the number of teams competing throughout the year within a district has been used. However, the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions have been accused of abusing this system by encouraging many smaller, less-competitive teams to register for regattas in order to gain additional berths. Others argue that simply because New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions are the most competitive districts, they should receive more berths.
A new system for allocating the berths is still being discussed for the future, and it seems to be an acceptable compromise. If the system passes (it was already rejected once at the last ICSA meeting in Charleston, SC), starting in 2007 each district will be guaranteed one berth for the National Championship and a committee (think NCAA selection committee for March Madness) will determine the recipients of each subsequent berth by examining individual school’s rankings and performance.
If enacted, this new method for berth allocation should benefit the New England and Mid-Atlantic districts since a large number of high-caliber sailors are concentrated on the East Coast. But the great thing about college sailing is that it continues to evolve. The discrepancies regarding this issue and many others are frequently voiced, and the ICSA continues to work toward improving the sport for present and future generations of competitors.