Through the sharpness of his polarized shades, Stony Brook University Sailing Team President Cody Murphy spotted a rippled area in Port Jefferson Harbor. This is what sailors look for to determine the velocity of the wind, he explained, and then pointed to another area smooth as glass. “There is no air and no wind there,” he said. “That is what’s known as a lull.”
But there is no lull these days for the Stony Brook University Sailing Team, who seem to know exactly where to find the wind. Energized by a 21-point jump in the standings, from 43 to 22 among 52 other sailing teams in the Mid-Atlantic Intercollegiate Racing Association (MAISA), the newly resurrected team appears to be on a winning course.
From 1980 to 2011, would-be sailors at Stony Brook found themselves in the doldrums before four undergraduates banded together to revive the Seawolves sailing and enter MAISA. In 2012 the team purchased a fleet of 420 class dinghies from Port Jefferson High School, accepted an invitation to base its sailing operations at the Setauket Yacht Club’s facilities in Port Jefferson, secured an ample annual budget from the Stony Brook University Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and hired veteran sailing coach Geoffrey Loffredo.
A number of first-place finishes by Murphy and others in intercollegiate regattas (boat races) that year earned the team an upgrade in its conference so it could compete in regional and national championships.
It is also hard to downplay Loffredo’s contribution to the team’s rapid improvement. Sailing a wide variety of boats since he was 12 years old (from lasers to 420s to large keelboats), Stony Brook’s coach raced for Cornell University, is currently the head coach at Southampton Yacht Club during the summer and has been teaching and coaching sailing for a decade.
Yet Loffredo insists the team’s meteoric rise has more to do with other factors, such as funding and the subsequent experience gained from participating in more regattas, and the wide range of skills of the sailors themselves.
“The students all have a passion for sailing and the desire to put in the time and effort to improve their racing skills in both practice and at regattas,” he said. “We have a very wide spectrum of skills on the team. We have someone such as Ken Myers, who before joining the team had no sailing experience and now is one of our more experienced crews and making big strides in learning how to skipper.”
Loffredo explained that sailing vessels such as the 420 are double-handed, meaning that they require both a skipper, who steers the boat and operates the mainsail, and a crew, who operates the jib sail.
Myers, who may be new to sailing but is in his fifth year at Stony Brook, helps provide a real sense of what it feels like out on the water. “My first regatta I participated in was last spring in Virginia and it was really cold. The sky was overcast and it rained both days. Being crew, you sit in the front of the boat and get soaked by all of the water that comes over the side, especially when you’re stretched out and hiking (dangling over the edge as it heels or leans over to one side) to keep the boat flat. It’s really exhilarating knowing that one wrong move could cause the boat to capsize. Even when you do capsize it’s a rush to try and right the boat. Not many people at this school get to say that they went sailing the first thing Monday morning. What a great way to start the week!”
Those with a great deal of sailing experience make up the backbone of the team — juniors such as Murphy and Heather Grosso, sophomores such as Constantine Spentzos and Avi Mayerhoff and freshmen including Vidar Minkovsky, Samantha Zito, Andrew Lithen and Spencer Ochs.
Coach Loffredo isn’t the only expert filling the team’s sails. Leadership on and off the water from Murphy, members of the executive board and faculty advisor Jason Rose, a lecturer in Political Science, who Mayerhoff described as an “irreplaceable blessing to the team.”
Despite the pro sailors aboard, the only requirement for joining the team is knowing how to swim. “A basic knowledge of sailing requires several things and can be obtained in as little as a few afternoons on a sailboat,” Loffredo said. Wind direction, sail placement, boat steering, maneuvering around the boat itself and learning a few knots start it off. “Once this basic level of sailing knowledge is obtained, more advanced topics, such as racing, can be introduced.”
And thanks to an increase in funding for the program, our Seawolves are back on the water. “The more money we have, the more regattas we can participate in and the more practices we can hold,” said Loffredo, who added that the number of people the team can accommodate is a direct function of the funding it receives.
The majority of the team’s budget comes from the USG and covers fleet maintenance, regatta entry fees, travel to regattas, gas for the safety boat, a facility usage fee to Setauket Yacht Club and the coach’s salary. Rose said that while funding is adequate, more is always needed to cover costs as the team continues to grow.
The need for greater resources was made apparent at September’s Involvement Fair on campus, when an estimated 150 or more students stopped by to inquire about the team. “Nearly 50 people attended our first meeting and during the first semester we had approximately 60 different students sail with us,” said Team Treasurer and sailor Avi Mayerhoff. “I don’t think it’s reasonable to maintain a team of 150, but so far we’ve loved the opportunity to expose so many students to sailing.”
Weather might also play a role in the team’s size. The fall season runs from the beginning of the semester until early December and the spring season spans from mid-February to early May.
— Glenn Jochum; Photos by John Griffin