Olympia High School team sails to national competition in Maine this weekend

The Olympia High School sailing team is headed to their second national competition of the season this Memorial Day weekend after placing 11th of 20 in the National High School Fleet Race competition in Seattle two weekends ago.

The team will represent the Northwest district as one of the top 20 high school teams in the country at the Team Racing Championship in Portland, Maine.

Sarah Hanavan, the team’s coach and a former high school and collegiate sailor herself, said the team’s 11th place finish at the National Fleet Race competition was a welcome improvement from last year, and the team is hoping to use that momentum going into the next competition.

“Last year we placed 17th out of 20 teams, so we made a jump,” Hanavan said. “Our goal this year was 15th place, but we got 11th.”

According to Hanavan, high school sailing is considered an extracurricular activity by the schools. The national rules of the sport require all members on a competitive team to attend the same school. The Interscholastic Sailing Association, the governing body of all high school sailing, will name any team with four or more members from the same school as an active team eligible for competition under their high school’s name. So, while Olympia and Capital High School students practice together during the week, they are often facing off against each other during regattas.

“It allows the kids to meet and work with people they never would have met,” Hanavan said about the cross-town teammates.

Olympia’s program has about 25 students and is currently ranked as the No. 1 team in the Northwest out of about 45 schools in the Northwest district, which includes Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Idaho. Capital’s program is ranked in the top 10.

Most students join the team as eighth graders or freshman with relatively little knowledge of sailing, according to Hanavan. She said the majority of students are able to learn quickly and by the end of one season — about three months — they have a strong understanding of boat handling and strategy.

High school sailing has two national competitions each year, both of which Olympia’s team qualified for. While fleet racing is traditional sailboat racing around a course, team racing is a three-versus-three, strategic, combination-focused race.

“It’s like a chess match and soccer. You’re trying to use tactics and rules to force the other team to foul or sail a course incorrectly,” Hanavan said. “It’s probably the most team-oriented sailing that exists, so it’s really great for youth sailors.”

The co-ed team practices year-round with competition season starting in the spring. Hanavan said the student sailors spend the majority of their season practicing in unfavorable conditions. Rain, snow, nor wind keep the sailors off the water. Their least favorite conditions? Extreme heat, according to Hanavan.

“These are hearty kids,” Hanavan said. “They actually really love the cold water and do well in the wind.”

The sailors’ affinity for a challenging environment may prove beneficial this weekend in Maine. Hanavan said rain and wind are in the forecast and the water is roughly 20 degrees cooler than the Puget Sound.

“Every place we sail is completely different. It forces the kids to be super flexible and self-reliant,” Hanavan said.

For the sailors, this competition is a new experience. The program has never qualified for this national event before.

“It’s a lot to think about mentally and physically,” said Evan Krug, Olympia senior and one of the sailors competing in Maine. “We have to keep a clear head at all times.”

Ella Hubbard, a freshman, and Sam Bonauto, a sophomore, also expressed excitement and nerves about the races.

“We have to deal with a time change and the conditions will be harder,” Bonauto said.

Nine of Olympia’s 25 team members will attend this weekend’s competition as the program’s varsity team. Owen Timms, Kevin Hicks, Evan Krug, Ciara McClanahan, Erin Pamplin, Ella Hubbard, Sam Bonauto, Peter Kelleher, and Ian Connolly will attend and race, with six students being on the water at any given time during the two days of competition.

Hanavan’s hope for the weekend is for the kids to feel like they raced every race at their best, no matter the outcome.

The students, however, had some more specific goals in mind.

“Our goal as a team is to stay with the top competitors in the nation and get in the silver round — fifth through eighth place — and to build a legacy of going every year,” Krug said.

But one thing coach and students alike plan to do post-competition is to bring the national experience and lessons back to the entire team and strengthen the program.

“We’re a young program,” Hanavan said. “We want to build a legacy of competition.”