In a sport dominated by the coasts and islands of Hawaii, it may come to a surprise to IU students that the university boasts a sailing team that competes in the Midwest Collegiate Sailing Association.
The club belongs to the Lake Monroe Sailing Association, or LMSA, and conducts practices and home regattas at the lake. With the COVID-19 pandemic derailing various travel events of last season, having access to Lake Monroe was crucial for the continuation of the team.
Traditionally, the sailing club has been laid back for members and moreso a social outlet, but as the team got back into the swing of things this fall, leadership set their sights on transitioning their club into a force in the collegiate sailing community. Team president Alex Lewis has goals of gaining exposure and climbing the ranks of the conference; however, he said this can be made especially difficult due to a lack of resources.
Sailing club’s status, as opposed to an NCAA Division I program, results in a stark disparity of equipment and allocation of funds compared to a sailing powerhouse such as Yale or Stanford. Lewis said Northwestern is an example of that difference. With Northwestern holding Division I status, he said that competition against their program can be difficult from a performance standpoint.
“It’s tough, I mean we can be competitive because we do have some great sailors, but in terms of equipment and resources, they definitely have us outmatched,” Lewis said.
Head coach Andreas Bueckle echoes Lewis’ goals. Serving as head coach for the last four years, much of Bueckle’s aspirations are foundational. Despite his relatively short tenure, the team has steadily grown in size and quality. Though the building from the ground up mentality certainly applies to the performance of the team, Bueckle also wants to help grow the sport.
“We want to see SCIU become a respected entity for racing, where we can enable sailors of all skill levels, especially novices, to improve their racing skills substantially while also attracting and retaining sailors with prior experience,” Bueckle said.
After moving to the United States from Germany in 2014, Bueckle began to pursue his Ph.D. while simultaneously continuing his love for sailing.
“It takes a village to make a sailing club work, and I have rarely experienced a group so caring, strong and ambitious as ours,” he said.
As for coaching, Bueckle focuses on creating a welcoming environment for new or recreational members. At practices, he emphasizes fundamentals such as the governing document of sailing entitled “The Racing Rules of Sailing”, reading changes in wind and identifying zones of high pressure.
For the races, the start and finish line reside in the same location marked by a committee boat on the other side, Lewis said. The line of boats starts after a three to five minute countdown.
The boats themselves, though varying in quality, have a standard of size for a majority of their races. Lewis said they sail on 420 boats, which means 420 centimeters or 4.2 meters long. Typically these hold two people, and establishing effective communication between those two is a key to success.
“Especially in high winds, there’s a lot of yelling,” Lewis said. “On the 420, the skipper and crew absolutely need to be on the same page.”
Tensions may rise on the water, but Lewis said teams are friendly after races. At the annual “Hoosier Mama” regatta on Oct. 10, Notre Dame finished in first place, followed by IU and Purdue rounding out the top three. On that sunny day at the LMSA, the laughter and smiles between opposing teams at the awards ceremony would lead one to believe there was no animosity at all.
Bueckle reflected on his time coaching at IU and found it hard to pin down a single favorite moment. At the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta on Lake Michigan in 2019, Sailing Club at IU competed on a 33-foot keelboat entitled “Water Works” against two dozen other teams.
“I will be forever grateful to be able to experience such a high-profile event with my teammates,” Bueckle said.
As SCIU continues to build the program, both in terms of quality and quantity, they hope an inclusive environment will remain constant, Bueckle said. In a region where sailing is a relatively novel concept, team leadership strives to gain recognition and compete at the highest level.