Through cold and wind, Texas A&M team sails on
Even during a cold and blustery fall and winter on the island, the dedicated members of the Texas A&M University at Galveston sailing team were determined never to miss a day of practice. Team members gather each weekday afternoon at the team’s Teichman Road clubhouse on the north shore of Offatts Bayou in Galveston to practice their tacking and jibing skills in a fleet of small sailboats.
“Windy days are always exciting, and Offatts Bayou is a fairly protected body of water,” team coach Laura Dalgleish said.
An organized person by nature and training, Dalgleish has designed a “Go/No Go” algorithm to make the decision whether to set out on the water on an iffy day. Her system assigns a numerical value to conditions such as wind speed, air and water temperature and sea conditions to arrive at a solution to guide the decision.
“I like structure,” Dalgleish said. “And after all, sailing can be a somewhat dangerous sport.” There have been no serious injuries in her experience with the team. Cold and rain alone aren’t reasons to stay in, Dalgleish said.
“It builds character,” she said.
If team members do have to stay in, there’s plenty to learn in their clubhouse ashore.
“We have all kinds of videos we can use to teach strategy and rules of racing,” Dalgleish said. “We use the rules of racing set by U.S. Sailing.”
As with any competitive sport, an agreed set of rules and specifications of equipment — in this case, the boats — are essential to make meets with teams around the country fair and meaningful.
Each session of practice begins with a brief chalk-talk in the meeting room at the clubhouse, which is equipped with a “hiking bench.” Hiking out is an essential part of operating a small sailboat. Team members, acting as “live ballast,” hook their feet under a strap at the center of the boat and, sitting on the rail, lean out over the water as far as possible, using their weight to level the boat against the force of the wind. Five-minute turns at the hiking bench replicate this exertion, and makes the lecture attendees more than a passive audience.
“Fitness is a huge part of competitive sailing,” Dalgleish said. With the narrow margins of winning in races between identical boats, the fitness of each of the crew can make all the difference. So, in addition to late afternoon practice each weekday, team members commit to one 6 a.m. workout each week.
Dalgleish commutes to practice each day from her home in the Clear Lake area. She lives next to the Houston Yacht Club, where she also is in charge of the Youth Sailing Program.
“I’ve been sailing all my life,” Dalgleish said. “My parents were sailors, and they taught me how. I grew up in Colorado, sailing 420s and Snipes in high school. You wouldn’t think there’s a lot of sailing in Colorado, but there is.”
She moved to Texas for college at Texas A&M University at Galveston and naturally joined the sailing team.
Dalgleish is now a paid employee of Texas A&M University, and the school provides the clubhouse and mooring space at its property on Teichman Road. Other expenses, including replacement of the boats, must be met through fundraising by the team.
The fleet of boats team members practice and compete on consists of 13.9-foot 420s, 13.3-foot FJs and 23-foot Sonars, all class-compliant racing sloops with from one to four-person crews. They can be trailered, but since racing class boats are interchangeable, the crew can usually compete away from home using the home team’s fleet.
As team captain, Gerard Coleman, a graduating senior in the Maritime Engineering program at Texas A&M University at Galveston, is largely responsible for organizing fundraising, the logistics involved in fielding teams of four to regattas around the country, as well as recruitment.
“We have a roster of about 37 students, but we have to recruit all the time as students graduate,” Coleman said. “They join in a good mix of experienced and novice sailors.”
Despite its rigorous demands, being a member of the sailing team doesn’t count toward P.E. credits.
“We just provide an opportunity for them to learn and practice what they are passionate about,” Dalgleish said.