Watching his team maneuver with binoculars, Frank Pizzo stood on a black buoyant platform with the rest of his apprentice sailors, commenting on the skippers’ decision as a new race was starting. At first, the boats seemed to float with no specific purpose, and from a distance the white triangular sails looked lifeless. Responding to an invisible signal, they suddenly started sliding across the surface of the river toward a barge anchored not far from the Throggs Neck bridge. The colored stripes and numbers adorning the sails came in and out of view as the skillful students were seen shifting their position in each boat, briskly inverting their course as they took advantage of changing winds and currents. On each boat, two silhouettes were coordinating their every move, pulling on lines, tucking their feet into the boat and straightening their bodies over the water, while keeping an eye on the boom, a light bar on which the sail is attached and which sweeps from side to side with every one of the sail’s moves.
Strong winds gave college sailing teams ideal conditions to compete in the Admiral Moore Collegiate Team Race Regatta last weekend at SUNY Maritime School in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx. In teams of two, clad in waterproof equipment and wearing their college colors over their life jackets, 60 students took turns in racing their small sailing boats across the East River, known for its strong current.
“It’s a bit of a quirky venue,” said Pizzo, coach of the Polar Bears, from Bowdoin College of Brunswick, Maine.
SUNY Maritime School hosts the Admiral Moore regatta every year. College sailing teams, mostly from the Northeast, attend the spring event. Among the competitors were Connecticut College, St. Mary’s of Maryland, Boston College and the University of Michigan. Boston College won this weekend’s regatta, while SUNY Maritime ended seventh out of 10 teams.
“That’s why you don’t see so many smiling faces clinging up around here,” said Rob Crafa, director for Waterfront programs at SUNY Maritime.
Crafa said many freshmen joined the team this year and are still learning. The competition this weekend was fierce with one of the other teams probably in good standing to win the national championships this year.
“It’s great for our students to be able to sail against those guys,” he said.
Russ O’Reilly, the SUNY Maritime sailing coach, said that this weekend regatta was actually more of a preparation for the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association (MAISA) Team Race Championship taking place in mid-April, which will also be hosted by SUNY Maritime College.
The school owns 26 Vanguard Club 420 sail boats, a fleet big enough for the top 10 Mid-Atlantic teams to race together every year. The 10 teams were chosen in December for the next spring and fall regattas.
Last weekend, the top four teams took part in 21 races, while the bottom six raced 18 times. The regatta began at 10 a.m. and lasted until about 3:30 p.m., just as the rain chased onlookers away from the dock. Crafa said that the next championship in April will happen faster because only the top eight teams will be able to participate, including SUNY Maritime.