Student Life

Nautical Miles

The UW’s sailing team makes the most of a shoestring budget.


For UW sailing team co-captain Korina Hendricks ’17, piling into a university minivan on a Thursday night with several fellow sailors is standard protocol. They travel thousands of miles each year to attend regattas, packing their favorite snacks and switching up playlists to avoid fatigue. When they arrive, Hendricks prepares herself for a typical exchange with other teams:

“Whoa! You drove here?”
“Yeah,” she says.
“How long did it take?”
“Oh, 16 hours,” she says.

Traveling doesn’t faze them. With an annual budget of just $65,000 and no varsity status, the club team does what it takes to compete against top-tier coastal teams with fat wallets. The team’s three dozen sailors run their own practices, manage budgets and fundraising, arrange food and lodging for competitions, and, of course, switch off driving university vans. Their efforts have paid off: in the last few years, they have placed ahead of teams including Harvard, Brown, and the U.S. Naval Academy. In 2011, they placed sixth nationally.

“I think the club team can bring us together, and that’s what makes it fun,” Hendricks says. “We feel we have an important job to do with keeping the team afloat. It makes us appreciate it more when our boats aren’t just handed to us by the university.”

And after four years, they walk away with skills they can use on and off the water, says Coach David Elsmo, who joined the team in 2011.

“I see that as an advantage for us,” he says. “I think what they get out of it is something they take with them farther than just a trophy.”

And the sailors turn one other built-in challenge into an advantage: Wisconsin winters. Until the ice on Lake Mendota thaws, they do cardio, study sailing techniques, and make an annual spring break training trip to Florida.

But once Mendota opens up, it’s straight into the water. “We’ll sail in snow [or] if there are ice chunks out there,” Elsmo says. “The water temperature can be freezing the water on the boat. These are strong people, both mentally and physically.”

While his team has the grit to sail through ice and snow, for Elsmo, something else defines them.

“They’re strong friends. They’re strong competitors. Nobody is trying to climb over anybody else,” Elsmo says. “They work hard for their success, and there is nobody that could take it away from them.”

Published in the Summer 2017 issue


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