Last winter on Lake Travis, there were 30 knots of wind, so much that advertising senior and UT Sailing Club secretary Jennifer Beazley had to take the main jib, or front sail, down from her boat, forcing the railing to go almost entirely in the water. Even though she almost fell off twice, she kept her composure and sailed on in spite of her biggest scare on
“It was a situation where you don’t have much control. You’re at the mercy of the wind, really,” Beazley said. “It’s like a roller coaster, in that even though it feels dangerous, you know you’re going to be okay.”
Poor conditions are not uncommon, as the UT Sailing Club has had to deal with extreme fluctuations in weather over recent years. This ranges from the drought that hit Lake Travis and put the club on the verge of collapsing to the highs when the water accumulated to a point that homes were almost completely underwater.
“More often than not, there’s a close call when it comes to weather,” said Joseph Peacock, Sailing Club instructor and government senior. “There’s definitely been a few weekends where you get caught out in a storm you don’t expect, but that’s the fun part.”
Beazley, like a majority of the others in the UT Sailing Club joined without any previous experience on sailboats. Paul Rowley, the Student Advisor and treasurer for the club, is a firm believer that teaching someone to sail is not only easy but expected when a new member looks to join the club.
“I went out not knowing [how to sail]; a majority of us don’t know how when we join,” Rowley said. “The actual learning to sail isn’t a barrier, just the time you’re willing to commit. It’s like any sport: the more you practice, the better you become.”
The level of experience is one of the aspects that distinguishes the sailing club from the sailing team on campus. Additionally, the club doesn’t actually race, whereas the team does, and uses a different marina on a different lake and receives more funding from the school. The club is 70-percent funded by UT RecSports, but the rest comes from the members’ own pockets.
Though the sailing club is open to all students, Beazley said the sport tends to attract like-minded individuals.
“There’s two types of people, sailboat and motorboat people,” Beazley said. “Sailboat people are slower paced, whereas motorboat people prefer speed, so that’s probably why we get a lot of engineers, since they enjoy doing things themselves and creating from scratch.”
This left-brained approach to the sport is what enables many students to become successful sailors in the club and safe on the waters.
“More than anything, you have to have the ability to think on your feet,” Peacock said. “You never know when the wind will change or when something on your boat might break.”
Because of the unpredictably of the water, each member must first pass a swim test, which includes treading water for five minutes, before determining boat selection. The club has a tiered system to establish boat use for the club members. The sunfish is a single-sail wide boat and is the most stable option for beginners. It’s built in such a way that a sailor can control it if it tips over. The laser sailboat is on the Olympic class level and is a little more unstable than the sunfish. The MC Scow is a fast plane boat, and the Hobie 16, 18 and J24 make up the top class. The Hobies are both catamarans, or flat boats, and the J24 is a 24-foot keelboat, or mid-sized yacht, clad with two sails and lead on the bottom for safety. Additionally, the J24 is equipped with a sleeping quarter.
“On Saturday sails you can go on the boat a level above your class,” Rowley said. “As long as someone puts in the time and effort, there’s very few that simply don’t get it.”
All of the boats the club has are exclusively from donations, with boats from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Since money doesn’t go toward purchasing new boats, a majority of the club’s money goes towards upkeep and overall maintenance.
“The boats are never pretty but are safe to sail,” Rowley said. “We call one the couch, because the whole thing sags when you get on.”
There is an overwhelming agreement among the members that the danger that sailing entails is one of the largest draw factors.
“When the winds are whipping and you’re flying over the water, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Rowley said. “Battling the wind is this dizzying feeling; there’s a sense of achievement when you’re out there braving it all.”
To learn more, go to utsailing.com.