Friday, June 12, 2020

College Sailors in the Virtual World

J/70 Virtual Regatta
(Philadelphia, PA)- The Drexel University Club Sailing Team had a pretty good fall season, qualifying for the Mid-Atlantic Fall Championship and putting in a solid team effort in challenging conditions there. The team was really looking good going into the spring season, and then March happened…

COVID-19 hit the US hard. Soon travel was canceled, followed swiftly by, well – everything else, including the entire spring college sailing season. The students were held off campus on an extended spring break, and the team never rigged boats for the year before campus was shut down and the student athletes became digital distance learners.

That could have been the end of the story, but as people were learning all sorts of way to suddenly be digitally social, an idea was formed. What if the Drexel sailors combined video conference hangouts and online virtual sailing?

“At first I thought it would be a good social outlet for my sailors, but as soon as we started, I learned it was actually a valuable teaching tool,” said Coach Craig Priniski.

The team used Virtual Regatta Inshore since it was an established platform with an eSailing World Sailing sanction. The app and website-based eSport also allowed for private races to be held with only the team participating.

“I found out that teaching strategy and tactics using the live video feed and interactive one design fleets was very effective,” noted Priniski. “The platform offered a better way to demonstrate topics like persistent and oscillating shifts, effects of wind shadows from competitors, and even the importance of finding dark water for pressure up the race course.”

virtual J/70 sailing regatta
The now-scattered team enjoyed the virtual practice sessions, too.

“As a graduating senior, I was very disappointed to have been left out of my last season,” admitted Haley Clemson. “Though it definitely is not the same, and I still wish for the ability to sail a physical boat every day of social distancing, the practices and regatta that we planned through VR inshore are a great way for us to connect as a team and through MAISA when we can’t in person.

“It is very cool that there is a platform where we can still ‘practice’ our sport through all of this, and is a cool way to have the semblance of practice with the team when a real practice is not possible”

The virtual season culminated with the first ever eSailing college regatta, at least that the team has heard of!

The Drexel Open Regatta, which is traditionally sailed on the team’s home waters of the Delaware River, was instead moved to a virtual experience.

A notice was sent out to the Mid-Atlantic Conference’s email list to invite other teams and recent grads to come together for one college regatta on May 16. The regatta was held in various simulated venues around the world and the sailors got to try sailing Stars, J/70s, and even 49ers over a six-race series. A Zoom skippers’ meeting was held, and all participants were invited to ‘stand by’ on Zoom or even chat with their competitors, as appropriate.

The Drexel Open succeeded beyond the original intent of uniting a few local teams. Instead, there were more sailors than the 20 boat races could accommodate. Several Drexel sailors opted to spectate so all could participate. In the end, 26 sailors were in a 20-boat fleet spanning two continents, three countries, and 10 colleges. Patrick Modin, sailing for Kings Point, took top honors for the regatta.

International Drexel student Paula Cabot commented, “I had to move back home to Spain to finish the quarter. It was hard to adjust, but it has been fun to be able to video call with the whole team and play Virtual Regatta. I am really happy that we were able to do the Drexel Open Regatta and hangout with the other teams!”

Drexel Sailing still has a few practices left…. look for them in the Virtual Regatta Inshore custom races around 7 pm ET on Mondays and Thursdays.   Thanks for contribution from Scuttlebutt Sailing News Add to Flipboard Magazine.