Tufts sailing mystique

Sailing the Mysticby Paul Sweeney

During the past four years, Tufts University sailors Jen Provan and Laurin Manning have become one of the top collegiate racing pairs in the nation. They were New England champions this spring and national champions in 1999.
   They came to Tufts in 1997 from different sailing backgrounds. Provan, a skipper from Toronto, grew up in a sailing family and found Tufts in a search of the top collegiate programs. Like many students, she was drawn by its proximity to Boston and its friendly faces. Manning, on the other hand, a crew from Mystic, Connecticut, was the first one in her family to sail. Her mother, Kathy, and sister, Kristy, graduated from Tufts. Laurin followed, attracted mostly by academics, with the added bonus of a strong sailing team.
   Now Tufts graduates, their ambitions for the near future are also different. Provan is moving to Halifax to begin training, with her mind set on qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Summer Games in Athens. Manning will sail competitively for fun, but she's focused on beginning her studies at the Tufts School of Occupational Therapy in August.
   While at Tufts, their personalities blended and the two became quick friends and successes. Their story provides a scope of how the Tufts sailing team has become one of the nation's top programs over the past 30 years. Many of the best junior sailors come to Tufts for its strong national reputation--both in academics and sailing. In addition, the team has an aura of cohesiveness that is also nationally recognized.
   Like with Provan and Manning, friendship on and off the water is the team's foundation.
   "Being happy with your teammate is the most important aspect of doing well," says Provan, the New England Women's Skipper of the Year this spring. "It's just so much more fun, and you know what to expect from them on the water. I feel really lucky that Laurin and I were able to be together for three years."
   "We really have a bond," Manning says about Provan and the team in general. "We spend a lot of time together, traveling and competing. Everyone gets along so well and we have such a good time. It's an atmosphere that motivates us to go for it on the water."
   Most of the other teams at Tufts are members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) Division III. Because the number of collegiate sailing programs is relatively small, the sport is not sponsored by the NCAA. It is non-divisional, with no scholarships offered. Men and women, approximately 50 in number on the Tufts team, practice and compete together.
   At the major regattas, it's come one, come all, and Tufts competes against Division I schools like Dartmouth, Stanford, Michigan and UC Berkeley. Historically, Tufts has an edge on those institutions when it comes to sailing. In fact, the sailing team's list of accomplishments in its field is a worthy neighbor to the excellence that many of our schools and departments have achieved. Thirty-eight men and women who sailed at Tufts have won world championships. Two Tufts sailors competed in the Olympics. The program's co-ed and women's teams have won 22 national collegiate championships. The team's fleet of 20 lark boats, considered the fastest to sail, is the nation's largest.
   "There are haves and have-nots in college sailing," says Ken Legler, Tufts' sailing coach. "We're a have."
   So how did a comparably small school like Tufts become a national power? Sailing was just a recreational sport when it started at Tufts in 1937. It was like throwing a Frisbee, Legler says. Interest was high enough so that a facility was built in 1952 on Upper Mystic Lake in Medford. Though the team competed without much success over the next 10 to15 years, their home on the lake was the first step towards building the Tufts "mystique,"as Legler likes to call it.
   Under the guidance of Professor David Higginbotham, the program began to take competitive racing more seriously in the late 1960s. He hired Joe Duplin, a 1963 world champion in the Star class, as head coach in 1967. Duplin, whose father owned a boat shop in Winthrop, was always a major presence in college sailing. The coach at MIT for the previous six years, his leadership gave Tufts immediate credibility.
   Duplin's first team featured all-Americans Dave Curtis and Charles Loutrel, who earned the honors in the first year they were presented.
   "Duplin was bigger than life," Legler says. "He was physically huge-- six feet one and barrel-chested. He was an innovator and a risk taker."
   Another charismatic presence bolstered Tufts' profile when Manton Scott arrived from Darien, Connecticut, in the fall of 1971. An Olympic-level talent who competed across the country, the gregarious Scott spread a good word about the University and its sailing program to college-age competitors who soon flocked to Medford. Scott died tragically during his sophomore year in 1973 when he was electrocuted while preparing for an Olympic-class regatta. His influence at Tufts is remembered with a plaque in Tisch Library and a book fund.
   The co-ed team finished second at the 1975 Dinghy Nationals, one point out of first place, then won its first Dinghy title in 1976. Since then Tufts has been an annual contender for the Dinghy, Team Racing and Women's national championships. The co-ed team won the ICYA National Dinghy Championship in Rhode Island in early June.
   "Over the years the competition at our practices has been better than what we face at a lot of regattas because we have so many talented sailors," says Legler, who just finished his 21st season as coach at Tufts.
   A sailing enthusiast since his boyhood days in Larchmont, New York, Legler knew what he wanted to do after graduating from the University of Rhode Island in 1977. He sailed and coached the team as a student at Rhode Island, then had stints at Navy and Kings Point before coming to Tufts to replace Duplin.
   "Ken runs a good program," Provan says. "He works hard for us."
   Because sailing is commonly regarded as a recreational sport, the Tufts team has reached the top competitively with little publicity. Despite its reputation, racing is no picnic. Due to the level of competition, and 10,000 variables presented by the wind, it is a sport that requires physical and mental stamina. The major regattas include three days of racing, with as many as ten races per day. The course, set up like a triangle pointing to the left with the start in the middle of the bottom line, typically takes 25 minutes to complete. A strong wind calls for hiking, a draining technique used to keep the boat level so that the sail can best catch the wind. Capsizing is common.
   "I played a lot of other sports up through middle school and I can honestly say that sailing is the most physically and mentally demanding sport I've played," Manning says. "You need strength to adjust to the different types of wind, and you have to use your head to read the wind and make tactical decisions."
   It's also a beautiful sport. The 2001 Intercollegiate Sailing Association's Women's National Championships were held May 29-31 on the Charles River, with the Boston skyline as a backdrop. Tufts students are fortunate to practice and host regattas on the scenic Upper Mystic Lake in Medford.
   Perhaps most unique to sailing is that women compete against men, and win regularly. While they admit they couldn't beat the top male sailors, Provan and Manning have victories over several men's skippers. They were second out of 16 teams in the C Division at the co-ed Boston Dinghy Cup regatta on April 1.
   "Guys have bigger egos, so it's definitely satisfying to beat them," Provan said with a laugh. Provan is fifth in a line of Tufts skippers who have won women's national championships. She follows Heather Gregg (1984 and 1986), Jane Kirk (1990), Carissa Harris (1993 and 1994) and Caitlin Macallister (1996 and 1999). Betsy Allison, who sailed at Tufts from 1977 to 81, didn't win at nationals but went on to become an eight-time world champion. The women's seven national championships are the most by any program in the country, with Navy next at six.
   In addition to earning their place among Tufts greats, Provan and Manning will just as fondly recall the time off the water spent with the team. Provan most enjoyed spring-break practice trips to Maryland when the team would camp together in the woods. Manning says that because the team practiced and traveled together so much, it became her social realm and has given her most of her best friends. They won the 1999 national championship in front of their teammates in Florida.
   "Tufts is the sort of school that has Jumbo pride in general," Provan said. "On our team, when we get here we learn about Jumbo pride. It's hard to explain, but it's there. It's a pride passed down by the older members of the team."






© 2001 Trustees of Tufts University, all rights reserved.