Tufts sailing mystique
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
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."