Drexel Sailing Team Getting Into Shipshape

Drexel's growing sailing team

In the time since Drexel’s sailing team made history as the first University club sport to compete internationally, the small team has seen a wave of interest.

Since participating in the world’s largest intercollegiate sailing competition, the EDHEC Sailing Cup in Les Sables-d’Olonne, France, the team tripled in size, going from 15 to 40 student members.

“I was just blown away by how many people signed up and are consistently showing up and are still interested," said Tracy Venella, a pre-junior accounting major and team president. "In the fall, a lot of freshman and other people are interested just for the first couple weeks. But we’ve had a consistent group of students who have still been involved with the team."

Even better, the diversity has grown along with the numbers, according to Jakub Tyczynski, the team’s former club manager.

“We have people of all different experiences, people who have never been on a boat before and people who are experienced sailors on small boats or big boats," said Tyczynski, a senior finance major. "Then there are students from all different majors, like biology, business, engineering and architecture."

Vanella and Tyczynski credit the EDHEC Sailing Cup for the team’s heightened profile.  Many have told them they didn’t know Drexel had a sailing team before learning about the trip. The team made many connections on campus while raising more than $30,000 for travel expenses, selling the idea to several Drexel colleges, organizations and President John A. Fry. A successful Indiegogo crowdsourced fundraising campaign also helped.

Photos and videos from France were shared on social media, and the team’s trip was highlighted in several Drexel publications. At the start of the academic year, the team held booths at recruitment beginning-of-term events like Activities Unlimited and Rec Fest.

Plus, the team’s reputation is growing in the collegiate sailing world, where Drexel competes with varsity teams on a regular basis in regattas and competitions. The club sport consistently makes the top 20 teams of their division the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association (MAISA), and they were the only team from their division to participate in the EDHEC Sailing Cup.

The team recently finished the fall season, which was filled with twice-a-week outdoor practices and competitions every weekend up and down the East Coast. Having recently scheduled their spring regattas, they’re preparing for the next season and a possible second fundraiser to compete in France again if they qualify.

“Winter is kind of a confusing moment. We don't compete in MAISA so there is a lot of free time. Some people participate in a ‘Frostbite’ winter regatta, and we all work out together,” Tyczynski said.

This year, because of the great turnover of students, the team held theory practices so newcomers and seasoned members can brush up on the tactics and boat-handling skills needed for the sport.

We call it ‘dry practice,’” Tyczinski said. “People who didn’t have a chance to sail before can see videos and photos. We explain everything from the beginning.”

Physical and intellectual training in the off-season isn’t that unusual for the team that travels and races together every weekend. When the team potluck dinners and the international trip get factored in, it’s easy to see how close-knit the sailing team really is.

“It’s a lot of fun, even when it’s hard work. We love it. Every weekend we get cold and wet and spend a lot of hours together. And we still like each other after all of it, even after four or five seasons,” Tyczynski joked.

Unsurprisingly, the bond continues after graduation for most members. In the fall, the team hosts an alumni regatta so alums can sail with students. Later, in the spring, all alumni are invited to the end-of-the-year banquet.

“When I came as a freshman, I didn’t know anybody on the team or any alumni,” Venella said. “Now I’m friends with alumni and it’s always so much fun to talk to them. You see what their experience was when they were on the team and how it changed.”

Now, a new generation of sailing team alums will have different stories for current members. When Tyczynski becomes an alum next season, and Vanella follows after a few more seasons, they plan on supporting the team as much as possible.

“It’s a good moment for the team,” said Tyczynski. “We’re getting better, we’re getting faster and we’re getting bigger.”