Photo by Daniela Ruiz
Photo by Daniela Ruiz

On a bright Friday afternoon, a group of three sailboats waft over the sea, pushed by the breeze as the sun glints off the water. For the UC Santa Cruz sailing club, this vista is their playing field.

“This is where we do our sport,” said sailing club member Patrick Boyden as the boats skipped off the water out of the harbor.

Sailing is a sport with a vault of special sailing terms and involves navigating various elements, including the ocean, the wind, weight distribution and more. Experienced sailors have definite advantages as they familiarize themselves with the water, wind and boat.

“It’s also a much different sport than most others, it’s almost like a puzzle,” said team captain Emma Shaw. “You have the wind and the sea and your body and if you know how to put those things together the best way, that’s what makes a great sailor.”

Club member Tommy Pastalka said the sport can be difficult to learn at first.

“Sailing is an extremely fluid sport and as such, you can’t take something you learned in a text book or during practice and apply it on the water and get the same results,” Pastalka said.

A team is divided into two people per boat, the “crew” and “skipper.” These two-person boats are called Flying Juniors. The skipper controls direction and speed with a tiller, while the crew control and keep weight distribution even, with the jib and the shaping of the sails.

Each member of the team, skipper and crew, has specific responsibilities when it comes to sailing the boat. Communication between the two members is thought to be key by sailors.

“To be a good crew, you are constantly talking to your skipper and you make decisions together, like where you are going next when all the boats are around you,” said senior captain of the team Jean Rutledge.

Pastalka said winning any boating race is a result of teamwork, not leadership.

“A common misconception is that the skippers win races. If you’re sailing a single handed boat, that may be true, but in every other case, the crew work will win you races. For me, sailing is a process that I will always be learning,” Pastalka said.

The team has two captains, Emma Shaw and Jean Rutledge. Shaw is known for her fearlessness on the team. She has been sailing for 12 years and has received a fair share of injuries, including multiple concussions, bad cuts and other injuries.

In fact, she did not join the team until her second year after receiving a concussion the summer before her first year at UCSC, despite her enthusiasm for the sport. She is now currently out with a broken leg.

Shaw planned to compete in the JJ Giltinan Australian 18 Foot Skiff Championship of Australia this year, which takes place Feb. 14–24, but was sidelined a week before the competition with her latest injury. However, Shaw is already planning on sailing there next year.

The JJ Giltinan Australian Championship is a regatta involving Australian 18, an 18-foot, three-person boat said to be the craziest boat on water — a boat rarely sailed. Shaw spoke of the long hours she spent fundraising and training this summer to be one of the first all -female teams in the competition’s history.

“It takes a certain type of courage, determination and passion to want to sail these boats. Women in the fleet are extremely rare and in the history of the world championships there has never been an all-female boat to compete,” Shaw said. “I’m devastated I didn’t get to go.”

Shaw said her “need for speed” drives her when she is out on the ocean.

“I could be in last place as long as I’m going fast and having the time of my life,” Shaw said.

Shaw’s passion for and experience with the ocean gives her a profound respect for the powerful force of nature.

“You have to know that you’re playing with the elements and that ocean is a whole lot bigger than you,” Shaw said. “The ocean has and always will be my life.”