Nikole Barnes: Hitting the Trifecta

Published on May 30th, 2016

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Nikole Barnes

Nikole Barnes (St. Thomas, VI), a junior at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, couldn’t have written a better script. Her team won the 2016 College Women’s Nationals, she won A Division by 50 points, and she was recognized as the College Women’s Sailor of the Year. Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checks in with Nikole about the accomplishments…

You hit the trifecta. Did you think this was all possible?
Definitely. I’ve dreamed about this moment all year. I know I finished 18th in A Division last year, so dead last. But it was more, “You’re done with that. That’s the worst you can ever do. So might as well– there’s nowhere else to go but up.” And then I did the coed championship after that, and I just started training for this season.

We have goal sheets at the beginning of our seasons, and these were my goals in the fall. Last year, although I did get 18th, that’s not how I sail. I think this was just more of a year to prove how I sail. The winds were a bit strong last year and I didn’t have a heavy enough crew. And then mentally it just got me down. As soon as I got bad starts or bad races, my mental attitude went down.

Last to first…that’s a lot of improvement! What part of your game improved the most?
Definitely, mentally. I get pretty nervous for regattas. And the thing that we did for here – whether semi-finals or finals – was, we stuck to our routine. Did the same thing every time, and I would tell my crew, “Hey, I’m nervous right now. Let’s get some information. Let’s go do some tacks,” or whatever to get my mind off this.

Your team trained at the Nationals venue in March. How did that help?
I think it is more a mental thing. It didn’t give us any advantage because the conditions then looked way different than what we had at Nationals, so definitely more mental. Having that familiarity helped.

How did your preparation this season contribute to your success?
I think it was racing against my teammates Dana Rohde and Avery Fanning. They’re super fast all the time, and I actually get really frustrated in practice. Because at regattas, I do well. And then when I’m at practice, I think I’m the worst sailor out there. So they definitely push me a lot. I am never satisfied. I have to be satisfied with how I’m sailing.

Also, getting in the best physical shape. We went running every day. We had a sailing diet – not that our coaches gave us but just staying away from certain foods. I was focused on the discipline of staying with the routine. Although at times, there would only be two boats on the water, and it would be a four-hour session, just making sure you’re thinking about the ultimate goal. The long hour preparations on the water contributed to our success.

You won A Division by 50 points. Was there a time when the racing got easy?
Honestly, the racing never got easier. It was all just trying to figure it out every time. But our routines in the morning, whether it’s listening to a song and everybody singing to it, just keeping it, knowing when they’d turn up the heat to sail fast or to turn it down to get some water, to get some break, and to know when you need your breaks and not, I think that was the biggest thing.

And the ‘go-to’ song was?
Pump Up the Jam. That was our theme of the Nationals.

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Background: The Intercollegiate Sailing Association’s three spring national championships – Sperry Women’s National Semi-Final and Final Championship, LaserPerformance Team Race National Championship, and the Gill Coed Dinghy National Semi-Final and Final Championship – will be held May 24-June 3, with schools racing Club and Collegiate FJs on San Diego Bay in San Diego, CA. The three events will be co-hosted by San Diego Yacht Club and the Pacific Coast Collegiate Sailing Conference.

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