Building the passion for offshore sailing
Published on November 9th, 2020
In the November 2020 edition of US Sailing’s e-Newsletter for one design sailors, we share a report about the Collegiate Offshore Sailing Circuit and their mission to teach fundamental offshore seamanship skills to college sailors.
An interview with Ed Cesare, Board Member of the Collegiate Offshore Sailing Circuit (COSC) and Vice Commodore of the Storm Trysail Club:
Tell us about COSC and what are you hoping to accomplish?
Collegiate Offshore Sailing Circuit is a 501c3 formed to fulfill its mission, “to teach fundamental offshore seamanship skills to college sailors”. The organization is looking to expand blue water participation within a socioeconomically diverse college aged population of young people. (read: not just yacht club kids).
The intention is to build, or perhaps rebuild, a culture and passion for being offshore among young Corinthian sailors, not necessarily to build a pathway to a professional sailing career.
What do you mean by true “Offshore” sailing for college sailors? Isn’t there already big boat racing in the college sailing scene?
There is some big boat around the buoys racing in college sailing and the service academies do some offshore sailing in donated boats in major coastal races. But none of that includes offshore curriculum and training/practice in one design offshore boats.
Our aim is to build skill sets needed for blue water sailing. Blue water being defined as open access to the ocean including overnight sailing, out of sight of land for as many hours as logistics allow, and a skill set beyond how to trim the sails and make a boat go fast that allows sailors to thrive at sea.
What is the significance of “developing tomorrow’s blue water sailors today”?
The significance is building and expanding upon a culture of sailing offshore while providing pathways to younger sailors to experience true offshore ocean sailing. We do this by giving them a taste of what it is like to be part of a team, sailing out of sight of land, and contending with any and all sea and weather conditions, and safely navigate out and back.
How did this program come about? Why the Figaro 2?
COSC is the brainchild of Rich Wilson, a trained educator and two-time Vendee Globe competitor. The Vendee Globe is a non-stop race around the globe in high-performance 60 foot IMOCA class boats. The program concept is based on the traditions of the French sailing culture; one that breeds talented offshore sailors. It addresses the question: Why can’t we build something like that here in the USA?
Rich saw an opportunity when a large number of offshore capable boats became readily available. With the evolution and production of the Figaro 3, the Figaro 2 class underwent mass retirement making it widely available and affordable.
Rich came to the Storm Trysail Club in 2018 with this idea and since his vision was consistent and closely aligned with that of STC, the club was eager to partner on the project. Storm Trysail’s mission is, “to promote good fellowship among blue water sailors and to encourage the sport of ocean racing and offshore cruising.”
That same year, we went to college coaches to see if there was a demand for this kind of program and then started to raise money to secure a fleet of boats. Since January 2018, enough money has been raised to purchase 11 boats for the program with the intention to build the fleet to 20.
So far, six of the boats have been deployed at four schools. Of course with the onset of the pandemic, college sailors were sent home and this has slowed the progression of the collegiate program and aggravated head winds that we knew we would face with schools.
With continuing uncertainty around when collegiate athletics will come back and what it will look like, we are looking to propel the program as originally conceived, but pivot and engage community sailing organizations and potentially interscholastic teams.
COSC had a detailed program in place with Sail Maine to start a Figaro 2 program this summer but state COVID restrictions prohibited that from going forward in 2020. We expect we’ll be able to run that program in 2021 and use it as a model for other community sailing organizations.
Working with community sailing certainly addresses our “DNA” of expanding access to new audiences for offshore sailing and provides a way for the fleet to be used outside the academic year.
COVID has thrown up some hurdles for us but also brought opportunity. A big part of the program is to deliver shore side curriculum around topics like weather, navigation, rules of the road, and living at sea. We had not really thought about doing that digitally but now that we all live and breath Zoom, it’s a natural. We’ll also use the battery of US Sailing Safety at Sea videos that Storm Trysail contributed to.
How do you expand the deployment of the fleet and participation?
Our plan is threefold:
1. We’ve gotten some miles under the keel with Kings Point MMA (one boat) and Webb (two boats) competing in coastal races and doing some training together; SUNY Maritime (one boat) has been sailing their boat locally and training kids while at school. As the pandemic eases, we anticipate interest and uptake by other schools. I would say that when collegiate athletics really get toing again we will re-engage with four or five colleges beyond the service academies that had expressed real I interest.
2. We’re excited by the prospects of working with community sailing programs during the school year and particularly over summer.
3. Although shorthanded sailing is not part of our original mission, we are exploring the possibility of the fleet playing a role in developing teams for the new mixed gender event in the Olympic Games. Offshore sailing in the Games can only contribute to a culture of blue water sailing here in the States and that is very much a part of our mission.
Are the Figaro 2 boats matched in set up and sailing capabilities? Are they really one designs?
Yes, they are. Class rules are extremely tight. You cannot move a cleat, alter deck layouts, or make any substantive changes within the class rules. They are virtually identical. They are perfect for our mission of teaching offshore skills. Sail plans include a mainsail, a genoa, a jib, and a symmetrical spinnaker.
They are sporty enough to hold the interest of young sailors, yet they are small enough to be forgiving. It is hard to get into too much trouble. They are roomy down below and there is a proper nav station to teach those important skills while underway.
Why use College Sailing as a platform?
Collegiate sailing represents a pool of sailors that might be interested in the adventure and challenges of blue water sailing. Sailors in college tend to come from a varied background – not only kids from yacht club junior sailing programs.
College coaches have told us that one of there challenges is getting time on the water for athletes who are too big for the dinghy team. Offshore provides an opportunity to sail for these students, and for those who are not really interested in small boat round-the-buoys racing.
There is clearly a growing appreciation by young sailors for the social aspect of offshore big boat sailing. Young people love being part of a bigger boat team with their contemporaries.
The appeal of offshore sailing is growing. Learning the skills associated with offshore and distance sailing will lead to opportunities for long ocean races like Newport-Bermuda, TransPac, and Trans Atlantic as well as long deliveries and cruising. One of the attractive features for STC members is the opportunity to give back and mentor these young sailors.
What does the training entail? Classroom or just hands-on practical?
Training features technical curriculum (14 modules) that is classroom-based, including: weather and weather routing; log keeping and watch keeping; rules of the road; anchoring & towing; maintenance at sea; nutrition & sleep; abandon ship; and more. Land-based training is scheduled over two semesters.
Practical, hands-on-training is based around a combination of shorter sessions, including afternoon practices and longer sorties that include overnight sails.
Is there much cost associated with getting a Figaro 2 school program going?
We haven’t found a single funding model that works for everyone yet. Making it affordable for college teams is a challenge, but philanthropy from COSC, alumni sailors and collegiate budgets all help.
The selected colleges/consortia are responsible for operating and maintaining their boat/fleet. COSC estimates maintenance costs to be $7k per year, per boat. Also, COSC will operate an annual fleet maintenance crew to assist the colleges with spare parts and repairs, to inspect the boats to ensure that the boats are kept up to standards and within one-design class rules.
Do you see this generating interest in and feeding the new doublehanded Olympic Offshore event?
When the program was conceived, it was not intended to focus on shorthanded sailing. It is all about getting young sailors to sea, learning those skills that allow them to thrive offshore. Four collegiate sailors with a coach is the targeted ship’s complement.
Part of the developed skill set is the ability to work as a team, how to build on the strengths of each other and to support each other through the challenges. That said, the skills that these kids develop will enable them to look towards and participate in that type of discipline or any other type of offshore sailing.
The success of the new shorthanded Olympic discipline can only spark interest in and revitalize a culture of offshore sailing in the USA and around the world. We are exploring ways that our Figaro 2 fleet might contribute to the development of mixed gender offshore teams while maintaining the integrity of the original mission of COSC
How can sailors and schools find out more?
Go to our website – https://www.cosc-usa.org/ – to learn more about COSC and our programs. If readers want to help financially through donations or want to volunteer in some capacity, please contact us at Info@cosc-usa.org.