Whitman sailing team sails through setbacks


Members of the DC Sail club sail on the Anacostia River. Whitman’s sailing team, which sails with DC Sail, had to change practice locations from the Potomac River to the Anacostia. Photo courtesy Sophia Kotschoubey.

By Mira Dwyer

Sailing into their spring season, Whitman’s sailing team, a student-run club that runs through the nonprofit D.C. Sail, looks to stay afloat after overcoming low membership and adapting to a change in practice venues.

The group of competitive sailors is small this year because many varsity sailors had to leave for college or to pursue other commitments, team captain Kelsey Bonham said. With limited members, racing in regattas has become more difficult.

“If you have enough people, you get different advantages during regattas and races, so you want a strong team at Whitman specifically,” club member Rachel Zeidenberg said. “Even though you are coached through DC Sail, you’re racing as Whitman, so if we don’t have a big enough team, we’ll be racing as independent sailors, and it’s a lot harder to place and qualify for different regattas that way.”

Despite challenges this year, the team has had successes. At the end of last school year, the team competed at an invitational regatta in New Orleans. Bonham said she and sailors from other schools are also working to get high school sailors into more adult-dominated regattas.

The team also placed in varsity championships and qualified for regionals, but they couldn’t race in regionals because too many of their sailors had conflicts.

“That’s the problem with a small team—everyone has to go to everything and it’s exhausting and near impossible,” Bonham said.

The team has also had to adjust to a new practice location on top of low membership. DC Sail’s original practice location was in the Washington Channel, which parallels the Potomac River in DC and lies between the Southwest Waterfront and East Potomac Park. Due to The District Wharf’s commercial expansion, however, DC Sail had to acquire a three-year lease from the city government to use space on the Diamond Teague Park Piers Waterfront on the Anacostia River as their sailing outlet.

Relocating brought financial complications for DC Sail, like paying to move and maintain boats, but both the Whitman team and DC Sail prefer the new location over the Washington Channel.

“We’re in a better sail area than where we were before, and there are a few reasons for that,” Director of DC Sail Brian McNally said. “The Washington Channel receives a lot more commercial boat traffic, so the Anacostia is much quieter.”

The high buildings of the Wharf also disrupt wind patterns in the Washington Channel, so the Anacostia has much better winds for sailing, McNally said.

Some members have a positive outlook on the upcoming spring season with hope that the JV team will add fresh sailors and skill to the team.  

“Spring season is coming up in a few weeks, and I’m sure a lot of sophomores will move up to varsity,” Zeidenberg said “So this season I think it will be a strong team.”