La Navigation De La Mer


De différents milieux de vie

From different walks of life

Erin MacCausland often jokes that she was sailing in utero. In a way, she’s close to correct.

Her father was an Olympic sailor, participating in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as an alternate for Team USA and in 2000 as a coach of the Bermudian Star team. In 1987 he helped win back the America’s Cup, one of the most coveted trophies in the sailing world — she says for sailing novices to think huge, like the Stanley Cup or the Lombardi Trophy.

“I really don’t remember a time where my life didn’t revolve around sailing,” MacCausland said. “My parents didn’t find out my sex while my mom was pregnant but everyone told her that she was carrying a boy. So she decorated my nursery blue, and my baby blanket was blue with sailboats.”

When it turned out the predictions were wrong, her parents didn’t change a thing. The nautical theme remained, both in her decorations and in her blood.

MacCausland was born into sailing and has turned it into a defining part of her identity. So when she began looking at colleges in the fall of 2008, she didn’t bother to investigate schools without sailing teams.

“For me, sailing has always been the constant in my life,” she said. “I’ve lived a colorful life to say the least, but sailing has always been there.”

Now a senior communication major at Drexel, MacCausland is a veteran member of the Drexel Sailing Team.

That’s right — Drexel has a sailing team, 15 members strong.

The group isn’t comprised solely of Olympic sailing offspring, though — the level of prior experience on the team varies. Freshman Cooper Voigt, for example, sailed for fun at home in Nantucket, Mass., but never actually sailed competitively until he arrived at Drexel.

“I’ve always liked sailing,” Voigt said. “It’s just a really fun sport to get to be out on the water.

“Being at Drexel, it’s in the city and it’s so urban, that it’s nice to have that way to balance it out. To be able to get out of the city, get out on the water, go sailing, be outside and really just have fun. You’re competing, and it’s a competitive sport, but it’s really fun while you’re doing it.”

Sophomore Barrett Adams had minor experience in sailing before he joined the team, limited to a few experiences during his childhood. The summer before his sophomore year at Drexel he decided to teach himself the ins and outs of sailing, taking online classes, and earning his sailing license before joining the team this past fall.

Former team president Joan Boyle learned to sail when she was 10 years old, but she’s literally been around boats since the day she left the hospital as a newborn.

“We literally didn’t go home first,” Boyle said. “My dad didn’t want to miss the end of the Wooden Boat Show.”

And then there’s Jakub Tyczynski, a senior international student from Poland. Tyczynski has been sailing for the past 12 years; when he earned his captain’s license, he was one of the youngest captains in Europe. He’s sailed as both a captain and crew around Europe as well as venturing to the Caribbean.

Suffice to say, no member of the Drexel Sailing Team is the same. They’re like little snowflakes — if snowflakes knew how to trim jib.

The team competes almost weekly in the fall and spring, traversing regattas up and down the Eastern seaboard. They travel as far south as Old Dominion University and head up north to New York a number of times.

And sometimes they head across the biggest pond of all.

From April 27-May 3, MacCausland, Voigt, Adams, Boyle, Tyczynski and four other members of the club team sailed and competed internationally in France for a week in the 46th annual EDHEC Sailing Cup, the largest intercollegiate sporting event in Europe.

The tournament is run exclusively by 50 students from the EDHEC Business School in France.

The team’s trip to France began with a moment of triumph in October 2012, when the team won the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet class at the Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta in Larchmont, N.Y. The team placed third overall in the field of 45 boats, a boon for the team’s reputation. The most important part of performing well at this regatta was the boat type — they were big boats, the same kind that are used at the EDHEC Sailing Cup. The Drexel team doesn’t typically sail big boats. Their normal fare involves smaller boats, with two people in one vessel.

But they nailed the audition when they had to, and word traveled fast. The following year the team was invited to the EDHEC Sailing Cup, and just like that the Drexel Sailing Team was heading to France — or, at least, the Dragons were going to give it their absolute best shot.

La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure

The reason of the strongest is always the best

In sailing, experience often equates to skill, and so Tyczynski was the presumptive favorite to skipper the team’s eight-man boat in France.

In addition to having 12 years of sailing experience under his belt, Tyczynski is a finance major at Drexel. Shortly after being contacted about the invitation to the Cup, he began to exchange emails with EDHEC organizers in an effort to figure out how to help the trip materialize, leading the communication effort in addition to being the team’s best sailor.

He quickly learned that he would have to put everything he’s learned in his time at Drexel to work if the team was to make it to France.

“We received emails from [EDHEC] about it, and we said, ‘That’s great! What does it take to get there?’” Tyczynski said. “They said ‘Oh, you need money,’ so we said, ‘Oh, that’s not a problem, how much do we need?’ And they go, ‘$30,000.’ I just was like, ‘Oh. That’s a lot of money.’”

As a University-recognized club sport, the team receives a fixed sum of money from Drexel each year, but there certainly wasn’t $30,000 of extra money ready to be allotted to an international sailing trip.

So, Tyczynski said, the team would just have to come up with more ideas to reach that $30,000 goal.

“I came up with a pretty good plan — I approached it more like a business plan than just fundraising for a regatta,” he explained. “I pitched a presentation about who we are, where we were going, what we were going to do, how we would get there, what we could win and all of the sponsorship opportunities for people that would put money on the table. We offered to carry logos on our jackets, on the car, on the sails, on the boats.

Drexel sailing stands on boat holding the drexel flag.
The Lebow College of Business's logo adorns the back on this team member's jacket.

“I was just super enthusiastic about it, super happy, super passionate, and I just showed them our drive.”

Tyczynski went knocking from door to door, meeting hundreds of people and trying to convince them to sponsor the trip, explaining the situation and offering up advertisement spots to each potential benefactor. He may be majoring in finance, but the Poland native knows how to talk up an idea. His enthusiasm bursts in conversation, bubbling to the point of unleashing his full-bodied laugh when he is truly excited about the topic at hand.

This fundraising effort was built for his personality and skillset. If anybody was going to get the Drexel Sailing Team to France, it was going to be Tyczynski.

“I remember after two weeks when I would walk into some of these offices, I would say, ‘Hi, I’m from the Drexel Sailing Team,’ and they would say, ‘Oh, you must be Jakub! We’ve heard about you.’”

But in the quantitative world of money, statistics speak louder than smiles.

The campaign was having a hard time getting off the ground. The biggest problem Tyczynski faced was getting people to start. Everybody would listen to the sales pitch and agree that it was a great idea. But instead of contributing on the spot, they would tell Tyczynski to let them know when they had some start-up money.

“Nobody wanted to put money in the beginning because of the risk of being the first one to give $1,000 or $2,000, which is a big piece of what we need, but then we’re not going to go,” he said.

So the senior decided to take the effort from the streets to the screens, beginning a campaign on IndieGoGo, a crowdsourced fundraising platform in the same vein as Kickstarter. If potential backers wanted hard evidence of the fundraising campaign’s legitimacy, Tyczynski would have likes to show and URLs to share.

He said the IndieGoGo campaign was a boon for the beginning of the campaign.

“The traffic from our parents and our friends was the first traction,” he said. “People started believing once they saw the money.”

He continued to reach out to anybody who would listen to his sales pitch — alumni, professors, everyone. The IndieGoGo campaign began February 11 and ended March 21, raising $5,200 along the way. That was 17 percent of the team’s final goal, a huge step toward funding the trip.

But with the trip just over a month away, the risk continued to outweigh the reward for potential contributors. The push for money was not turning the results the team needed and they had fallen off pace of reaching their $30,000 in time to lock up a spot in the Cup.

So Tyczynski, feeling the pressure, decided to bolster the fundraising campaign tenfold and try to sell the idea to the biggest fish on campus, Drexel President John A. Fry.

“The deadline was getting close, and I still didn’t have that much money,” Tyczynski said. “So I just read one of the emails from LeBow that President Fry has office hours, so I said, ‘Alright, I’ll go there!’ And I went there.

“The first thing he said was, ‘Oh, there’s a sailing team?’

“I gave him the presentation that we had and he kept asking questions about it and said he’d have to think about it. He needed to look at the numbers and the programs because we’re not varsity, we’re just a club.”

Fry did his homework and learned that the Drexel Sailing Team was not a typical club but a competitive club sports team, one that had won regattas in the past and sailed at a competitive level for a long time.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to raise $15,000, and if you do I’ll match you,’” Tyczynski said. “I think at the time we were at $5,000 or something like that, so then I just looked at my contact list and re-evaluated everything, went back to everyone once again, and it just happened. It was really important to knock on doors and call back one more time.”

Tyczynski lead an ambitious fundraising charge — $30,000 is nearly a year’s worth of tuition at Drexel. With the slow start and the steep price of the team’s goal, that he convinced sponsors and his academic institution to fund a trip for a group of nine college students to bridge the Atlantic to sail for a week is a testament to his knowledge and determination.

“It was such a huge logistical challenge to raise the money and to go,” freshman Cooper Voigt said of the financial challenge. “Hats off to our seniors and our skipper [Tyczynski] because he really got a lot done.”

With the money finally secured, the flight officially affordable, and school-sponsored sailing jackets and hats packed in their bags, nine Drexel University students boarded a flight out of Philadelphia International Airport April 25. Roughly eight hours and one ocean later they touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport, just a four-and-a-half-hour drive from their ultimate destination at the coast of Les Sables d’Olonne.

The logistics were behind them. The Drexel Sailing Team had made it to France.

Enfin, compétition

Finally, competition

The EDHEC Sailing Cup takes place in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, a town of about 16,000 people on the country’s west coast. The town is known best as the beginning and ending points of the Vendee Globe, the world’s only non-stop, round-the-world sailing race, which occurs every four years, and otherwise is a non-destination. When the 3,000-plus sailors descended upon the Vendee commune for the Cup in late April, the town’s population increased by nearly 19 percent.

Les Sables d’Olonne is a sailing town, first and foremost.

This year the town hosted competitors from 23 different nations participating in the largest sporting event for students in the entire continent of Europe.

With participants from nearly two dozen countries, the difficulty of the competition almost took a backseat to the difficulty of understanding the race organizers themselves, Voigt said.

“There was a bit of a language barrier as far as the races went,” Voigt said. “The race committee only spoke in French, so that did give us a bit of trouble, or at least it gave the American teams a little bit of trouble.”

Early in the week, the team was hung out to dry when a race actually began without their knowledge because the instructions given over the radio were explicitly in French. Not ready for the race to begin, the team members scrambled in an attempt to catch up to the other teams already making their way on the water.

For the sake of their own ego, Voigt said, the Americans weren’t the only ones that struggled with the language barrier during the Cup.

“Even the Spanish teams, they spoke Spanish and English but they don’t speak French very well, so English was an easier way to communicate between teams,” he said. “They asked, I think, over the radio one time, ‘Could you speak some more English?’”

Imagine an English-speaking group trying to communicate with a primarily Spanish-speaking group of people in English over a radio because neither group can fully understand the commands being dictated in French.

Now imagine trying to do all of that while simultaneously piloting a massive sailboat.

Thus is the curious plight of the college sailing team in international waters.

“That’s just one of the things you get when you go and compete internationally,” Voigt said with a laugh. “It was the first time we competed internationally so it was something we learned.”

As far as the sailing itself went, the team said the Cup was a challenge.

A typical day began with an early wakeup call. Every day the team would drive to the beach and get something to eat for breakfast before receiving sailing instructions and heading out on the water — for the entire day. The events normally began around 10 a.m. and ended between 4 and 6 p.m., a day full of non-stop sailing.

The team sailed on a boat called a “Grand Surprise,” a 31.3-foot behemoth of a vessel that was the largest boat the Cup offered during the week. The “Grand Surprise” held seven crew members — for weight restrictions, not space restrictions — at a time.

“I think it was definitely a test for the team because normally there are only two people on a boat, [but in France] we were seven,” MacCausland said. “We quickly had to learn how to work fluidly.”

As the team attempted to adapt to the different boat type and the often confusing French instructions, the French weather stepped up and did its best to disrupt the team even further.

“There was crazy wind the whole week,” Tyczynski explained, still incredulous at the weather a week later. “The first day there we got beat up by nine-foot waves and a lot of things were cancelled. We couldn’t practice [the first day] because the winds were too strong.”

The wind and rain continued sporadically throughout the week, throwing a wrench in a number of teams’ boats by the end of the Cup — Drexel included.

On the last day of the tournament, the front sail of the team’s boat broke because of the extreme wind and weather, leaving them unable to compete any longer. Dozens of other teams experienced similar problems, an anti-climactic ending to a raucous week of sailing.

But even a broken sail didn’t dampen the team’s spirits.

“I think we all worked so hard leading up to the trip, being there finally was surreal,” MacCausland said. “It was incredible to meet kids from all over the world doing exactly what we’re doing.”

“It went way past my expectations,” Boyle said of the trip. “The sailing was absolutely incredible, our team came together in ways I didn’t think were possible, and the people were some of the nicest I’ve ever met.

“All of the headaches and long hours spent planning the trip were so worth every second.”

Pas un soin dans le monde

Not a care in the world

Ask any of the nine members of the team and they will tell you that sailing hurts. It’s physically painful.

“It can be wet, cold, frustrating, sometimes painful, and if you have skin like mine you’ll come back looking like a lobster,” Boyle said.

The boat was rocked by massive waves, their faces devastated by brutal winds and stinging salt water. They missed the beginning of a race and couldn’t compete in another because of broken equipment.

None of that mattered.

“When I’m on the water, I don’t have a care in the world,” Boyle said.

It doesn’t matter what sport you enjoy most. Maybe you’ve been watching the NHL playoffs in the past month. Maybe you like to go for runs on the weekends. You might just throw a baseball back and forth with a sibling for 20 minutes.

When you play the sport you love, whether you’re in America or Europe, on the hardwood or on a “Grand Surprise,” you don’t have a care in the world.

In the end, sport is the truest international language there is.


Sailing Team Member Interviews with:
Joan Boyle, senior
Erin MacCausland, senior
Jakub Tyczynski, senior
Cooper Voigt, freshman

Barrett Adams, sophomore provided a large part of the content acquired for this piece.

Photographs by Joan Boyle, senior

Reported and authored by Adam Hermann

Web Design by Noel Forté