NEWPORT, R.I. – How does a rag-tag, small college sailing program rise from relative obscurity to qualifying for the sport’s national championship regatta in just five years?
Sailing in an outdated fleet of FJ’s in 2005, the university wasn’t allowed to host inter-collegiate regattas - despite residing in the celebrated “sailing capital of the world” that once played host to the America’s Cup. Five short years ago, the university had never achieved a top 20 New England ranking, let alone a top 20 in the nation.
Next week, however, 15th nationally ranked Salve Regina embarks for Madison, Wisc., where they will race against the best intercollegiate teams in the country – including Harvard, Yale, Brown and Stanford – with a co-ed national championship at stake.
How is it possible?
John Ingalls: Salve Regina’s head coach, Ingalls is the 2010 New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association Coach of the Year.
His coaching career at Salve began in 2003 with just six boats and less than a handful of experienced sailors. In 2005, he spearheaded the university’s campaign for a new fleet of racing boats, which, once realized, allowed Salve Regina to begin hosting New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association and intersectional events on its home course. Salve Regina co-hosted (with the New York Yacht Club and Brown University) the 2008 National Championships.
The Little Compton resident is a licensed marine engineer with a master’s degree in marine engineering from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, a master’s degree in engineering management from Drexel and an master’s in business administration from Bryant. He works for his family’s world-renowned Yngling-building business, DeWolf Boats Inc. of Newport, and is a two-time medalist at the World Yngling World Championship, including gold in 2006.
His four years of collegiate racing with USMMA includes two national championships.
Newport’s Sailing Community: Charlie and Posy Dana, owners of Newport Shipyard and members of the New York Yacht Club, literally opened their doors (and purse strings) to put Salve sailing on the map. The Danas hosted the summer 2006 fundraiser to replace the university’s fleet with 20 new Vanguard 420s.
They honored then Salve Regina President and current Chancellor M. Therese Antone and sailing program founder Sister Esther Whalen with pledges to name two boats the “Sister Therese” and the “Sister Esther.”
Following the Danas’ lead, many others in the community stepped forward to support Salve Regina sailing, including the Bazarsky family, Francis Curren and O.L. Pitts, among others. Corporate sponsors included The Providence Journal and Sovereign Bank.
“Five years ago we were bare bones, barely hanging on,” said Ingalls. “We needed more people in boats. We needed more skippers. We needed to host major regattas. The new fleet gave us a shot at all of that.”
Salve’s Sailing Nun, Sister Esther Whalen, a 32-year Salve Regina employee and a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart, was inducted as a member of the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association Hall of Fame in May 2008. She is also the 2007-2008 ICSA Outstanding Service Volunteer Award.
Daughter of Grover Whalen, New York City’s one-time police chief, official greeter, World Fair president and master of the ticker tape parade, Sister Esther started the sailing program at Salve Regina two decades ago with then-athletic director Paul Cardoza. Sister Esther continues to be the team’s most important ingredient. With her guidance and support, the program has grown from its humble beginnings at Kings Park with five boats (each different and far from being designed for speed) to its present fleet of 420s and a national championship berth. Sister Esther will join the team in Wisconsin May 30-June 5.
In 2008, the Whalen family established the $100,000 Sister Esther Whalen Sailing Endowment at Salve Regina University. Also in 2008, Sister Esther made a gift to help the Museum of Yachting repair 80-feet of floating dock at the Fort Adams State Park waterfront, making it possible for the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association to stage its National Championships there.
A Quick Study: Lauren Grygiel (Westport, Mass.), a member of Salve Regina’s Class of 2010, was honored with the 2010 Second Team all NEISA crew award, presented at the 61st New England Team Racing Championships hosted at Salve Regina earlier this month. Remarkably, Grygiel arrived at Salve Regina with no sailing experience.
“Her intelligence, athletic ability, determination to improve, and commitment to the team rapidly propelled her to the top of her sport,” credits assistant coach Michael Komar.
Grygiel’s story exemplifies what is possible in the sport of sailing at a small institution (2,200 undergraduates) like Salve Regina, where students with no sailing experience have the opportunity to step in and learn alongside some of the country’s most talented sailors.
The Team: Representing Salve Regina in its first-ever trip to the nationals are: Torey Pellegrini (Kingston, Mass.), Pete Pellegrini (Kingston, Mass.), Patrick Clancy (Scituate, Mass.), Christina Ford (Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada), Karafaye Buffa (Huntington Beach, Calif.), Lauren Cotta (Pawtucket, R.I.), Lauren Grygiel (Westport, Mass.), Sarah Muzyka (Harvard, Mass.) and Hayley Blundell (Taylor, Texas). Coaches: John Ingalls, Michael Komar. Team Manager: Sister Esther Whalen.
Assistant Coach Michael Komar, a 2008 Salve Regina graduate and former sailing team co-captain with James Randall (’07), teamed up with Randall and coach Ingalls to win the gold medal at the 2006 Yngling World Championships in La Rochelle, France, in a boat they built themselves. The crew earned the best-ever result by an American crew at the World Open Yngling Championship, besting a field of 41 international teams.