Sailing earns 10th in nationals

Eight sailors from the Orcas Island High School sailing team made their island proud as they competed for the Baker Cup at the team racing national championships in Norfolk, Virginia this May.

These students surprised everyone by sweeping the NWISA regional competition at Sandpoint, Seattle on May 6-7, and had to scramble to fundraise for the trip to nationals. Competing against schools with much larger sailing programs, they entered the competition ranked 12th out of 12, and again pulled out an unexpected victory by finishing 10th.

“Even in the races against some of the best teams, they kept fighting and they gave the other team the good race,” said head coach Hannah Tuson-Turner. “The other teams had to work hard to keep them underneath them, in each of the races they sailed. They kept their determination and their positivity. I was really proud because they kept fighting the whole race – and they kept really good attitudes. They really banded together, kept it positive, kept communication, kept trying as hard as they could.”

In the national race, the high school sailors went up against heavy hitters like private academies Christchurch School of Virginia, Chicago’s St. Ignatius College Prep, Rhode Island’s St. George’s School, Massachusetts’ Milton Academy, Puerto Rico’s Antilles High School, and Miami’s Ransom Everglades High School, as well as public schools Newport Harbor and Point Loma High Schools from California, Detroit’s Gross Pointe South High School, New York’s Mamaroneck High School, Texas’ Clear Falls High School.

“Our first races were against top-ranked teams, so they had some really challenging races right off the bat,” said Tuson-Turner.

Tuson-Turner said the kids learned a lot during the competition, quickly picking up techniques and strategies from the teams they were competing against.

“To see the progress, the development while we were there was really fun,” she said. “They’re kind of scrappy and determined, but they’re still kind so that’s a fun thing to see for sure. It’s just an incredible group of families here on Orcas Island.”

She said all 20 students on the high school sailing team worked hard all season to help each other develop their skills.

The nationals were held at the Old Dominion Sailing Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Orcas Island Sailing last won the opportunity to compete at nationals in 2011. The competition involves racing teams of three small sailboats against one another. It’s not just a straight race for speed, as there are different combinations of placing that can score points for the teams. For example, finishing your boats in perfect succession is one combination that would draw a lot of points.

The competition would have run 11 races but had to be cut short due to lightning and thunder on the East Coast. Orcas Sailing won two races out of the seven they sailed.

Tuson-Turner said the kids’ amazing spunk and sportsmanship are “a reflection” of the attitude built into them by former coach Burke Thomas, who has recently passed the team’s day-to-day training to Tuson-Turner. Thomas continues to provide guidance, serving as president of the Sail Orcas nonprofit organization and will be commodore of the Orcas yacht club next year. Tuson-Turner said Thomas continues to work in leadership for sailing programming in the region.

This summer, there will be plenty of opportunities for Orcas Islanders to find out what sailing with Sail Orcas is all about. In addition to the traditional summer adult and beginner and intermediate kids’ sailing classes, the organization will hold a class for 6-7-year-olds and an intro to race class. Sail Orcas will also be offering free Community Sailing on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. Keep an eye on the website at for more information and dates.