When the sails are unfurled and all of the contestants take their mark, the sight is truly majestic. There are 60 sailboats spanning hundreds of yards of water, painting the horizon with color and contrasting with the bright blue sky off the scenic coast of Brest, France.
However, these boats are not there to take a group picture. They are there to compete in the 42nd annual Edhec Boat Cup.
Last week, all of the top European universities came to Brest to compete against one another in the weeklong regatta, and in the midst of all the international competition, the UCLA sailing team looked to make its mark.
One of only two schools from the United States that competed in the regatta this year, the team played the role of ambassador and carried the banner for their own style of sailing into international waters.
The sailing team is one of the smaller club sports on campus but has been growing in popularity as well as skill level in recent years. The team normally competes in events up and down the California coast and occasionally travels to Hawaii for competitions.
But this all changed when fourth-year environmental science and accounting student Victor Weisberg showed up on the scene with the idea to expand the team’s competitive spectrum.
“My sophomore year, I lived in a co-op, and I’m French-American, and a guy I met there, who was French, told me about this awesome regatta in France with all these international schools,” Weisberg said. “He motivated me and other students to go to France and compete.”
In the previous two years, the UCLA sailing team has been the sole representative among American schools at the regatta and has raised the banner of Westwood alongside universities from countries such as New Zealand, Senegal and Switzerland.
Weisberg knew that the task of funding the annual trip to France would not be easy. Because they are a club team, they had to rely on fundraisers and donate money from their own pockets to compete and do what they love.
“We’ve outreached to small businesses, family friends, which are some of our biggest contributors. … But what’s fortunate about this year is that because we’ve done it for the past two years, the organization that runs this tournament really values having such a great American school go, so they’re actually one of our biggest sponsors this year,” Weisberg said.
Getting such high praise from the international community is definitely an achievement, considering that 140 other colleges competed in the regatta this year, not all of them receiving funding.
The team rallied together, and after months of hard work and planning, raised a total of $22,000 to make the trip.
While a weeklong voyage to sail along the coast of France sounds like a luxurious vacation to some, the UCLA sailing team went to prove itself and compete against the best in the sailing world.
Sailing is a sport that demands communication between the crew and requires members to do their job. Because there are so many different details involved in sailing a 32-foot boat, like they did in this regatta, the team had to rely on each other to succeed.
The core group of eight crew members who made the trip to France has been sailing together for some time but had to get used to sailing large boats before they left.
“Normally in the United States, flying juniors (smaller, two-man boats) are the main boats that people sail on … but in France we compete on 32-feet Grand Surprises, which are much bigger boats,” Weisberg said.
The Grand Surprises are no joke. They are huge boats, used exclusively in France, that require all eight members to pull their own weight. Weisberg accredited the back-of-the-fleet performances that the team has had in the past to the tough switch from the smaller American boats to the larger French ones.
“Communication was one of the things I was worried about before we left,” UCLA alumnus and sailing team member Jake Muhleman said. “In order to yell to the front of the boat you have to yell real loud because the coast of France is very windy.”
As if the switch to a larger boat didn’t make things hard enough for them, the competition that assembled at the regatta made the team’s journey even harder. Weisberg said a number of other teams pay for professional sailors, including Olympians, to compete with them.
But UCLA did not show up unprepared.
“A group of us had been practicing really seriously, and what was also exciting was our skipper … who has had experience on these boats,” Weisberg said.
The team seemed to have better success this year in the multiple-race format and consistently finished in the middle of the fleet.
After a week of racing, their efforts fell just short, and they failed to qualify for the championship race.
With 140 different universities from all over the globe coming together to compete, one has to believe that the social life on land was just as fun as the race out on the water.
A whole “village” is set up that houses the 3,000 participants every year.
At night, mingling among the different countries and sampling the food and drink is a major part of the experience.
“It was real cool to get to know people from another part of the world. I will definitely try to maintain those relationships and keep in contact,” third-year mechanical engineering student Billy Edwards said. “The sailing community is a very tight-knit community, and to be a part of it was great.”
Edwards added that the sailing community in Europe takes the sport very seriously.
And with their unique status as one of two American teams, the only other being from Oklahoma City University, the UCLA team members reveled in the opportunity to make their name and what they stand for known to the international community.
“We have for sure built up a brand. … My sophomore year I went in and hung out with all these different schools … and then last year I went back and everyone knew us already. They were like, ‘Oh, UCLA, sweet.’ We have just created a brand of UCLA,” Weisberg said.
The sailing team has not only made a name for itself in the international sailboat racing community, but it is beginning to shape how others view American collegiate sailing.
Weisberg and his crew have taken on the challenge and pressure of spreading the word of UCLA sailing.
“Everybody (at the event) even knows the 8-clap,” Weisberg said.
For more information on our participation in the EDHEC Boat Cup, check out the Bruin EDHEC Team website at: www.bruincce.blogspot.com