The wind blew against the sails, propelling the boats across Tempe Town Lake’s shimmering waters, as ASU’s Sailing Club began its first weekend of practice in its 10th year as a club.
Spenser Branch, urban planning senior, captain and president of the club stood out on the dock with a walkie talkie in hand as he looked out on the waters. Returning club members were showing new members the ropes of sailing and scouted out who would be good enough to compete for the club’s racing team this year.
ASU’s sailing club began as an adaptive sailing program for people with disabilities who wanted to learn how to sail. Head coach Jake Geller created a boat called the “Martin,” that could be used by people with physical disabilities. Out of that program came the sailing club, which now has five Club Flying Juniors, the collegiate class racing boat.
The club was started with three goals in mind, adaptive sailing for those with disabilities, sailing lessons for students and racing.
The team travels and competes monthly in regattas in California. Steve Swanson, adjunct faculty for School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and Branch reminisced about the team and how much it’s evolved over the years.
“Five years ago we were that movie Bad News Bears,” Swanson says.
All of that changed when Branch joined the team his freshman year. When attended his freshman orientation he participated in one of the sailing team’s practices. After he officially joined the team at the start of the school year he won his first race.
Since Branch has joined the club the racing team has turned around.
“For people to recognize us as competitors was a big step,” Branch says.
The club practices twice a week on Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. They also meet in the Sun Devil Fitness Complex Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
At each practice the team will do drills such as tacking on the whistle. Tacking on the whistle means whenever a coach blows a whistle the sailors must turn their boat around and sail into the wind. And if two whistles are blown they must turn the boat a complete 360 degrees, a method used only when they collide with another boat in a race and receive a penalty.
Branch has been captain since he was a freshman and president for the last two years. He has been sailing since he was 9 years old and began racing sail boats in high school in Santa Barbra, Calif. Racing boats isn’t all Branch does, for the past couple of years in his spare time he races cars.
At the beginning of practice, Branch brought out two life preservers from his red-hot BMW that he takes out to the track to race.
“Racing has been my thing for the past six or seven years,” Branch says. “It’s definitely a huge part of my life.”
Industrial engineering junior Kyle McManus is the team’s travel and safety officer. He balances his time between the Navy ROTC and the sailing club. As a sailor for 15 years, McManus had a love for the water and got involved with the club as soon as he came to ASU. This year McManus is striving to build a relationship between the sailing club and Navy ROTC by bringing in freshman.
Branch, McManus and vice president mechanical engineering junior Chad Hardgrove all lead the team together. Branch hopes to leave the two dedicated men behind as his legacy.
At the end of practice Branch and Hardgrove sailed once more around the lake.
“I really love getting out there and having nothing but nature move you,” Hardgrove says.
Alas, the winds started to die and the lake became placid, bringing the day to an end and having the club look toward the new school year ahead of them.
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