The University of St Andrews Sailing Club members must at times feel like they are staring at a mirage: living and studying every day right on the ragged East Fife shores of the North Sea, yet rarely able to sail on it. Instead, they must travel across Scotland from the mouth of the Clyde to under the Queensferry Crossing to race and train. Two different entities based on boat size split the club: dinghy and yacht. The former travel to the same loch as the Boat Club (Loch Ore), which is a two hour round trip. While the Yacht club treks even further, going all the way down to Port Edgar on the Firth of Forth. As a result, they can only train once a week during the season, while the Dinghy team trains twice in the same time span.
However, the impact of these logistics is not as detrimental as first appears. While the teams are divided both by type of boat and by competitiveness, this has not stopped the Sailing Club being one unit. Yacht team captain, and now president, Alex Carter told The Saint of a real sense of camaraderie that was fostered at socials. With over 70 paid members, the club can often get 35 40 members together on a Wednesday.
Nor has the difficulty of travelling hindered the performances. Despite having to commute to Port Edgar, the yacht club has a strong relationship with the local team based there. With a deal that allows them to use their 22 foot long 707 Hunter boats, the two teams are able to train for the various level of competition. This level of preparation has led to some astonishing recent success and growth. When Carter first joined the Sailing club, there was only one yacht team and it was only in its second competitive year. Yet since then, the active members of the competitive side have grown from five to 13 and there are two teams.
As a wider metaphor of Scottish yachting racing at large, the team is on the rise and establishing itself as its own entity, as demonstrated by their performances at sea. In the Scottish Student Sport (SSS) competitions, the first yacht team have quickly dominated. Their first competition was in early October at Helensburgh on the Clyde in an event called the Scottish National Match Racing Championship. Hosted by the Royal Northern Sailing Club in a wider tournament called the Ceilidh Cup, they raced against eight other Scottish universities and the hosting club. They were one of the top three Scottish universities to automatically qualify for BUCS national events for their first time in the yacht team’s long history. The Yacht team have great strength in depth: at the SSS yachting championships in March, the second team got a real taste of the practical application and competitiveness their training had been preparing them for and performed admirably. In between those events, the Sailing Club also sent their yacht second team down to a training event to help their progression. However, the real event that demonstrated the strength of the first team was the Fleet Racing Sprint Series, which saw them have their best ever regatta. At Port Edgar, they did not lose a single race and had nine consecutive victories. With rule over the Scottish waves assured, the team travelled down to Portsmouth between 25 and 29 March for their first ever BUCS competition.
In this four day event of 25 teams of eight, 18 of the best yachting universities in the UK competed for valuable BUCS points, with Southampton and their rival Solent University expected to dominate along with Exeter. Going in blind, the team struggled initially to deal with the substantially larger boats (Sunsail F40, more than double the length of their 707 Hunter boats at 40 feet). However, in the three days of qualification sailing they demonstrated their deserved place by performing well in the passage racing format. This longer style of racing focuses more on navigation and knowledge of winds and tidal currents than the shorter Windward Leeward format. Hardened in the Firth of Forth, the team came fifth overall in the first three days and qualified for the championship group on the final day, which consisted of the top eight sides. In heavy winds and in the shorter format, the team came sixth, a remarkable achievement in their first ever BUCS national competition. With that ranking, they also brought home 12 valuable BUCS points.Despite the phenomenal achievements of this debut, the club is for everyone and not just racing sailors. Carter lamented that one of the problems with his sport was the step up between casually sailing and racing competitively. The necessity of experience and the format of the competition makes it far more challenging to put a novice onto a competitive boat as opposed to in rowing where there are races designed for those who have only been doing the sport for a year. However, the Sailing club is highly committed to offering the experience of racing to anyone who is interested while at the same time maintaining their new found competitive dominance.
The club runs several programs focused on getting beginners into the sport. In freshers’ week and in first semester they run training sessions. While in second semester they run events called “Sunday Sailing”. As honorary members of the local town club based at East Sands, on Sundays a member of the competitive team takes beginners out for a sail to get a taste of the sport. Events such as this, along with a proactive social scene, ensure that there is no divide in the club despite the different classifications of racing based on boat size and competitiveness.
At the time of writing, the yacht team is down at Weymouth at the BUCS match racing competition for the first time. This competition is slightly different to Portsmouth as it is teams of three instead of eight on Elliot boats, not the Sunsail F40. The Dinghy team are also currently at BUCS finals. Looking to the future beyond the horizon, Carter said that a major aim of his presidency was to increase the stature of the club outside of the bubble. He explained that currently keen sailors will typically apply to Strathclyde and Edinburgh because they know there is a large yachting scene there. Therefore, growing the reputation of the club will help them attract new sailors. Performances such as their debut in Portsmouth will go a long way to aiding that process, with the club even being featured in Yachts and Yachting magazine. Aside from more good performances, there is little else the Sailing Club can do regarding the situation at Port Edgar. Carter said that the relationship they have with the local club there is fantastic and worth continuing. Additionally, it was simply not possible to buy their own boats as the harbour at St Andrews does not facilitate boats of that size in a condition that is good for racing. Despite this, the Sailing Club look set for a successful future of racing competitively as well as fostering an enthusiasm for the high seas in this coastal town.