I hope you’ll indulge me as I sing the praises of one of my student athletes. Meredith Powlison, who wrote a senior project on Milan Kundera under my direction, helped the St. Mary’s College of Maryland sailing team qualify for the three major collegiate national championships—which is to say, women’s racing, co-ed racing, and team-racing. Talking about her accomplishments gives me an excuse for posting one of my favorite sailing poems.
The championships were held in late May and early June in Cascade Locks, Oregon . Although Meredith did not bring home any national championships (St. Mary leads all colleges with 15 such championships since 1993), she did very well. As she describes it,
We were the only team to place in the top five at all three events, which is a major achievement. I sailed each of the nine days. I sailed the entire women’s event, which was in very light air with a ton of current. The conditions were really challenging, and we were in contention to win the event on the last day, which is something that we always want.
I sailed all but two of the team races. Again, we were close to making the final four on the last day. That event was a bit windier, but again with a ton of current.
For the last event, I sailed about two thirds of the races- the last two days got windy towards the end of the day so we stepped up to heavier crews. It was a really long event for Megan and me—nine days—but I feel like we worked really hard even when the racing was frustrating. And, aside from our results, we both got named to the All-America team, and Megan was a finalist for female college sailor of the year (but unfortunately didn’t win that award). So, even while we didn’t come away with a championship win, we felt pretty good about what we pulled off in tough conditions.
Meredith entered the work world on Monday. She will be web editor for Sailing World, Cruising World, and Yachting . Roger Williams University, incidentally, won the team race while University of Rhode Island won the women’s race and Boston College won the the co-ed race.
I loved John Masefield’s “Sea Fever” when I was a boy. It’s not about competitive racing as it describes being alone with the wind and the waves early in the morning. Nevertheless, I can imagine Meredith liking it. She knows what it’s like to give oneself over to “the gull’s way and the whale’s way”—much of competitive sailing involves reading the wind and the currents–and how the wind can feel like a whetted knife (the sailing team begins its spring semester practices in February).
Here’s the poem:
by John Masefield
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
All I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the seagulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trip’s over.
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