Hoist the Sails

Athletics isn’t what usually comes to mind when the words sailing is thrown around, it’s usually associated with pirates or Columbus, but its often forgotten the extremely competitive sport that takes place behind the mast. Sailing often goes overlooked at the collegiate level, but is incorporated in the vast majority of universities athletic programs, especially the programs located on the coast due to more hospitable environments to sail. Most of us don’t know a thing about it, which is why it goes, overlooked as a major colligate sport such as basketball or football, while CNU possesses one of the most talented teams on the east coast. The Captains battle big names such as Georgetown and The Naval academy. To truly learn all the ins and outs of the sailing world, it certainly helps to talk to one of CNU’s best. Ben Buhl, a past member of the CNU sailing team and one of the most decorated sailors to come through CNU, leaving behind numerous wins, and records, sits down with us to give us an inside look in the sailing world.

For the majority of us who don’t how a standard sailing competition actually takes place, I’ll fill you in. For starters, sailing does rely entirely on wind and they measure wind in knots, and there has to be at least 3 nautical knots of wind for conditions to be appropriate for a regatta. 18 schools take place in college sailing races, called regattas. There’s an A team and B team, with two people per team, the A fleet goes out and does two races then comes back then, the B team does the same, then the process is repeated. The two on the boat are called the skipper and the crew, and each school usually brings a heavyweight and a lightweight crewmember depending on the conditions. The skipper holds the majority of the responsibility; they call tactics, steer, and trim the mains, while the crew looks for traffic. “Being a skipper was the only position I ever wanted to have, it meant you were in control and called all the shots,” said Buhl. The regattas take place on weekends, on Saturdays sometimes they race until dark, but on Sundays they usually finish by early afternoon. The scores of the A team and B team are added together at the end of the regatta, and the winner is determined.

Bens collegiate came long after his success with sailing in his younger years. Ben started sailing from the young age of 5 years old, at his local yacht club, The Fishing Bay Yacht club in Richmond, Virginia. He drew all of his inspiration from his father who also sailed in college and started from a young age. Ben has gathered numerous awards over the course of his sailing career, many before he even got to CNU. He has taken home over 20 first place finishes, and placing in the top 3 almost 30 more times. He has competed in hundreds of regattas all over the east coast over the course of his career, taking home 4 individual achievement trophies from his yacht club since 2007 including the competition trophy, the Roberts Bowl trophy, the Reid A. Dunn trophy and the Hutcheson Jr. Memorial Trophy. This is all before going colligate.

Ben always wanted to attend CNU. His sister was an outstanding member of the sailing team for 4 years at CNU and the two sailed together in 2012 and 2013. His career at CNU looked exceptionally bright given his legacy. He already knew the entire coaching staff that was eager for him to come down and represent the school, due to the fact his sister had been sailing at CNU two years prior and had introduced Ben to the staff. Ben only applied to CNU to come sail and begun his colligate career in the fall of 2012 and immediately became a star, taking home numerous 1st place finishes in his rookie season as well as placing in the top percentage on his other regattas. Ben said, “it was one of the best times in my life due to the fact that I got to meet so many people, and travel all over the east coast and sail in the some of the most beautiful locations.” Things were looking very good for Ben going into his sophomore year.

But then the plague that befalls most student athletes started to set in. Balancing between work and play, the constant struggle of trying to keep good grades while being a committed member of the team. Ben said, “balancing the two was hard, and adjustment was extremely difficult, I felt torn between the two at all times.” After his freshman year he said he really wasn’t in the academic position he wanted to be in, and was nervous he wouldn’t be able to commit himself entirely to the team or school. Bens said he had one of the most difficult semesters coming up and couldn’t afford to take another hard hit to his academics. So he had to make a choice, a choice that a lot of student athletes have to make. Continue to play the game they love, and risk academic suicide or take a step back, and focus on their grades. Ben unfortunately had to step away. He said it was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make in his life. “I knew it was the right thing to do, but that definitely didn’t make it any easier” said Buhl. He was coming off one of the best seasons he’s had in his entire sailing career, and according to Ben, was ranked the best skipper on the team after one season.

Ben says that this problem affects a lot of student athletes, and sometimes you have to know when to walk away in order to do what’s truly important. Ben took a semester off and rejoined the team in the spring of 2013 only to have the same problem, and once again having to step away. Ben says that he thinks he could have taken the team to new heights and really put the school on the map, he says he misses it every day and still competes in the summer, as well as coaches. When asked is he regretted his decision to walk away, he says sometimes he still has mixed feeling about it, but ultimately was the right thing. “I just had to play it safe” Buhl said. “I couldn’t risk my entire academic career for my sport, and I think in the end that was right call, I still get to sail in the summers so its still in my life, but being a member of the CNU community is the most important thing and I’m glad that’s where I shifted all my focus.”

Ben’s story sheds light on the struggle that affects the majority if not all college student athletes. Ben said “I had to give up my passion, what I trained so hard for, and honestly the whole reason I came to CNU for, and it was heartbreaking, but I know I made right choice, and I know a lot of others struggle with the same issue everyday.” Sometimes the training isn’t enough, and even some of the most gifted and talented athletes just aren’t cut out for the field and the classroom. Ben says he made the right choice, and is still involved with CNU sailing. Ben is planning on moving to Annapolis Maryland for work, the sailing capital of the country, where he hopes to spend a lot more time on the water and doing what he loves. Ben said, “In the end I was happy with the decision I made, I know a lot of kids struggled with the same problem I had, and I’ve seen kids get kicked out of school because they didn’t make the right call. I still get to sail and still be a Captain and that’s all the really matters.”

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By Jack Matteo

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