Christopher Newport University’s (CNU) varsity sailors recently competed against Georgetown University, George Washington University, Jacksonville University, Old Dominion University and US Naval Academy at the Hanbury Trophy Team Race.
Former Christopher Newport College (CNC) sailor, Joe Lieberman, captained his 42-foot catamaran to ferry team parents from their sailing center on Deep Creek to the mouth of the Warwick River for an optimal view of the competition. The team has come a long way in the past 45 years.
In the early 70s, CNC’s sailing team was a club program with a few students who had a knowledge of sailing and wanted to compete. With student-owned boats and a purchased fleet of Ghost 13s, they competed in local regattas sailing from Warwick Yacht and Country Club.
CNU professor, George Webb, previously a Massachusetts Institute of Technology sailor, helped CNC’s club sailing program become a varsity sport. The team worked hand in hand with the university to purchase boats and docks.
In the mid 1990s, while President Paul Trible helped grow CNU, the sailing team grew as well. Local sail maker and community sailor, Dan Winters, was head coach for 22 years and built the program.
Student sailor, team captain and MVP for three years, Maxwell Plarr, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 2011. He held a variety of jobs during and after his schooling but none lasted long.
“My passion has always been to grow this program into something greater,” he says. “I remember the first day I was a sailing instructor at a yacht club during my freshman summer. I called my mom and said, ‘This is the best job ever. I don’t want to do anything else.’”
After a year as Winters’ assistant coach, Plarr became head coach in 2012. Today, Plarr is married to Kerstin and has a two-year-old Golden Retriever, Cooper.
Plarr and assistant coach, Austin Powers, have 17 sailors from local to international backgrounds, studying majors from history to bio-molecular science. They compete in co-ed team racing and co-ed dinghy, men’s singles and women’s singles in fleet-racing format. They sail 420s, FJ, Laser and Radial class boats.
“In team racing such as Hanbury, we had three boats versus three boats, each from five universities competitors,” Plarr says. “The tactics and strategy are amplified as well as the rules because there’s close interaction between the boats.”
In 2015, CNU’s varsity sailing team made its first nationals at the Sperry Inter-collegiate Sailing Association Women’s Nationals.
U.S. college sailing is concentrated in New England and the mid-Atlantic. CNU’s conference is the mid-Atlantic, stretching from Southern Virginia, Old Dominion University, Hampton University, College of William & Mary and north to Queens University/Ottawa. They compete in the Mid-Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association (MAISA) and the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association (NEISA) about 16 weekends a year. They also spend four days a week from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the water practicing, plus strength and conditioning which is an enormous commitment for all involved.
Sailing is an expensive sport due to high-priced equipment needs and travel expenses.
“We have a full tool room because it’s not just the sailboats,” Plarr says. “It’s also the safety powerboats we maintain. It takes an investment of thousands of dollars to fund this.”
The team travels to locations including Annapolis and New York. These destinations are not inexpensive, but they have some host families who help cut costs.
The most important aspect of Plarr’s coaching is “team.”
“The person in front and the person in back of the boat can make or break an event,” he says. “You’re not a crew. You’re not a helm. You’re a team. Our mission is to make every sailor a better athlete, to tap into their potential on and off the water as they grow individually and as a team while they work towards obtaining their degree.”
Lieberman was one of the original CNC sailors and is one of the current team’s cherished alumni.
“He takes us out for free as a token to the program and he loves hanging out with the parents,” Plarr says. “He’s done so much for this program.”
Sailor Kaitlyn Reilly, a recent graduate, came to CNU because of the sailing team.
“The team and Max taught me everything I know,” she says. “Being out on the water with your best friends and competing at the highest level is one of the best experiences I’ve had at CNU.”
Sailor Javi Gonzalez Rotger, a freshman from Majorca, Spain, is studying business management and has aspirations of sailing in the Olympics.
“With my studies and everything else going on, I have help from my team members,” he says. “At any moment I can call anyone in any major from history to biology to business majors.”
Students also have help from Angie Moore-Lobach, athletic academic support mentor.
“I aid students in identifying what services they may need and where/how to access them,” Lobach says. “I help students develop the skills necessary to enhance their academic performance, as well as share in their successes and challenges.”
“Academics is the reason all students are here,” Plarr says. “We want to compete and do our best, but our main job is to ensure students get their degree in four years and placement after graduation.”
Plarr says his greatest satisfaction comes from watching the program develop and working with the sailors.
“It’s most important to be great sportsmen and CNU ambassadors,” Plarr says. “The sailors’ drive and our whole-hearted parents’ support are a large factor toward where we are now.”
“I remember what it felt like driving back after we qualified for nationals the first time,” Plarr says of his passion for the team. “The hard work is paying off and from there, we can do anything.”
TO THE POINT:
Christopher Newport University Varsity Sailing
Contact: Maxwell Plarr, head coach