You may have seen him at the last Festifall.
No, it wasn’t the guy with the Michigan crew shirt on,
holding up a huge oar and a sign saying, “Big, strong
athletes wanted here.”
It was the other guy. The one with the 5-foot sailing boom
— quite a bit smaller than a crew oar — and a sign
reading, “Small athlete? Try Michigan Sailing.”
This was the tactic of fifth-year senior Craig Capilla, along
with other members of the Michigan sailing team, used last
September to reel in new recruits.
“We’ve noticed (the crew team) out there for
years,” Capilla said. “And (their message) is great,
but we’re looking for the exact opposite end of the
The two-person boats that the team races can only hold up to 330
pounds, so “big, strong athletes” would likely just tip
Capilla remembers following the crew members around with his
sign and serving interested students from the team’s
“We go out on the Diag and are just dumb,” Capilla
said. “But we recruited 140 people.”
Of those 140, Capilla admitted that they only retained about 15
of them, but that’s pretty good considering the team has, and
can only reasonably accommodate, about 30 members.
But don’t get the wrong idea. You won’t find this
group goofing off all the time. The team races competitively
throughout the country, and was ranked No. 3 out of more than 30
teams in the Midwest District last fall.
Sailing in Michigan is trying because the team’s season is
broken in half by the cold winters. Baseline Lake — where the
team practices — is located near Dexter and always freezes
from December through February.
“Ours is a tough sport because we sail from the minute we
get back in the fall right until Thanksgiving,” Capilla said.
“And then as soon as the ice thaws, we’re back out
To keep members in contact during the off season, the team plans
many group activities — everything from inner-tube water polo
to bowling nights to its recent craze over karaoke.
During the season, between six and 12 members are sent about
every other weekend to regattas across the country. Members race in
either dinghies or J-24s against both club and varsity teams.
That may sound intimidating, but Capilla stressed that because
the team is not varsity, it has the luxury of welcoming anybody who
wants to sail.
“We’re not all from sailing backgrounds,”
Capilla said. “There are a number of people on the team who
had never been out on a sailboat before they came out with
If a perspective member it, the team can send you to beginner
races. If you get better, you’ll start racing intermediately
and eventually may be competing at the top collegiate level.
“They’re going to be knowledgeable sailors by the
time they leave the program,” said Capilla about
first-timers. “They’re going to be able to make their
way around the race course and be moderately
For the more experienced team members, this spring’s focus
is on getting to the Inter-collegiate Sailing Association (ICSA)
Nationals, which are being held in Oregon in June. If the team
ranks No. 1 or No. 2 in the district, it will qualify for a
But sailing at that level is tough, even though to bystanders
the sport may just look like a relaxing time on the water.
“Sailing is a very mental sport,” co-captain Matt
Vanderpool said. “You’re multitasking a lot. You have
to worry about making sure your sails are up correctly, your weight
is placed in the correct spot in the boat … then you have to
worry about what’s going on around the course — your
position in relation to other boats.”
Currently, two Michigan graduate students — who as
undergrads were three-time All-American sailors at Tufts University
— are coaching the team to help it improve.
In just three weeks — on May 8 and 9 — Michigan
hosts the Michigan Collegiate Sailing Association
For Capilla, this will be one of his last races as a Wolverine,
but according to this fifth-year senior, his love for sailing will
“I’ve never, ever seen someone get sailing removed
from their life once they’ve started doing it,” Catilla