Seniors sails into success

Over a decade of adjusting the boom leads to the big leagues.


Julia-Rose Kibben

Senior Paige Dunlevy shows off her gold-medal from the International Sailing Federation Team-Racing World Championships. Dunlevy acted as replacement for a team member who was not eligible to compete.

Julia-Rose Kibben, Design Editor

Despite 12 years of sailing experience, senior Paige Dunlevy had never team-raced or sailed in a Firefly boat until two days before she competed in The 2015 International Sailing Federation Team-Racing World Championships. When she returned home, she did so with a gold-medal in hand.

“The team went into it expecting it to be a learning experience, and came out having won two of three divisions,” Robert Barron, a parent who accompanied the sailing team, said.

Dunlevy received the invitation during the spring from a previous sailing partner Peter Barron, whom she raced with at the Devon Yacht Club in Long Island, New York. The pair placed second in the Peconic Gardiners Junior Sailing Association Summer Series in 2012.

“He knew that I knew how to sail, so he invited me to compete with them,” Dunlevy said.

The team member Dunlevy replaced had aged out of the Youth Division, making him ineligible to compete.

“I knew one of the kids, but I didn’t know anyone else,” Dunlevy said. “It was weird before I met them, but once I did, we all clicked, and there weren’t any awkward moments. It was really great that we had that instant connection.”

They team represented the only U.S. youth team at the event, sanctioned by an application process through US Sailing, the U.S. governing body of sailing, according to Barron.

Dunlevy participates in school-year-round competitive sailing with the Convent sailing team and sails for the Devon Yacht Club in the summer season.

“Paige hadn’t done any team racing before, let alone been in a Firefly,” Robert Barron said. “Paige just did an amazing job integrating with the sailors and becoming part of the reason the team did so well.”

She practiced with her new team for two days in the new boats at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Newport before flying to London to compete in the ISAF Team-Racing World Championships.

“I think it’s extraordinary to hop into a boat one day and race it in the World Championships the next,” her father Frank Dunlevy said.

The team practiced boat-handling the new boats at MIT and acquainting Dunlevy with the team-racing style, according to Dunlevy.

“In the regatta we sail in Fireflies which are similar to FJ’s, the type of boat I sail for high school,” Dunlevy said. “The other sailors on the team sail 420s — which are a little different — so at first they were confused on how to sit in the boat.”

Besides learning how to manage new boats, the competition helped her improve on important skills including communication, according to Dunlevy.

“You have to yell to the other boats,” Dunlevy said. “It gets harder to hear in the heavier winds when your teammates become less audible, but you try nonetheless. I’d say sailors are pretty loud.”

The ISAF World Championships is considered to be a moderate to heavy-wind regatta, but Dunlevy felt prepared for the challenge.

“When I sail in San Francisco, my coach will let me stay far out on the water when the winds get heavier because I know how to keep the boat flat,” Dunlevy said. “I’m able to adjust quickly to the wind, and what to do in any type of unpredictable weather, which is why practicing in the San Francisco Bay puts me at an advantage.”

Strong currents and unpredictable winds make the San Francisco Bay one of the hardest waters to sail, according to Dunlevy, who is considered a lightweight crew due to her petite size.

The team placed first out of five teams hailing from Great Britain and Ireland and won two of three divisions, which no other U.S. team had accomplished to date. Princess Royal Anne, an ex-Olympian sailor admired their sailing abilities and met with team members for a brief chat in private, after their events.

Their success allowed Dunlevy to put San Francisco as a sailing city on the map, according to Barron.

“Going to this regatta and competing with some of the best sailors around the world was an amazing learning experience,” Dunlevy said. “It was unbelievable to just go somewhere and compete in these unique circumstances.”