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Michigan State Sailing Club Connects Students With Great Lakes

Eva Rossell

Michigan State students of any experience level can sail with the student club, learning life lessons through friendship and competition.

Michigan State, and its land-locked mid-Michigan location, does not automatically conjure thoughts of sailors and regattas.

However, MSU still has the big secret weapon – the Great Lakes being just a few hours away. The Michigan State Sailing team, a 40-member student club, spends its time on the Great Lakes, competing against universities from all over the country and pushing to cross the finish line first.

Eva Rossell, a sophomore psychology major, knew she wanted to join the MSU’s sailing team. At the end of her freshman year, she was elected to the team’s executive board as a captain. As a sophomore, she became the team’s commodore, a sailing term for president.

Rossell’s love of sailing dates back to her childhood.

“My parents have been racing sailboats since before I was born so I grew up joining my parents for weekend races and cruising around Detroit and Lake Erie on our 28-foot, “Oday”,” Rossell said. “When I was eight, I started full-time sailing lessons and began racing at Bayview Yacht club. I sailed there for 9 years, along with sailing for my high school's team for four years. Now I'm going on to my third summer of coaching both adults and children.”

Credit Eva Rossell

A typical regatta consists of two days of sailing, with four to eight races a day. Michigan State’s sailing team is based out of the Sailing Center in Meridian Township, where it practices racing and drills leading up to the regattas. They travel all over the Midwest to Great Lakes states to compete, as well as attending several regattas on the East Coast. The team even once travelled to France to compete and hopes to do it again.

“At our sailing center, we have been sailing FJ’s which are four-meter-long, two-person sailboats with two sails. We also sail and race a boat that's very similar called a 420, because that's what most schools have for regattas,” Rossell said. “We have a few 420’s at our site as well, and we’re working on fundraising to buy 6 more. We also occasionally race bigger boats that are around 40 feet with around eight crew on board.

“There are two people per boat and two boats represent our team per regatta, so technically you only need only four people for a regatta, but we usually send around six. There's usually between 8-12 different teams at a regatta.”

The sailing team typically meets around three times a week in-season, and every other week during the winter. Each team member pays around $120 per semester.

Most members come from some sort of sailing background, but they can vary from experienced, like Rossell, to inexperienced and willing to learn.

Andriejus Gaska, a junior packaging major, is one of the more casual club members who had no sailing experience. Unlike Rossell, who lives for the competition on windy days, Gaska is just happy to be involved in something unique. He found more than sailing skills when he joined the sailing team, namely, friendship.

“I joined sailing club because my friend Sam was on the executive board and he said it was a fun club,” Gaska said. “I have been to two regattas (races) and social events for the club and I lived at the sailing house last semester.”

Credit Eva Rossell

The sailing team is just one of many who use the Sailing Center. It is open to the public as well, and offers many different programs, including a “Learn to Sail” program that is open to all ages teaches all program members the skills necessary to sail a small vessel in lakes.

Scott Petritz, the Sailing Center’s facility manager/head instructor and the Sailing team’s faculty advisor, has a vast background in sailing. It starts from his childhood, growing up in Milwaukee on Lake Michigan. He started teaching sailing during summers back home from college, before moving to Hawaii for seven years to run waterfront programs and eco tours for a non-profit childcare organization.

He also has experience teaching sailing on San Francisco bay, before moving back to the lake life to be close to family and Northern Michigan.

“I love working in a dynamic environment. Things are always changing out there. I can be teaching a class, fixing a boat, operating the safety boat, working in the office, etc.,” Petritz said. “Every day is different. Working with my student staff is super fun as well. I am able to impart some of the ‘wisdom’ that I’ve built up over the years, while also staying somewhat young.”

Rossell agrees that her sailing constantly teaches her lessons about life.

“My favorite part of sailing is pushing your limits and seeing how much you can handle. I also love how there is unlimited knowledge to be learned about sailing - there's always more that you can learn,” Rossell said. “The biggest thing I can say is that if you ever get the opportunity to go sailing, say yes. Unlike other sports, it's something you can do when you're 8 but also when you are 80. What you put in is what you get out.”

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