By Georgia Sparling
MATTAPOISETT — Old Rochester Regional is entering uncharted waters with its new varsity sailing team, and volunteer John Mello says its high time.
“For communities that are so connected to the water like these towns, it’s long overdue, but it takes people from outside the school system,” he said.
Mello is a volunteer with the team and a board member of Mattapoisett Sailing (MattSail) that has allowed the team to use its 420 sailing boats.
“It was one of the goals of MattSail from the beginning,” said Mello.
ORR did have a club team years ago, but the group didn’t have the proper boats to compete with other high schools in the area. The new team, however, will be able to compete with teams along the South Coast and Cape Cod.
The combination of the cold spring and setting up a new program meant the Bulldogs got a slightly late start to their first season. Still, head coach Laura Schmidt said the team has come a long way since getting on the water at the end of March.
“They’ve had a pretty steep learning curve. They’ve done a lot better than I expected,” said Schmidt. “I’m really happy with all of them.”
The 11-person co-ed team is a mix of experienced sailors and those completely new to the sport.
Sophomore Josh Garcia is a newcomer who has already shown he’s got sailing in his blood.
“He’d never been on a boat before, and he’s already our best crew,” Schmidt said.
Student Matt Kiernan has some sailing experience and said he was encouraged to join the team by a friend.
“I usually don’t do team sports,” he said. But, “everyday I get to come out and go sailing. It’s better than sitting at home.”
Under Schmidt’s leadership, the sailing Bulldogs have been learning the rules for competing and practicing drills and races. Each two-person team is learning to work together and to master the wind and waves in Mattapoisett Harbor.
“Right now, I’m mostly anxious to get them out competing as much as possible,” Schmidt said. “They’ll learn more by competing at this point than I can teach them.”
The team will compete in five to six competitions this year, she said.
“It will be a shaky first year, but they’re so much better than I expected them to be. I have zero complaints,” Schmidt said.
The coach said support from local yacht clubs and towns has been invaluable to getting the team afloat, and she expects the students to do well.
“It makes perfect sense for them to have a team, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t have a very successful program, especially with MattSail behind them,” said Schmidt.