History of the Team
The Amherst Sailing Team has officially been in existence since 1946, though the first regatta ever sailed was a match race with Williams in 1937, making Amherst one of the oldest intercollegiate sailing teams in the country. The Amherst team was originally known as the "Amherst Sailing Society," founded by a salty group of Army and Navy veterans who had recently returned from World War II, and who claim to have chosen the team's name based solely on the acronym it produced.
The team has practiced at a half dozen different sites in the Pioneer Valley in its history, settling on Lake Arcadia in Belchertown in 1997 in a joint effort with UMass. Lake Arcadia is known for its shifty breezes that are light in the fall and gusty in the spring, challenging sailors of all levels. However, unlike previous venues used by the team, the lake is a short 10-minute drive from campus on a lightly trafficked road and has allowed the team to prosper in recent years.
The Amherst team had several short periods of inactivity throughout its history as the team struggled to find a suitable venue and enough boats for practice. After racing Techs in the 1950s and 1960s on Lake Metacomet in Belchertown, the team sailed FJs on Lake Wyola in the 1970s. The current incarnation of the team sailed regularly on the Connecticut River at the Oxbow beginning in the late 1980s and has been in continuous existence ever since. In 1999, the team's fleet grew to 8 420s and the team attended upwards of 20 regattas per semester, including intersectionals in Maryland, Michigan and Chicago. In 2005, the Amherst team, in a joint purchase with Mt. Holyoke, sold the 420s and acquired its current fleet of 10 FJs.
In April 2000, Sailing World featured the Amherst team in its first ever College Sailing Guide, with a two-page spread of Amherst's first regatta on Lake Arcadia. In June 2000, then ICSA President Mike Horn wrote in a letter to the editor of Sailing World that "nothing shows the desire and determination of the small teams better than the Amherst example...there's strong turnout for practice every day. They work hard to get better and enjoy the quest."
Over the years, the team has produced many talented sailors over the years and has introduced hundreds of students to the sport who had no prior experience to the sport. A freshman team from Amherst won the Priddy Trophy in 1959. Bob Billingham '79, began sailing in the spring of his senior year and in 1988, won a silver medal in the Olympics in the Soling class, and has been involved in America's Cup campaigns. Don Cohan '51 won a bronze medal in the Dragons in the 1972 Olympic Games. Peter Beardsley '01 was inducted into the College Sailing Hall of Fame in 2000. At the same time, the team also has a long and beloved history of various misadventures at regattas that have grown funnier over time due to the relative inexperience of the sailors involved.
In the 1960s, Mount Holyoke and Smith each formed a sailing team, and UMass formed a team in the 1990s. Hampshire students have sailed intermittently as well. As early as the 1970s, sailors from the five colleges were sailing with and against each other, and hosted regattas against each other on Lake Wyola. In recent years, the independent teams have grown even closer, to the point that sailors from all five colleges consistently practice and race with one another. This recent arrangement has enabled us to add additional sailors of all calibers to the team and combine resources to have regular coaching and more boats.