On the ruffled, gray waters of St. Mary's River, Ty Reed stealthily moves to block a competing dinghy from turning toward the finish line, allowing his teammate, Anthony Kotoun to tack, overtake and win the race.
"Awesome backing," shouts sailing coach Adam Werblow. "That was beautiful."
Reed sails for St. Mary's College of Southern Maryland, and today he and Kotoun will be racing to defend the national collegiate team-racing championship they won last year.
A school with just 1,600 students, St. Mary's has produced the talent to out-sail the biggest and best colleges on the racing circuit. It is truly a David-and-Goliath achievement.
After winning the 1999 championship, the college's elite sailing team has won four of the five major college regattas this year. Its only loss was at home to Georgetown University.
But the real test starts today, when the 11 other strongest teams to emerge from a knockout competition that started with 200 colleges sail for the Inter-Collegiate Yacht Racing Association's team-racing championship off St. Mary's riverside campus.
St. Mary's is ranked as favorite, but it faces strong challenges from the likes of Dartmouth, Georgetown, Harvard and the University of Southern California-Santa Barbara.
"I know our strengths. I know our vulnerabilities," said Werblow, who was awarded the 1999 Developmental Coach of the Year by USSailing, the controlling body of yacht racing . "I am confident that we are a good team, and that we are well prepared to win here."
Sailing 14-foot Flying Juniors, three co-ed crews from St. Mary's will race round-robins against each of the other 11 three-boat teams, until the four strongest entrants vie for the championship Friday.
In team racing, slowing your opponents can be as important as out-pacing them, which is why Ty Reed won coach Werblow's praise for his practice maneuver, opening the way for his teammate to win.
While a 1, 2, 3 finish obviously wins a race, so does a 2, 3, 4. This brings tactics to the fore, making the team race a sort of waterborne chess game with shades of football's zone defense thrown in the mix.
During the practice, in which this year's team of seniors sailed against next year's heirs apparent, Werblow followed and analyzed each move from his chase-boat vantage point.
"You were a little bit more active, a little bit more aggressive," he said to Kotoun, from the U.S. Virgin Islands. "You got down on people earlier and still maintained your lead. Good stuff."
To Katie Prigmore Maxim, a women's team skipper who has had problems timing her acceleration over the start line, he said: "You were moving at the start much better. You weren't getting cut-down speed."
Werblow, a former junior national sailing champion, is widely credited with putting the wind in St. Mary's sails. When he arrived at the campus, straight out of Connecticut College in 1988, St. Mary's was not ranked in the top 20.
"I was lucky at the time there was no one on the team older than I was," he joked.
His predecessors as sailing coach included a professor of biology and a library director.
"I wanted to be able to create the ideal situation for the undergraduate sailing experience," he said. "Personally, I was not satisfied with my own college sailing career. I felt there was a better way to do it. I was frustrated, and wanted to do better."
He applied for the post of sailing coach at St. Mary's after a member of the Naval Academy sailing team told him it was "Club Med Maryland." It was his first and, so far, only job.
In 1995, the St. Mary's women's team won the national championship, the first indicator of his impact on the school's sailing program. The women's intercollegiate championship was won yesterday by Dartmouth, with Tufts second and Boston University third. St.Mary's finished sixth, after Harvard and the University of South California.
Leah Anderson, a recruit from Larchmont, N.Y., and one of the college's two sailing captains, said: "Top sailing programs attract the good sailors. A lot of our team started sailing very early on, around 8 years old."
About half the St. Mary's sailing team, which is co-ed, is from out of state, attracted in part by the low state tuition fees and the high academic program. St. Mary's is the only public honors college designated by the legislature. The average SAT score of last year's freshmen was 1,233, about 200 above the state college entry norm.
St Mary's boasts of providing "Ivy League education at public school prices." It's a claim that Ty Reed, a former high school national sailing champion from San Diego, endorses.
"This is one of the sailing power-house places to be," he said. "Plus it's cheaper than the northeast schools which have good sailing programs. And it's better than a lot of schools that don't have the academic strength."