Eliza Pearce was only seven years old when she experienced sailing for the first time. It was summer in Penobscot Bay in Maine where she frequently vacationed at her grandma’s house.
“I had my first lessons in these little boats called optimists,” Pearce said. “They would put two of us in there and we would spin in circles and cry. We would do little races in the summer, but nothing big.”
Pearce stuck with sailing throughout her childhood. When she came to the University of Oregon, there was no doubt she was joining the UO club sailing team.
“I always enjoyed the racing aspect,” Pearce said. “It was fun to come (to Oregon) and be able to compete with more boats and have that challenge.”
Pearce is now a senior and co-captain of the club sailing team. Unlike most members of the team, however, Pearce had sailing experience prior to joining. In fact, only her and junior Stephen Moran came into club sailing with several years of experience. The majority comes in with little to no experience. But, with the help of teaching and guidance from well-versed sailors, beginners can catch on rather quickly.
Laura Trent, for example, was one of these newcomers. Outside of a sailing camp she went to in high school, Trent didn’t have experience sailing. Trent first went out with the team on Fern Ridge Lake last fall.
“Maybe 15 people showed up who had never sailed before,” Trent said. “They put us in boats as crew and took us out, and it was this gorgeous day. You just kind of fall in love with it.”
Trent and Pearce have become regular sailing partners this season. Each sailor stressed the importance of weight distribution for a successful race and as partners, they’ve developed some familiarity in this regard. Pearce’s background, particularly as a sailing instructor, has also lent itself well in teaching newcomers like Trent.
“She’s taught me pretty much everything I know,” Trent said.
With Pearce in the skipper position and Trent as crew, the pair finished first in their division to help Oregon’s women side win the North West Women’s qualifiers April 18-19.
After co-ed qualifiers next week, the club sailing team will start looking to fill leadership positions and recruit new members. Pearce, along with co-captain Ryan Fritsen, will be graduating at the end of this year.
“Ryan and I, we’re trying to transition away from us because we’re on our way out,” Pearce said. “That’s always tricky – getting the leadership transitioned… We’re trying to step back and let other people take over, which can be hard.”
The team will hold elections some time this spring. Due to his experience, Moran is expected to be elected as one of the co-captains. The other co-captain position, however, is still entirely up for grabs.
Trent will be leading the team’s recruiting efforts, an especially important position considering the team currently only has 6-8 regular participants. Trent wants to encourage newcomers just to try it, like she did last year.
“There’s not a contract you need to sign,” Trent said. “You can come out once, and if you like it, then come out again. If you get a good day and it’s gorgeous, you’ll probably get hooked.”
Follow Will Denner on Twitter @Will_Denner