Behrend Sailing Club Making Waves in Competition

Members of the Penn State Behrend Sailing Club gather before practice. The club welcomes all students from experienced to novice.

Members of the Penn State Behrend Sailing Club gather before practice. The club welcomes all students from experienced to novice.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

Hailey Rupp, a junior dual majoring in Marketing and International Business, grew up in North East, Pennsylvania, where Lake Erie was just a familiar, hometown backdrop. Great Lake. Beautiful sunsets. Yawn. Ho hum.

She may have always felt that way about the lake had she not had the opportunity to see it from another vantage point—the inside of an International 420 Dinghy, a two-person performance racing sailboat—as a member of Penn State Behrend’s Sailing Club.

“I gained a whole new perspective on the lake,” she said. “And it’s nice to enjoy the water that is so nearby.”

Rupp had never sailed nor spent much time on the lake when she attended a club showcase event at Behrend and met members of the sailing club, including Maryland natives and lifelong sailors Bryce Nill, a Mechanical Engineering major; Chandler DeBarros, a Business Economics major; and Anthony Farrar, an Industrial Engineering major who grew up in nearby Fairview sailing on Lake Erie. Rupp went to a practice to check it out and decided to join the team.

The sailing club, which includes about a dozen members, has a mix of sailing talent and a boatload of enthusiasm for the sport.

“Our club members range from highly experienced racers and sailors, like Bryce, Chandler, and Anthony, to novices who are just learning to sail,” said Dr. Sharon Dale, professor emerita of art history, who, along with her husband, Alec, coaches the team. “There are two students in every boat, so we pair an experienced sailor with a novice so they can learn the ropes.”

And there are plenty of ropes to learn. Sailing is all about reading the wind, and adjusting the sails, by tightening or easing; turning the boat, by gybing (going with the wind) and tacking (going into the wind); and using the vessel’s rigging and the sailors’ bodyweight to gain advantage.

“We start with the basics, how wind works, how the sails react,” said Nill, who worked as a youth sailing instructor in his home waters of Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. “If I can teach a six-year-old to sail, I can teach a college student to sail. The foundation is simple, but it does get complicated. Physics and geometry come into play.”

The 420 boats the students race are surprisingly small. The name refers to the boats’ length of 420 centimeters (13 feet, 9 inches). Sailors can, and do, tip over and “roll” their vessels. It’s part of the sport, and something the team practices routinely.

While doing a somersault on a tiny sailboat in Lake Erie might seem the most terrifying aspect of sailing, Rupp, and teammate Sara Trunzo, who was also a novice when she joined the team in 2022, say there is something they fear much more: spiders.

“They’re awful,” Trunzo said with a shiver. “They are all over the sails and ropes. I’d much rather fall in the lake than deal with the spiders. It’s just water.”

Both Rupp and Trunzo said that sailing wasn’t difficult to learn and isn’t physically hard to do, though it took some time to learn the lingo and master rigging the boat and turning the sails.

“I liked being able to learn something completely new,” said Trunzo, an Accounting major and Brockway, Pennsylvania, native. “And being on the lake is peaceful and it’s really beautiful.”

The students practice at the Erie Yacht Club using the club’s boats, and they receive generous financial support from the Erie Yacht Club Foundation. Funds are used to purchase gear, such as dry suits and Penn State shirts, and to cover travel and race entry expenses.

The investment has paid off: Behrend’s sailing club does well in competition, regularly beating clubs from powerhouse institutions, such as the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Syracuse University, Rochester Institute of Technology, the U.S. Army West Point Sailing Team, and the University of Toronto.

At the club’s home meet—The Battle of Lake Erie—held this fall at the Yacht Club, they took third place. They finished their season strong, winning the Delaware Spring Open by defeating teams from Drexel, Rutgers, Villanova, and the U.S. Military Academy.

“Life doesn’t get much better than sailing and winning, and that is what we do,” Dale said. “Being on a sailboat with the right wind on a sunny day is magical, and we would love to share that magic with more Behrend students.”

Follow the team at

Reaping Awards and Rewards

Bryce Nill

Bryce Nill

Credit: Penn State Behrend

Bryce Nill grew up sailing on Deep Creek Lake in Maryland, where he got to know Carrie and Tyler Andrews, the owners of Flying Scot, a company that specializes in handmade, crafted sail boats Last summer, the company offered to sponsor Nill in the Flying Scot Junior North American Championship in Westport, Connecticut, where Nill and his sailing partner ultimately took second place.

Nill came back to Behrend with something even more valuable than a trophy – a project for the James R. Meehl Innovation Commons, the college’s product development and prototyping center, where students work with innovators and entrepreneurs.

“I rode to the competition with Tyler and he told me that they were experiencing supply chain issues so I recommended they start 3D printing some of their parts,” Nill said. “The company took my advice and bought a 3D printer. I have been working with Tyler and Carrie through Innovations Commons, modeling the parts for them and emailing them to the company to print. They built their first boat with my parts in December.”

About Competition

The Behrend Sailing Club is a member of the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association (MAISA) and the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association (ICSA), a national group to which all competing college teams belong.