Things to Thank: Sailing

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To the team I won’t be joining this semester,

It’s 6 o’clock in the evening on Tuesday September 5th. For the last 4 years I would have been sailing in off the St. Johns River after my first regular season practice for college sailing. It’s windy here today. The gusts stand out more than usual, as it seems to be reminding me of where I should be.

I can’t say I ever expected that the JU sailing team would ever mean so much to me. In fact, if you told me at the beginning of my freshman year that I was going to be on a varsity sailing team, I probably would have laughed. Which is essentially how I reacted when the university’s coach first approached me. I had planned to come to school and pretty much keep my head down and get a degree.

After some convincing from my new found friends I went out for the first practice, and I never looked back. Becoming a sailor opened up a whole new world for me. I wouldn’t take back any of my time spent practicing roll tacking, counting down 3 minutes, or counting the bruises that covered my legs.

It’s incredible how strangers become family when you’ve spent hours upon hours traveling with them in a Jacksonville University wrapped 15-passenger-van with vibrant green dice in the mirror. I can still hear Dispatch and Dave Matthews playing in the background of uncontrollable laughter. I can still imagine us playing heads up, the animal game, and watching ‘the classics’ (Big Labowski, Goodfellows) to pass the long hours in the car. I can even picture us fighting over who would have to share a hotel bed with Kelsy, who somehow always took up the entire thing.

Yet it’s even more incredible how close you get to someone when you’ve spent countless hours in a two person boat with them. Danny taught me just about all I know when it comes to crewing a dinghy. On light wind days at practices and regattas, it was as if we’d been given hours just to chat about anything and everything with each other. Spending that much time with someone means there were ups and downs, but I wouldn’t even trade away your grumpiest days.

On our last race at our last College Sailing Nationals, we crossed the finish line, you looked at me and said “Welp, that’s college sailing”. I promised I wouldn’t cry, so I didn’t. But when we stepped off that boat onto the dock you pulled me in for a hug, let me go, and started walking up the dock. I can’t promise I didn’t cry then.

I could go on the same way about every member of the team. And that’s not to mention the incredible coaches who consistently went above and beyond, putting their heart and soul into the success of our team family.

While my competitive college sailing days may be over, I’m happy to walk away with all I have and retire into the coaching and cruising world. All I know is that now I could never turn back to the days before sailing. I’ve always thought my heart was most at home on the water, but now i’ve learned that it’s on the water, in a sailboat.

For every moment I was ever frustrated or fed up, I wish I could go back and tell myself to hold on. Hold on, not just because in the end it would all be worth it, but to hold onto the memories because before you know it that’s all you have left.


(Hannah Knighton was a starting member of the Jacksonville University Sailing team for 4 years. She went to 4 national championships and was named an Academic All American in 2017).