The summer of 2021 will certainly be one to remember for rising GFA senior Katherine McNamara.
Last month, sailing in the 2021 i420 World Championships in San Remo, Italy, McNamara and her in-boat sailing partner Vanessa Lahrkamp won the world title with a 10-point victory over their closest pursuers, who sailed out of Spain.
It was a moment McNamara admitted was completely surreal.
“It was amazing to win but honestly, it will probably never feel real,” McNamara said in an email from Europe, where she has continued sailing into August. “Going into the event we just wanted to perform our best and after all our hard work, it felt great to come out on top and to be the first U.S. team to win the women’s division.”
For McNamara, who hails from Darien, and Lahrkamp, from Rye, N.Y., the championship came as a result of their own long journey across the windy seas. The pair began sailing together when they were just seven years old.
“It is rare to have a partnership last this long but Vanessa and I balance each other out very well,” McNamara said. “Every day that we spend training is extremely focused — we try to maximize every minute on the water to make sure we continue to improve. Then when the events come, we go out on the water and do our jobs to the best of our ability.”
Entering the i420 World Championships, McNamara said she and Lahrkamp just wanted to be consistent over the event’s 10 races.
A team’s worst finish is dropped and results from the best nine races are totaled up to give each team their final score.
McNamara and Lahrkamp amassed 27 points to best the Spaniards' 37 points.
“Performance consistency is the key to winning sailing regattas,” McNamara said. “You can often win regattas without ever winning a single race. It was a six-day event spending around four to five hours per day on the water, which is very demanding physically and mentally. It is extremely difficult to maintain your focus without suffering the ramifications of the pressure or getting in your own head about the result.”
Down the stretch, though, McNamara and Lahrkamp shined their brightest.
In their final four races, the pair, who sail out of the American Yacht Club in Rye, N.Y., and compete with the LISOT Sailing Team, posted two seconds and two firsts.
Meanwhile the Spain team had their worst two races in the final two races, placing 24th and 18th, respectively.
“We understood from the beginning that we needed to sail consistently and let our competitors make their own mistakes,” she said. “We tend to perform our best under pressure. In this particular instance, we were able to have a high performance on the second to last day while our competitors struggled. We never doubted that we were going to prevail.”
McNamara, a member of the GFA sailing team that placed sixth in the nation last year, is a natural on the water because she comes from a sailing family.
She began sailing at eight years old and by the time she was 10 she was in the Team USA pipeline.
“I loved being on the water and in sailing, there are a lot of variables that you have to think about. I like the complexity of it,” she said. “You rarely have the same day twice.”
Following the World Championship regatta, McNamara and Lahrkamp competed in the i420 Junior European championships, where they finished third.
Later this month, she added, the pair will take part in qualifiers for the Youth World Championships, which will be held in Oman in December.
Come spring, McNamara will be back on the water representing the GFA sailing program with a much heavier resume.
“I was super impressed with our entire team’s effort at the High School National Championship this past year and we have improved an incredible amount since we first started,” said McNamara, who pointed to the support of former Athletic Director Tauni Butterfield and Head of School Bob Whelan as vital to the team’s success. “We owe a lot to them.”
McNamara is now a World Champion who is hoping the program can build on that success moving forward.
“I hope to encourage other people to join the team and try to push my teammates to sail the best they can,” she said. “At the end of the day, it is a team effort, I love sailing for GFA and the team is so dedicated. Hopefully, we’ll have some more success this coming season.”
Photo Credit: Andrea Lelli