Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI is currently the #1 team in Sailing World’s College Rankings presented by Sperry Top-Sider. The RWU Hawks had a very successful fall season under the leadership of Head Coach Amanda Callahan.
“I grew up sailing at Wessagussett Yacht Club in Weymouth, MA,” says Amanda, who lives in Portsmouth, RI. “My family had cruised for a while, and I started lessons in the sixth grade. I had some great instructors including Betsy Doyle and Sarah Mitsch – they taught us a lot and made it fun. I went to college at Hobart and William Smith and was captain of the sailing team in my junior and senior years. I skippered and crewed, and was an All-American crew my senior year.” Before coming to Roger Williams, Amanda was the Head Coach at Tufts and the Assistant Coach at Stanford.
“After college, I started sailing with Colin Merrick, who is our Assistant Coach…and my significant other…and I joined the New York Yacht Club’s Silver Panda team,” says Amanda, who is one of the world’s best team racers. NYYC Silver Panda are two-time International Sailing Federation Team Racing World Champions and have won the U.S Team Racing Championship an unprecedented five times. “In 2007, we won the Team Racing Worlds, the U.S. Championship for the Hinman Trophy and the British Championship,” she says. “We call it the triple crown of team racing, and no team had ever done that.”
“The West Kirby Sailing Club in England, the host of the British Team Racing Championship, have the very best venue for team racing,” Amanda enthuses. “The Wilson Trophy is sailed on a tidal marine lake that was created for landing seaplanes during World War II. They bring in grandstands and have a commentator on top of a double-decker bus. They set up loudspeakers around the area and they throw a huge party with a band on Saturday night. The grandstands are full for the finals, and spectators are so close to the action that you could reach out and touch them. It’s pretty awesome, even though we usually get cheered against!”
“It’s really exciting to be the coach of the #1 ranked team, and very rewarding to have seen the team work so hard throughout the year and be recognized by the other coaches,” Amanda says. “The team finished first at the Atlantic Coast Championships, which is the pinnacle of the fall season. Colin and I have done a lot of team racing and we have a lot of techniques that a lot of other coaches might not pick up on. We’re able to give that information to the Roger Williams team. We have some really talented crews and we’ve gotten them up to the next level, which makes the overall team a lot stronger.”
Last spring, the Hawks won the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association/APS Team Race Nationals in Cascade Locks, WA. Amanda says the conditions were decidedly un-Gorge-like. “It was glassy the day we arrived and it was mostly light for the whole event,” she recalls. “That was too bad, because we had trained in a lot of breeze – we’ve got great breeze here at Roger Williams – so we made the most of what the Gorge gave us.” Explaining that the Hawks’ mental tenacity was the key to victory,” she continues. “We had three boats that were all very, very fast. Going into the final four, we needed to win all three races against the other teams. We won our first two, which put us in a tie with Boston College in the finals. The last race was winner-take-all, and having the mental edge to stay calm under pressure helped us win.”
The Roger Williams Hawks are also a force in big boats. “We’ve done the Storm Trysail Foundation’s Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta at Larchmont Yacht Club the last three years,” says Amanda. “We finished second in the J/109 class last October…they have a blast at that event. In November, I sailed with Sally Barkow at the U.S. Women’s Match Racing Championship. [Barkow’s Team 7 were victorious.] I learned about how her team’s communication is finessed, and can bring that back to our team.”
“This is my fifth year at Roger Williams,” says Amanda. “We have about 45 sailors on the team – the biggest the team’s ever been. We usually have 30 to 35, but a huge freshman class turned out and they’re quite good.” Amanda is also RWU’s Waterfront Director. “I oversee the kayak and learn-to-sail programs. Students can come down to the waterfront and take out a kayak, and we’re working towards having a recreational sailing program. I am also the Assistant Director of Athletics. I’m in charge of Aquatics, and I work with the swim team and dive team coaches. I go to events and support the teams, and they continue to get better and better every year.”
“I’ve retired from team racing, and the Sunfish is my retirement boat,” Amanda laughs. “I’m too small to sail a Laser Radial, and I’m really lucky that the Sunfish Class is really strong in New England. They have a great summer circuit, and I frostbite at Barrington Yacht Club…I love the Sunfish!” Amanda was the top female finisher at the 2011 Sunfish North American Championship, hosted by Barrington YC last summer.
Amanda, who is also an avid soccer player, is an enthusiastic volunteer at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Military Paralympic Sailing Clinic, held annually at the Newport Navy base. “Betsy Alison [Head Coach of the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics Paralympic Team] organizes this event for wounded veterans with support from Sail Newport,” she says. “These men and women are adapting to life after a brain injury, being paralyzed, or losing an arm or leg. We take them out and introduce them to sailing. It’s my favorite day of the entire year…if it was held weekly, I’d volunteer every time!”