Featured Story

Sailing toward Tokyo — Yacht Club instructors going for gold

WILL RICKETSON PHOTO The Brugan sisters, Nora and Atlantic seen here under sail, are training for the Olympics under the guidance of Island legend Amanda Clark.
The Brugman sisters, Nora and Atlantic seen here under sail, are training for the Olympics under the guidance of Island legend Amanda Clark.

Since September, the Brugman sisters, Nora, 26, and Atlantic, 27, both sailing instructors at the Shelter Island Yacht Club (SIYC), have been training with two-time Olympian and Islander Amanda Clark in hopes of representing the United States in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games.

The sisters grew up splitting their time between the U.S. and Spain, spending their winters in Barcelona and some of their summers in Boston where their father, Daniel, is from. Though they sailed competitively for both countries when they were Juniors (younger than 18,) they have decided to try to sail for the U.S. in the Olympics because they live here now, and “feel most proud to represent America.”

Shelter Island has a lot to do with that pride. The sisters were first introduced to the Island in 2011, when Jeff Bresnahan, the head of the Junior Sailing Program at SIYC and the head coach at the Connecticut College asked Atlantic, then on his team, if she would be interested in coaching at SIYC in the summer. She agreed, and liked it so much she encouraged Nora, who attended the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, to coach with her.

Asked how a sailor came to be named after an ocean — it was, no surprise, not the first time she’s been asked — Atlantic said since her father is American and her mother is Spanish, “what’s between is the Atlantic Ocean. Also, my parents wanted me to be a sailor.”

The sisters began sailing when they were 3 and 4 after their father bought an Opti — a small, bathtub-shaped boat — for their beach house. They come from an athletic family — their uncle was an Olympic skier — so they started talking about going to the Olympics at a young age.

Their Olympic aspirations paid big dividends. Atlantic was a two-time college All-American and Nora campaigned for the Rio Olympics in 2014.

“For me it’s the competition and the adrenaline that I really enjoy, that and going fast,” Nora said. “You’re just so connected to nature. It’s a sport that’s so unpredictable. You can do everything right and nature can just be like — ‘Nope.’”

In the next few weeks, they’ll be training five days a week, from two to five hours a day, in preparation for the Sailing World Championships in Denmark in August, which will decide if the U.S. will qualify for the Olympic Games. They’ll be sailing a “470” — a two-person boat with a trapeze and a spinnaker that’s a little bigger than the “420” used in SIYC’s Junior Sailing program.

If they qualify at World’s, they’ll continue on to trials that will decide which American 470 team will represent the U.S. in the Games. Nora and Atlantic hope to be that team. They were 470s National Champions last year, but they’re still a bit nervous about sailing against people in the International Fleet who have more experience in a 470 than they do.

“A lot of people we’re sailing against have been to previous Olympics, including the person who won the last gold medal,” Nora said. “That’s our stiffest competition.”

It takes a lot of time and money to run an Olympic sailing campaign, and without the support of the SIYC, the sister’s dreams wouldn’t be possible. They expressed gratitude for the support of SIYC members, particularly Steve and Mimi Houston, who have been “the greatest mentors” to them, helping them organize and fundraise for their campaign.

When Nora casually mentioned their Olympic ambitions to Mr. Houston at a dinner last summer, she didn’t expect anything to come of it. She described herself as speechless when he approached her at the end of the summer and offered to help make it happen

On July 5, Mr. Houston helped them organize a cocktail party fundraiser at the SIYC, which got them closer to the $208,000-plus they need to race for the season — funds that go to coaching, travel expenses, food, housing and equipment.

“Sailing is a sport of experience. One of the best parts about it is that you can make jumps and beat sailors who have been racing forever and ever by finding your own creativity in it,” said Amanda Clark, who has 20 years of Olympic-campaign managing experience. “So it’s all about giving them the opportunity to learn the boat and bring their strengths to the boat and see how that works out.”

Regardless of what happens in August, the sisters plan to sail or coach professionally “hopefully forever.”

They look forward to teaming up with the Swedish 470 team as full-time training partners when they get to Tokyo and forging friendships with sailors from around the world. First and foremost, they hope to bring medals back to Shelter Island.

“Shelter Island is why we’re able to do this, and why we want to do this,” Nora said.