New Wildcat Sailing coach Shawn O’Connor, left, instructs his team during a recent practice. (Photo by John Fisken)

New Wildcat Sailing coach Shawn O’Connor, left, instructs his team during a recent practice. (Photo by John Fisken)

One-time team member takes over as sailing coach

Shawn P. O’Connor was once the student, now he is the teacher.

O’Connor is the new head coach of the Oak Harbor Yacht Club’s youth sailing program and Wildcat Sailing.

O’Connor joined the coaching staff as an assistant last spring and was promoted in August. He succeeds Erik Mann, his one-time coach. Mann started Wildcat Sailing, a team of sailors from Oak Harbor High School, in 2014. That initial team included O’Connor.

O’Connor began sailing at 10.

“My dad sailed on a keelboat with a group of firefighters he works with in Seattle, and told me I could start sailing with them if I (participated in the) sail camp at the Oak Harbor Yacht Club,” O’Connor said.

Later that summer he raced keelboats for the first time and worked on the crew of the Ballard-based boat What? A Tripp! during Whidbey Island Race Week.

O’Connor continued to race on What? A Tripp! until it was retired during his junior year of high school.

“The boat was fast, placing well in many Puget Sound regattas and winning the 2009 edition of Whidbey Island Race Week,” he said. “I spent time sailing on other keelboats, mainly at local yacht club races in Oak Harbor and Anacortes.”

Recently O’Connor purchased Star, a gold-medal winner in the 1984 Olympics, and raced the boat until it suffered a mast break a few weeks ago. Because of the mishap, he will freelance in other Oak Harbor boats for the remainder of this racing season.

After his early start in racing, he began teaching at youth camps while in middle school. He was later joined on the teaching staff by high school teammates from Wildcat Sailing.

“This helped us all earn a little summer income, as well as help recruit new sailors to the program,” O’Connor said. “I always enjoyed teaching and being on the water, so teaching sailing camps was an obvious choice.”

O’Connor raced for Wildcat Sailing through his junior year, missing his senior season because of an illness.

He graduated from Oak Harbor High School in 2017; he earned a degree from Skagit Valley College the same year through the Running Start program. He finished his college degree at Washington State University in 2019.

O’Connor said he was always interested in coaching, so when he was in town during college breaks, he would stop by practice and help Mann.

“When Erik mentioned he was looking to step aside from the head coaching job and offered me theposition, I jumped at the chance,” O’Connor said. “Almost all the sailors on the team have either taken a summer class that I taught or sailed with me when I was on the team, so I feel I have a unique ability to get the most out of this group of sailors.”

O’Connor’s goal as a coach is to help his sailors “gain a love and respect for the water.”

“We preach safety and courtesy on the water above all else,” he added. “From our beginner classes to our high school varsity team, we work to make our sailors comfortable on and around the water. I also want our sailors to learn to work as a team, while focusing on personal development. Sailors will likely sail with different people throughout the season, and they need to be able to adapt to different personalities and sailing styles to be successful.”

O’Connor’s first year as head coach comes with a unique set of challenges because of the pandemic.

He splits up his mask-wearing team of 17 and allows no more than 10 to practice at a time. Each group practices twice a week.

Among O’Connor’s sailors is senior Andrew Buys. Buys said he “really missed being outside with nature” during the early days of COVID-19 when “so many things were canceled.”

He was originally encouraged by his parents and brother to give sailing a try.

“I ended up enjoying it; it is now one of my favorite things to do.”

Junior Ben Servatius said “one of the nice things about sailing” is that it is social-distancing friendly.

“Large regattas are out of the question,” he added, “but a couple of us have our own boats, and when we aren’t sailing with the team, we are out in our own boats.”

Like O’Connor, Servatius grew up participating in the local youth sailing program.

He started at 8.

“I got signed up for it and wasn’t too excited about it at first,” Servatius said. It didn’t take long for him to fall for the sport, and he continued to attend summer camps throughout his youth.

“Now I teach camp,” he said. “This is my fourth year.”

He hopes to parlay his experience as a young sailor into a spot on Stanford’s racing team.

“They have a prestigious sailing team,” he said. “It has always been a dream of mine to sail for them.”

For O’Connor, it is his dream to help his sailors achieve theirs.

Henry Booth pulls his boat out of the water after practice. (Photo by John Fisken)

Henry Booth pulls his boat out of the water after practice. (Photo by John Fisken)

Brothers Thomas and Andrew Buys navigate around a buoy during practice last month. (Photo by John Fisken)

Brothers Thomas and Andrew Buys navigate around a buoy during practice last month. (Photo by John Fisken)

Joshua Odeneal and Gideon Odeneal bring their boat ashore after practice. (Photo by John Fisken)

Joshua Odeneal and Gideon Odeneal bring their boat ashore after practice. (Photo by John Fisken)

Coach Shawn O’Conner give directions to his sailors at practice Aug. 31. (Photo by John Fisken)

Coach Shawn O’Conner give directions to his sailors at practice Aug. 31. (Photo by John Fisken)

More in Sports

Sophomore Anna Myles defense

Coupeville Wolves
Kicking off the season with a win

Oak Harbor High School track and field hosted Anacortes Wednesday. The Wildcats… Continue reading

Wildcat Sailing Club
Riding a wave of wins

Wildcat sailing team maintains its perfect win record

Oak Harbor High School’s sailing team continued its winning ways Saturday with a victory against the Sehome Mariners. Photo by Shawn O’Connor
Oak Harbor Wildcat sailing team racks up wins against Bellingham, Sehome

The Oak Harbor Wildcats sailing team continued its perfect season this past weekend.

Coupeville Track - Photo by John Fisken
Coupeville's track and field team kicked off spring sports Thursday, March 4. The Wolves hosted the Northwest 2B/1B League season opener at Mickey Clark Stadium.
Sports back on track for CHS

Coupeville Hight School’s Ja’Kenya Hoskins rounds the track during the season opener… Continue reading

Oak Harbor girls softball team members are allowed to workout together under current COVID-19 restrictions, but are not yet allowed to return to formal practices and competition. School sports may resume this month if Island County and others in the North region can move into Phase 2. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Athletic directors ‘cautiously optimistic’ for return of sports

School sports may be starting this month for Island County athletes if COVID-19 conditions are met.

year in review-teaser
Year in review: Whidbey athletes create highlights despite coronavirus

COVID-19 cut a big chunk out of the 2020 sports schedule, but… Continue reading

svien-teaser
Svien casts light on Coupeville’s athletic accomplishments

While mainstream media have little time for little towns, David Svien has… Continue reading

column-teaser
Point of impact: Sports play integral part of athletes’ personal development

(Note: When I returned to the Whidbey newspapers in 2009, then-editor Jim… Continue reading

good bye-teaser
Good bye — and thanks for allowing me to share my passion for sports

I doubt there is a person as ingrained in Oak Harbor High… Continue reading

Registration still open for boating course

It’s not too late to register for America’s Boating Course, a two-day… Continue reading

Fisken teaser
Fisken enjoys chronicling athletes’ accomplishments

For photographer John Fisken, a popular figure at local sporting events, it’s… Continue reading

johnston teaser
Johnston helps guide others through college recruiting maze

For Mary Johnston, a 2017 Oak Harbor High School graduate and a… Continue reading