CASTINE — Caroline McNally traveled a long way to coach the Maine Maritime Academy sailing team, but her move from Boulder, Colo., to Castine was really a trip home.
McNally took the helm at MMA only late last month, but the surroundings were completely familiar. During 2009 and 2010, she taught physical education and sailing courses at the academy and was an assistant to sailing coach Tom Brown, working primarily with the varsity dinghy sailors.
That wasn’t her first taste of MMA sailing. The summer she was 17, McNally said, she sailed in several races with the academy’s offshore sailing team under then coach Butch Minson. McNally has kept that connection alive.
“He’s very much involved today,” McNally said during a conversation in her new office, crowded with sails and other paraphernalia. “I’m glad to have him.”
McNally’s roots in Castine are deep. She is a seventh-generation summer resident and her uncle is a longtime town employee and Castine’s animal control officer. In the past, she has been the sailing program director, head instructor and coach at the Castine Yacht Club.
MMA’s new coach has always been serious about her sailing. She graduated from Boston University with a degree in aerospace engineering, “with the intention to enter the sailing industry as a designer.” While she was there, she was captain of the BU women’s dinghy sailing team.
The degree and sailing experience led to a job as an engineering project manager at Doyle Sails. From there, she moved to North Sails as a sail order manager. Most recently, McNally worked with the American Mountain Guide Association in Boulder.
The new coach has some strong ideas about the MMA sailing team’s future and they extend beyond the water.
“I have a lot of ambitions,” McNally said. “We’re in a place where we need to increase our budget.”
One of the first steps is likely to be the development of an email list that can be used to get MMA alumni involved with the sailing team, especially if the offshore team travels to summer regattas as it once did.
“If the boat’s in Portland, come sail with us,” is the message she hopes to get out.
For the moment, McNally is focused on the offshore sailing team, which heads to Navy this weekend to race in the Kennedy Cup — the regatta that determines the intercollegiate offshore sailing national championship. Based on the Mariners’ performance at Navy in the McMillan Cup last month, she likes the team’s chances, even though MMA had no full-time sailing coach during late summer and early fall.
“The crew work is phenomenal,” McNally said, and “dialed in the last two weeks.”
The key, she said, is to help the crew improve its focus so that the inevitable mistakes during a race don’t cause too much distraction in the boat.
“It’s OK to make mistakes. That’s why we practice,” McNally said. “The talent’s there. It’s just a matter of building from this fantastic foundation they’ve maintained.”
Over the long term, McNally also wants to find a way to establish a schedule that allows the team to have students in Castine during the summer — the height of the Maine offshore racing season in which MMA used to compete actively. That, she said, will likely involve a long-term process complicated by the requirements of the academic calendar and Coast Guard licensing requirements into account.
McNally isn’t fazed by the prospect of staying at MMA to shepherd the sailing team through a long period of changes, or the prospect of raising a family (she and her husband have a 2-year-old son) in Castine.
“The way I see it, I’ve already got my dream job,” McNally said.