Come Sail Away: Business Student Nathan Briar Shows Us the Ropes During Cal Poly Sailing Club Practice in Morro Bay

Cal Poly business student Nathan Briar steers a boat in Morro Bay Harbor

Business student Nathan Briar is one of ten officers with the Cal Poly Sailing Club. Here he guides a coaching boat inside the Morro Bay harbor. (Photo/Jack Sann)

Written by June 11, 2024

On a foggy, wind-swept day in the Morro Bay Harbor, Nathan Briar assembles his boat for practice, grabbing a weathered rope to attach to the 14-foot ship’s mast.

“Why would you tie any other knot if you can tie a bowline?” he says, looping the two ends of the saltwater-crusted rope through the doubled-up circle and pulling it tight, creating a bowline knot which he maintains is important for everyone to know, sailor or not.

“Look, see?” he says, holding onto the rope and leaning his entire body weight off the boat and back over the water, suspended nearly horizontal. “This rope will break before this knot comes untied. That’s a Nathan Briar guarantee.”


A student ties a knot on a sailboat

Nathan Briar ties a knot while preparing a sailboat. (Photo/Jack Sann)

Knots come easily to the second-year Industrial Technology and Packaging major, who leads the Cal Poly Sailing Club Team through this Friday afternoon practice.

Cal Poly Sailing is the official club sports sailing team at Cal Poly, representing them in competitions with other schools in the Pacific Coast Collegiate Sailing Conference. These competitions are called regattas, and Cal Poly has won four this season.

Their competitors come from geographically and academically similar schools, but Cal Poly’s team structure and culture makes them stand out.

“Something that separates us is pretty much all the other teams that we compete against have coaches, or a full time staff that manages the team,” he says.

“Whereas here, we’re the coaches essentially. So we rely a lot on the more skilled people, the more experienced racers, the officers, to have that responsibility of coaching.”

Briar is one of 10 team officers. All officers are expected to lead their own practices during the week, providing members of the club with multiple practice options so that any member can fit it into their schedule.

A graphic, detailing the elements of a sailboat

Though only being on the Cal Poly Sailing Club team for two years, the Oakland native’s experience in the water sets him apart, as a previous instructor at a sailing camp on Lake Merritt in the East Bay.

It is there where he learned the skills enabling him to lead practices by himself, and his CPR and first aid training ensures that if someone goes overboard, he can handle any situation that arises.

From the gray speedboat that serves as the coaching boat, Briar runs the team through drills called “roll tacks.” He blows the neon pink whistle dangling from his life vest, signaling to the two-person teams seated in the practice boats that it is (quite literally) time to jump into action.

The skipper and the crew stand up, coordinating their leap across the Club Flying Juniors, or “FJs,” using their entire body weight to change the course of the sailboat. The roll tack maneuver they attempt is a tricky one. This jump must be perfectly timed and correlated; if the skipper and crew are out of sync, there will not be enough force to alter the boat’s previous path.

A commitment to fostering a strong community is unique to the Cal Poly team. Where other schools hold formal try-outs and make cuts, Cal Poly sailing doesn’t turn anyone away. Though they are serious competitors, they also think of themselves as educators, and even a family.

“We accept everyone,” Briar says. “We’ll teach everyone how to learn, everyone how to sail. We will mentor them. We will tailor to their needs. Maybe some people just want to learn how to sail so they can sail with their family. Maybe they want to take on a new challenge and sail with more experienced people, and go to varsity events.”

A sailboat makes a hard left turn in Morro Bay
Students on land prepare to sail.
The Cal Poly logo on the back of a sailboat
A boat sails in Morro Bay
A student prepares a boat from the dock
A student on a dock prepares to enter a sailboat.
A student-guided boat sails in Morro Bay
Students glide on a sailboat in Morro Bay
Student launch a sailboat in Morro Bay
Sailing club students prepare a sail.
Students glide across the water
Nathan Briar steers a coaching boat in Morro Bay Harbor
A sailboat glides in front of the stacks of the Moro Bay power plant
A student adjusts a sail on a boat
A sailboat glides past Morro Rock
A sailboat takes a hard turn near Morro Rock
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Photo slide gallery: Check out Nathan Briar and the Cal Poly Sailing Club during a recent practice in Morro Bay. (Photos/Jack Sann)

“We answer the question, ‘Can we be a competitive team and still provide infrastructure for new people to learn how to sail?’”

The Cal Poly Sailing Club hosts the Mustang Open, the largest regatta within the PCCSC. One hundred and fifty sailors travel from all over to compete in this event, hosted in Morro Bay. The bay has a stronger current than any other course and is the only course where sailors have to avoid moored boats while racing.

Planning for this event happens months in advance, and it is up to the team officers to organize all the documentation of boats and sailors, registering the race, and even finding places to crash for visiting contestants.

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“We as the sailing team host pretty much everyone for this event. I had 10 people staying at my house, which was a lot, but it’s so much fun to get close to the other contestants,” Briar says, laughing at the memory.

The sailing team partners with the Morro Bay Yacht Club, whose boats they lease and whose docks they sail out of, for both weekly practices and the Mustang Open regatta.

Briar blows the pink coaching whistle three times, and motions to the sailors, guiding them back to the docks. He sails behind the group as they traverse back into the harbor, ensuring all boats return safely and efficiently.

As this year’s competitive season comes to a close, the team is already looking forward to their next regatta, held right off Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay. As for Briar, he has two more years on the team and plans to stay on management, trading his current fundraising role for finance chair to help ensure the longevity of the club for future generations through money management.

“My goal is just to always have some place for people to go, a full open door policy. Everyone’s always welcome here.”



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