All-American sailor finishes career
Dr. Robert Salk can often be seen on the water in his J-109 Picante. Natalie Salk, his daughter, just graduated from Tufts University. She finished a collegiate sailing career that includes being named an All-American honorable mention twice.
Natalie grew up in Jamestown and started sailing in the Conanicut Yacht Club’s junior program. Like many young people, Salk began by cruising Optimists, which continued until she reached 15. She then moved to 420s until she was 18.
“Kids learn how to sail, and then they learn to race as they get older,” Natalie said. “It was a great time. It felt like my home for many summers. The entire basis of my racing knowledge came from sailing locally.”
Salk attended elementary school in Jamestown and then Providence Country Day School until graduation. At Tufts University, she majored in mechanical engineering. Salk was on the school’s sailing team all four years. She lettered each year and was team captain as a junior and senior. The last two years also brought her the All- American honors.
“There is a committee that hands out the All-American awards,” Salk said. “They decide who the top sailors are. If you make the cut you get an award. This past year the top 13 sailors got All-American.”
During practice, Tufts University sails in unique boats called Larks, the only college to do so. The fast, lightweight 14-foot boats have carbon fiber masts and fat head mainsails. The actual racing is done in 420s and FJs.
“I sailed a lot of boats before I came to college,” Salk said. “The skills I learned in Larks could re- ally be transitioned to the FJs.”
According to Salk, Tufts has the largest sailing team in the country, with more than 50 members. Coach Ken Legler sailed everyone, sending split squads to as many as 10 regattas each weekend, up and down the East Coast. Each regatta features two divisions and they would alternate racing on the course. The A division is generally more competitive, and the squads are broken down into female crews and co-ed crews.
Salk points to this year’s New England championship as a personal highlight of her sailing career. She finished third in her division and the team was fifth overall. She made the all-conference team and was named sportswoman of the year. She is particularly proud of the latter award, which she received twice in her career – all the teams in the conference determine who is honored.
“Everybody in our conference is at that regatta,” Salk said. “Each team gets one vote. I think I’m most proud of that.”
Legler has been coaching the Tufts sailing team for 33 years. He became aware of Salk before she got to Tufts when she was a junior sailor competing on Narragansett Bay. He saw her train and race at the Brooke E. Gonzales Advanced Racing Clinic that takes place at Sail Newport each year.
“She did very well there, and she became a recruit of ours,” Legler said. “What made her an interesting recruit was that she was a female engineering candidate, which is a little bit rare. It worked out, she got in, and we were really happy about that.”
Legler said Salk was one of his best woman skippers as a freshman and sophomore, and his best over the last two years. He said Salk represented the school well, winning both regional and national honors.
According to Legler, Salk wasn’t named sportswoman of the year just because of her sailing ability. He said Natalie’s demeanor with her rivals also played a part.
“What gave her good leadership qualities were her confidence and ability,” he said. “Her ability and friendliness combined gained her a great deal of respect among her competitors.”
Legler points to a situation this spring that demonstrated Salk’s character. The school is building a new boathouse for the team, and while it was being built, the team was forced to move out of their old boathouse. The sailors had to find temporary facilities at a neighboring boat club. At the same time, Tufts was hosting the regional women’s championship.
“Natalie led the charge to stay extra hours to do maintenance on all the boats,” Legler said. “They are fairly old and fragile boats that needed a tremendous amount of work. It was frustrating but that didn’t seem to bother Natalie. She made sure all the boats were in as perfect a condition as we could make them.”
Now that she has graduated, Salk plans to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. She has secured a job in Attleboro, Mass., and will live in Providence.
Natalie would like to continue to race sailboats. She is looking to put a team together and start a weekend warrior project. It will help her determine how much time she will have to devote to the sport based on the demands of her new job.
“I plan on working hard and figuring it out,” she said.