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Sailing to Success: Harvard's Marbella Marlo Charts a Course of Triumph

Senior sailor Marbella Marlo casts her eyes on the sea during a Fall 2023 race. The Newport Beach, Calif. native recently took first place in division A at the Danmark Trophy hosted by Coast Guard Academy.
Senior sailor Marbella Marlo casts her eyes on the sea during a Fall 2023 race. The Newport Beach, Calif. native recently took first place in division A at the Danmark Trophy hosted by Coast Guard Academy. By Courtesy of Harvard Athletics
By Maisa A. Ali, Contributing Writer

In early September, senior sailor Marbella Marlo and her team Los Huevos stunned the sailing world by becoming the first undergraduates to clinch the 2023 Aerovanti U.S. Team Racing Championship, besting graduates from Yale, Stanford, and Dartmouth. However, this was not their first taste of victory. Just last spring, the team had already showcased its prowess by securing the 2023 ISCA Team Racing Championship.

Competing against 20 other teams, Marlo and the Los Huevos —composed of six sailors, three coming from the Harvard Sailing Team —dominated the waters of Mission Bay, Calif. They advanced through the quarterfinals, winning three matches, and ultimately claimed the prestigious George R. Hinman Trophy — a symbol of excellence in team racing and one of the most coveted prizes for regattas.

“It’s the biggest team race regatta in the country, so it was obviously super fun to win. I loved every one of my teammates — I couldn’t have asked for a better team,” Marlo said. “It was just really special because I was able to be on my home turf with some of my closest friends and my team. I am from Southern California, so I have not been back in almost a year; it was nice to go back and see family. It was one of the best regattas I have ever sailed.”

The senior sailor credits the chemistry of her team and their past win experiences together for this Championship win.

The California native was introduced to various sports growing up but eventually found her true calling in sailing. Her journey in the sport was both challenging and rewarding. As a female sailor navigating this male-dominated sport, she found solace in the intricacies of sailing. Feeling the waves for hours, contemplating wind patterns, and the process of setting up a boat deep-rooted her passion for sailing.

While college sailing boasts a substantial female presence — especially at Harvard — the broader world of sailing leans heavily male-dominated. But Marlo remains optimistic and enjoys the unique competitive edge that mixed teams offer. "What makes sailing unique is that you can compete against both male and female sailors. It’s very fun," she said.

The essence of sailing, especially in team races, is synergy. "Communication is super important," Marlo emphasized. A crew needs to be in sync, not only in terms of boat handling and race strategy but also in understanding the wind and competition. Their recent win at the Hinman showcased their tight-knit team dynamics. Marlo fondly recalls, “It was the perfect form of communication, composure, and camaraderie.”

“It’s not like running track where you just have to run very fast in a race, there are a lot of things you have to consider while sailing,” Marlo stated. “Sailing is a mental sport. It is a lot about your confidence and that confidence really only manifests when you’re prepared.”

During her high school years, Marlo was ranked in the top five in the Pacific Coast Interscholastic Sailing Association on the West Coast, both as a skipper and crew. She served as the team captain for her sailing team in 2019-2020. With 20 regatta appearances under her belt and a key role in leading the Crimson to a first-place finish at the Women’s Atlantic Coast Championship Qualifier, Marlo has solidified her status as a sailing phenomenon.

For regattas like this one, she plays a pivotal role as a tactician, aiding the team towards victory. Her keen observational skills allow her to feed the skipper vital insights on wind shifts, competitor positions, and optimal racecourse paths

“As a crew, I am mostly talking about where the wind is and what the other boats are doing, but yeah there’s certain plays that we call out,” Marlo remarked. “And that only comes with having sailed together for a really long time, and that sort of helped make us into a strong team.”

To an outsider, sailing might seem straightforward. But as Marlo explains, it's intricate and deeply strategic. “There are so many different types of sailing. The type of sailing that Hinman was, was dinghy sailing,” said Marlo regarding the Hinman regatta.

Dinghy sailing has its unique dynamics with combinations determining victory. Key moments like the start of the race or rounding the mark can make or break a team's strategy.

With accolades aplenty and an evident passion for the sport, Marlo stands as a testament to what dedication, teamwork, and innate talent can achieve. From the sunlit waters of Southern California to the competitive collegiate circuits, her journey in sailing has been nothing short of inspirational.

As Marlo and the Crimson look towards the horizon this Saturday for the first round of the Open Atlantic Coast Championship, the sailing community will undoubtedly watch keenly, anticipating more record-breaking moments from this dynamic team.

And as for Marlo, her sails are set, and the wind is in her favor.

The future looks promising, and the seas, ever inviting.

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