Students navigate hospitality and service at J24 World Championship Regatta

Hospitality undergraduates volunteer at major sailing event at Rochester Yacht Club

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Nearly 100 yachting teams raced at the recent J24 World Championship Regatta at the Rochester Yacht Club. Several RIT hospitality students worked dockside to support the sailors, crews and fans, including Brittany Wilson, second from right. Other volunteers are Sophie Stachowiak, left; Emma Marchese; Britnee Hursin; Mary Smith, the Rochester Yacht Club manager; Wilson; and Sage Sarkis.

After a day of racing with winds at nearly 15 knots, a chill in the air and white-capped waves on Lake Ontario, sailors look for friendly landlubbers and the buffet.

Sailors competing in the J24 World Championship Regatta Sept. 13–21 at the Rochester Yacht Club were greeted when they reached dock by the friendly faces of RIT undergraduates Brittany Wilson and Nicholas Weidenbach. The two hospitality management students were part of the service team providing drinks and dining for the 96 international racing teams in town for the regatta.

“Our role at the regatta was to help out with the buffet service, keeping the Yacht Club clean, bartending at the Mount Gay Rum Bar and pouring beers from the Coors Light Beer Truck,” Wilson says. The latter two companies were regatta sponsors. “Most people don’t think about all the different roles, like beer-pouring and clean-up, that are crucial to keeping an event going. But when you’re in hospitality, those are major factors to us.”

Wilson and Weidenbach are not novices to the service aspect of big events. Both were members of the executive board for RIT’s annual Puttin’ on the RITz Black Tie Dinner and fundraiser hosted by the School of International Hospitality and Service Innovation. At this past March’s event, Weidenbach was a dining room manager and Wilson was the beverage manager.

The regatta and this summer’s Professional Golf Association Championship event are only a few of the local volunteer and work opportunities the hospitality school offers its students to gain industry experience. Having that experience allowed them both to manage an armada of sailors from around the world.

“The biggest challenge of this event was just the time frame we had. I went to the yacht club twice before the event to sit through meetings to understand how the event would run,” says Wilson, a fifth-year student from Painted Post, N.Y. “I also did a walk-through beforehand to understand the setup. But other than that, it was a ‘learn as you go’ type event.”

The regatta took place on Lake Ontario with a mix of sun and rain, winds that were ideal for racing and swells to add to the course challenge. Even with responsibilities within the Yacht Club, there were opportunities to view the billowing sails of J24s — the 24-foot sailboats that can accommodate a five-person crew in competitive races.

“It was amazing to see some of the sailing and getting to know the sailors,” Wilson says. “It’s a very laid-back atmosphere with them, which makes it fun, even when you’re standing outside in a rain storm pouring cold beers for them.”

Weidenbach, a fourth-year student from Greece, N.Y., agreed: “Highlights for me were meeting so many people from around the world and having them talk to me like I was their friend for years and being able to work with so many different people at the yacht club. All the employees and management were so friendly and helpful; they made it a very enjoyable experience.”