Colby College doesn’t have a sailing team; it doesn’t even own a single sailboat, and the boating season in chilly Maine is fairly short. What Colby does have is Don Whitcraft ’18, one of the best sailors in Thailand, currently angling to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

 

While there had been a club sailing team at Colby in years past, when Whitcraft moved from his home in Thailand to Waterville, he found that the College had just sold all of its sailboats and the club had disbanded.

Don (in blue) and Dylan (orange belt) Whitcraft lean out during a recent race.

No matter. Whitcraft found much to love on Mayflower Hill, especially in his passion for the natural world.

He spent a Jan Plan in Bermuda studying the island’s geology with his mentor, Visiting Assistant Professor of Geology Bruce Rueger, then senior year completed an independent study in Bermuda’s paleontology, building off of previous research to identify fossils in sediment Rueger collected in a cave on the island and brought back to Maine. Whitcraft also studied abroad at the University of Otago in New Zealand during his junior year, where he also focused on the region’s paleontology, learning about organisms unique to Oceania.

Whitcraft has spent time on the waters of Messalonskee Lake as a member of the Colby men’s crew team, which helped scratch his boating itch, and he is also a passionate cyclist. As president of Colby Cycling Club, he leads bike rides all over the state, up to 90 miles in a single day. “Riding a bike is like sticking your head out the car window. You really see and smell the world,” said Whitcraft. “Being out on the water is the same. You just get to play around.”

Whitcraft, whose father is Thai and mother is Dutch, was born in Thailand and lived there until he moved to Maine to attend Colby. His father runs the RMA Group, a development firm founded by his grandfather, and has also represented Thailand as a member of the National Sailing Team. Whitcraft’s parents taught him the basics of boating when he turned 5. By the time he was 7, Whitcraft was manning an Optimist sailboat and competing at the club level. Throughout middle school, Whitcraft performed well at qualifying races throughout Thailand, and as a result received more focused training and funding to compete.

By 14 he had been named to the Thai national team, where team members compete internationally at world-class races. While competing for the national team during high school, Whitcraft decided to learn more about Colby on advice from his mentor, a Colby graduate. He knew he wanted to attend a liberal arts college, which “they didn’t really have in Thailand,” said Whitcraft. He researched U.S. colleges in search of a school where he would have access to a rigorous, immersive academic experience, and when he visited Waterville, he “really vibed with Colby,” he said.

Whitcraft currently competes internationally in the two-man 49-foot sailboat class with his younger brother Dylan, who also relocated to the United States in search of a liberal arts education and is attending Bates College. Last Christmas break, the Whitcraft brothers headed back to Thailand for an important qualifier, and they spend their summer breaks sailing in Europe, where a concentration of elite sailors race and train as much as possible. This past summer, Whitcraft was only home in Thailand for one day after studying abroad in New Zealand. “I petted my dogs and carried on,” Whitcraft said, laughing.

To qualify for the Olympics, Whitcraft and his brother must best their teammates on the National Team to represent Thailand, then win one of the 20 Olympic slots sought by sailors from around the world. At the last world qualifiers, the Whitcrafts won the Thai spot but just missed an Olympic qualification. They had another chance to win a remaining spot at a race later in 2016, but the Whitcrafts crossed the start line too soon and received a penalty, losing the Olympic slot on a technicality. “It’s a little fire for next time,” Whitcraft said.

In August the brothers are headed back to the first world qualifiers of 2018 to try and achieve their Olympic hopes. “My main goal would just be to go and compete,” Whitcraft said. “To be in the top half would be the dream.”

Whitcraft plans to pursue sailing full time through the next Olympic cycle and “see how far we could go with it.” If Whitcraft’s record so far is any indication, it seems like the winds are in his favor.