Steamboat Sailors who actually sail: Dalke siblings compete at national level in Michigan |

Steamboat Sailors who actually sail: Dalke siblings compete at national level in Michigan

Xander Dalke, left, is the skipper of his butterfly boat, Salsa Verde, and is accompanied by a family member who serves as his crew. The Steamboat Springs High School junior recently finished second in the Butterfly Junior National Championships. (Courtesy John Hayashi)

Xander and Aylen Dalke might be some of the only Steamboat Springs High School Sailors who actually sail.

The siblings are fifth generation sailors, spending summers at Crystal Lake in Michigan where their great-great-grandparents built a home on a cherry farm where the Dalkes still visit every summer. Each generation spent time on the lake, learning to sail. Xander, a junior, and Aylen, a sophomore, are the latest to learn and compete on the waters of the Great Lakes state.

Last weekend, they competed in the Butterfly Junior Nationals, where Xander finished second overall and Aylen took 13th. They also competed in the Open Nationals, which is open to all ages. Xander and Aylen took 12th and 18th, respectively.

They both competed in butterfly boats that look like a child’s drawing of a sailboat. They are small, flat-bottomed boats with one triangle-shaped sail.

“It’s like skiing a little bit,” Xander said. “It feels cool when you’re in control of the boat and you’re moving. It’s a good feeling.”

The boats are commanded by a skipper, who is assisted by a crew member. In the competitions, Xander is accompanied by a 10-year-old family member who has sailed before. Aylen was accompanied by a 9-year-old family member who is new to the sport.

Xander said navigating becomes intuitive. It’s about finding the right angle of the boat to the water and sail to the wind. Adjusting and finding the spot to be can’t be determined by measurements, but by how the boat feels and moves when you finally are in the right position.

“It’s not like you can think about all the factors at once. It just happens,” Xander said. “It’s such a wishy-washy answer, but that’s kind of how it is.”

Steamboat Springs sophomore Aylen Dalke is the skipper of a butterfly boat. She is accompanied by a family member who serves as her crew. She recently took 13th at the Butterfly Junior National Championships. (Courtesy Julie Dalke)

A race sees competitors navigate up and down a lake, avoiding other boats. After completing so many laps, they reach the finish. Races take about an hour. The Dalkes competed in six races in Junior Nationals and six more in the Open Nationals.

The pair grew up sailing with family, so they witnessed what needed to be done to direct a boat from a young age. They also took on crew jobs, helping skippers shift the weight of the boat and direct the sail. Even so, Julie Dalke, their mom, didn’t think they were quite ready when they first set out on their own.

Xander started competing when he was about 11 and didn’t have the best start to his career on the water.

“He tipped over three times, he sailed backwards quite a bit,” Julie said. “It was not an auspicious beginning.”

Julie mostly talks to Xander about the mental side of sailing, like that of any athletic endeavor.

Steamboat Springs junior Xander Dalke and his crew member lean their weight out of Dalke's butterfly sailboat to adjust the angle of the boat to the water. Dalke recently took second at the Butterfly Junior National Championships. (Courtesy Julie Dalke)

“It’s about finding that sweet spot between concentrating and being relaxed” Julie said. “If he gets worked up, it never goes well. If he gets super serious, he doesn’t do well. He has to remember to just relax and have fun. That’s when he finds his groove and does really well.”

Nevertheless, he pushed through and is still competing. He’s even considered sailing in college.

“My goal was to do well in nationals, after that, I’ll continue with the adult fleets and see how I do there,” Xander said. “I guess we’ll see where it takes me.”

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