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ORCV Women Skippers and Navigators Race

by Robyn Brooke on 12 Sep 2013
ORCV Women Skippers and Navigators Race 2013 Robyn Brooke
This past weekend was the celebration of the end of winter for sailors on Port Phillip Bay and although a slight chill was in the air, the sixty strong fleet revelled in the sunshine and a comfortable breeze for the ORCV Melbourne to Geelong race.

Sunday dawned with a light following breeze for the pilgrimage home however there was a difference this year, a nervous tension in the air, as the women on board stepped up to assume command for the inaugural Ocean Racing Club of Victoria’s (ORCV) Women Skippers and Navigators Race.

If you haven’t noticed yet, there are a number of initiatives being rolled out in Victoria to encourage the participation of women and girls into the sport of sailing so with a gentle nudge from Rosie Colahan, a founding member of Yachting Victoria’s Women and Girls in Sailing committee, the ORCV listened and worked with her to create this opportunity for female crew to step up and improve their skills. Thanks to Lynda Brayton, ORCV committee member for making sure that everyone got on board.

An encouraging 27 boats participated in the race with helm, navigator and radio operator roles filled by female crew members with a wide variety of experience. More at home on the tiller of her OK dinghy or in a Finn than on the wheel of Calm, Elizabeth Williams, usually the tactician on father Willo’s new TP, was a bit unsure about how she was going to manoeuvre that 52’ of boat on the start line but she handled the big dinghy superbly.


Jason Close and Paul Jenkins didn’t need to look far for skippers as they both have daughters who are passionate sailors. Kate Jenkins didn’t hesitate to take over the helm of Caledonia while Jason’s boat White Noise was commandeered by daughter Emily (16) and her friend Genevieve Cairns (17). These two girls met each other through sailing and recognised the passion they both had for the sport. They are now training for the Christmas Tasar Nationals at Blairgowrie and Emily has big plans for the future, including sailing in the ORCV Melbourne to Osaka race with her father when she is old enough. Emily said she loves learning from the experienced crew on White Noise and her enthusiasm is infectious.

The youngest crew member in the fleet was Lisette Allard (11) who took on the role of navigator while mum Sarah helmed. The family always sail together and Lisette is now quite the competent crew on their beautiful 41’ Elan, Saltair.
In keeping with the family theme, the Gtown girls Lynda Brayton and sibling Andrea created a sister act on Samskara and they had altogether too much fun.

It was great to see some of the ocean racing regulars take the helm for the first time. Dee Colledge (Dry White), Sandra Robson (XLR8), Cecily Vial (Hush), Maureen Dickens and Jo Morley (Yoko) have been sailing in Bass Strait since last century and this is the first time they have helmed their usual rides in a race.

Some of the other skippers like Gaby on Shamrock, Danielle on Afrayed Knot and Deb on Mrs Overnewton were not quite as experienced and welcomed this extraordinary opportunity. There were also some of Port Phillip Bay’s more experienced keelboat sailing women, some boat owners, some not, who took the opportunity to mentor others. Kathy Macfarlane (Children of Phoenix), Donna Foley (Streetcar), Marg Neeson (Wild Child), Vanessa Twigg (Serious Yahoo) and Sabina Rosser (Matrix) are all experienced keelboat skippers who provide leadership and encouragement to women in sailing.


Generally, it is acknowledged that women have more patience in light weather sailing. Four years ago when her partner bought Dell’ Era, a Carver 33, Gemma Coulter started sailing. She was the smallest boat in the fleet on Sunday and unfortunately the clock beat them in this race but partner Mike admitted that Gemma is a much better upwind helm than he, with better feel and more patience. Interestingly, two of their female crew members were invited to join the regular crew through a social networking site for sailors, chosen because 'they had demonstrated a commitment to the sport by completing a learn to sail course', said Mike.

It was obvious from the banter between the boats down the Wilson Spit Channel that the event, while still competitive, was a lot of fun. Research projects such as the 2011 Gemba report, commissioned by the Australian Sports Commission have provided an evidence base for yacht clubs to tackle the ‘barriers to entry’ for women into sailing and to change community perceptions of yachting and club membership. It is exciting to see our Victorian clubs using the talent in their membership to embrace these new initiatives.

Everyone was relaxed and spirits were high as the fleet ghosted along the Bellarine Peninsula in the sunshine with a fickle wind. Although a bit more puff would have been welcomed, it was an almost perfect way to introduce this new race into the ORCV program. Congratulations to the ORCV and RGYC, all who persisted to the finish line and to Sarah Garner and her crew on Outsider for winning PHS and AMS divisions, Primitive Cool for IRC and Calm for line honours.

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