by Jan Harley
While Hurricane Irene battered the eastern seaboard of the U.S.A., 36 teams of all-women sailors – from 16 states across the U.S.A., Canada, and as far away as The Netherlands – were making their way to Rochester Yacht Club (RYC) for US SAILING’s Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championship.
Jennifer Child representing Minneapolis, Minn., USA at the 2007 Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championship held at Houston Yacht Club.
'Irene' did have an effect on local conditions in the form of a northerly breeze in the mid-20s that whipped up whitecaps on Lake Ontario and sent four-foot waves crashing over the seawall at RYC – something not seen in the 15 years since a breakwater was installed at the mouth of the Genesee River roughly half a mile away. The net result was that the day’s planned practice race was cancelled, Opening Ceremonies were moved indoors, and the warning signal for the first day of racing (Monday, August 29) moved back two hours to 1200 to allow boats to finish weighing and measuring in. RYC has a well-established reputation for being adaptable from having stepped in to host the 2009 edition of the Rolex IWKC – with only a year to plan – after Houston Yacht Club was devastated in Hurricane Ike (2008) and had to give up hosting the event for a second time.
'We love hosting this event and we were thrilled when they liked what we did in ’09 enough to give us a second opportunity to host it,' said Regatta Chairman Chris Dorsey (Irondequoit, N.Y.). Explaining that RYC is excited to have many of the competitors back as well as quite a few new faces, Dorsey said competitors should be prepared for 'everything' this week. 'For instance tomorrow, they’re probably going to have a lot more sea than they have wind because it will take a while for the lake to lay down from what is blowing through here now. And I think later in the week they’re going to have to adjust to having significantly lighter air than what they’re going to have tomorrow. So the good news is they will all be tested under a variety of conditions and it [the winner] won’t be that whoever is good in heavy air is going to walk away with a watch.'
Among those newer faces are two teams of college sailors who are able to compete because the event was moved up to late summer, from its traditional October dates, allowing the many students and teachers who will shortly return to school a chance to come to come to Lake Ontario to compete.
One of those teams is helmed by Allie Blecher (Fullerton, Calif.), a four-time Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association All-American (2007-2010) who was named ICSA’s 2010 Quantum Female College Sailor of the Year. Blecher and the rest of her team are all veterans of the College of Charleston sailing team: Molly Robinson (Sausalito, Calif.) is an alumnus, while Sarah Somes (Grosse Pointe, Mich.) will be a junior this fall and Alyssa Aitken (Sandwich, Mass.) a senior. Aitken and Blecher won the 2010 ICSA Women’s National Championship sailing in A-Division, and Robinson also crewed for Blecher during her time at Charleston.
Even though they have not had much time to sail together as a team Aitken was confident that, in terms of communication, their prior experience will pay off. 'I have grown up sailing J/22s on Thursdays and Sundays at my home club [Hyannis Yacht Club],' said Aitken. 'Sarah has a good bit of experience on keelboats and she did bow on our sloop team this fall at College of Charleston. I have been practicing and racing in J/22s over the summer and Allie, Sarah and Molly have spent time racing together out in California over the past few months.'
Another team of college sailors is helmed by Anne Haeger (Lake Forest, Ill.), who sails for Boston College (class of 2012). A three-time ICSA All-American, Haeger was named the Quantum Women’s College Sailor of the Year for 2011 and is currently helming a 470 campaign for the 2012 Olympics. Sailing with Haeger is Stephanie Roble (East Troy, Wisc.), Maggie Shea (Wilmette, Ill.) and Darby Smith (Marblehead, Mass.). Roble, also a three-time ICSA All-American (at Old Dominion University, class of 2011), is currently driving a match race campaign for the 2012 Olympics. Shea, a two-time ICSA All-American at Connecticut College, is currently trimming main for a match race campaign for the 2012 Olympics, while Smith, an outstanding crew at USF, is doing bow for the same match race campaign.
Keynote speaker Dawn Seymour (Canandaigua, N.Y.) provided the highlight of today’s Opening Ceremony. At 94 years-young, Seymour movingly inspired the competitors as she seamlessly wove together her love of flying, including a stint as a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot) in World War II, her experiences learning to sail on a Snipe with her husband Mort, and the opportunities and advances for women.
'After WWII there was little advancement for women until the 1960s, and when Title IX legislation passed it affected your careers and opportunities immensely,' said Seymour, whose daughter Amy Seymour Moran, and granddaughter, Merritt Moran, are both competing in the Rolex IWKC. 'Oh how many long years it’s taken for you to be racing in this Rolex IWKC! Three cheers for Rolex, three cheers for you women sailors today!' Born before her mother could vote, Seymour explained that the challenges of WWII brought opportunities to women once found only in their dreams. 'Flying and sailing are closely aligned. Pilots have an extra advantage, the ability to leave earth. But the air and the wind are unifiers and that is the bond shared between us, this ability to wait, to endure patience until the sky clears, and winds decrease in speed. There is beauty in the two environments and risk too. I share your desire to be the best or the safest pilot or sailor. I thank those teachers, coaches, instructors and leaders who have opened doors of opportunity to me and to girls and to women. I admire you for your dedication to a way of life that shows your ability and skills and tenacity. You are contributing to women’s history. You are champions.'
Racing at the 2011 Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championship begins tomorrow, Monday, August 29, with the warning signal for the first race sounding at 12:00 p.m. Tuesday, August 29, through Thursday, September 1, the first warning signal on each day will be given at 10:00 a.m. Daily awards and social events take place at the conclusion of racing each day. The four days of racing on Lake Ontario, under the leadership of Principal Race Officer Hank Stuart, will culminate with the crowning of a new champion on September 1. The Rolex Gala will conclude the event with the presentation of US SAILING’s Bengt Julin Trophy and a Rolex timepiece to the winning boat’s skipper.
About the Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championship
Every two years women from around the globe set sail for the Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championship, hoping to lay claim to one of sailing’s most revered titles while experiencing high-caliber racing alongside top competitors of the sport. One of the longest running women’s one-design regattas in existence, 'The Rolex Women’s,' as veterans often refer to it, has hosted over 2,400 sailors from 23 countries since its founding in 1985, and has been credited with advancing the overall level of women’s competitive sailing and encouraging more participation in the sport. For more information: http://riwkc.ussailing.org/RIWKC_Home.htm
About Rochester Yacht Club: Incorporated in 1877, Rochester Yacht Club celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2002 and is still going strong. The first regatta was held in 1877 with eight sail boats competing and most recently it hosted 102 boats at the J/22 World Championship. Its purpose is to provide and encourage interests and instruction in areas of yachts and yachting, seamanship, racing and traditions of yachting. Seven miles from the heart of Rochester, Monroe County, New York, RYC is located on the south shore of Lake Ontario and is accessible from the Genesee River.
About Rolex Watch U.S.A.
Since Rolex Watch U.S.A. first presented timepieces to America's Cup defenders in 1958, the company has consistently recognized and encouraged excellence in every important arena of competitive sailing, including US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics preparation, US SAILING championships, disabled sailing, offshore, one-design and women's events.
About US SAILING
The United States Sailing Association (US SAILING), the national governing body for sailing, provides leadership, integrity, and growth for the sport in the United States. Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, US SAILING is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. US SAILING offers training and education programs for instructors and race officials, supports a wide range of sailing organizations and communities, issues offshore rating certificates, and provides administration and oversight of competitive sailing across the country, including National Championships and the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics. For more information, please visit www.ussailing.org.