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Olympian creates a new women's sailing dynasty at BOISW

by Suzanne McFadden 15 Jan 02:08 PST 15 January 2019
Sharon Ferris-Choat and the all women crew on Ave Gitana - Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 6 © Richard Gladwell

As the starters' gun fires in the country's largest keelboat regatta next week, three generations of Ferris women will race together for the very first time.

For skipper Sharon Ferris-Choat - a two-time Olympian and round-the-world sailor - drawing family together in an all-female crew for Bay of Islands Sailing Week is one way to thank her mum for supporting her, as she’s dashed off to sail around the globe over the last 25 years.

And it’s also a way for Ferris-Choat to show her own daughters, aged 10 and five, that sailing isn’t “the devil”.

Ferris-Choat, who turns 45 this week, is still a seriously competitive sailor.

Her incredible sailing resume includes competing for New Zealand at the 1996 and 2004 Olympics, sailing in the Volvo Ocean Race on all-women’s team Amer Sport II, and breaking four world records on board multihull Maiden 2 on its non-stop circumnavigation of the globe.

These days she revels in offshore racing (it's her goal to establish an offshore academy in New Zealand), and she's a strong advocate for advancing women’s sailing.

She made history as skipper of the first all-female crew in the international Extreme Sailing Series, on a foiling catamaran, back in 2016. And, last year, her women’s crew won every race in the multihull division at Hamilton Island Race Week on board Ave Gitana - taking the Gun Boat Trophy for most line honour wins across the entire regatta fleet.

“We took it from all the million dollar boys,” she laughs.

But she’s also very aware that her sporting career takes her away from her family in Kerikeri – her understanding husband Neil and their daughters, Sofia and Victoria.

“Last year I was away overseas for four months off and on. It takes its toll on the family,” Ferris-Choat says.

“My girls know how to sail, but sailing is a double-edged sword for them at the moment - because it takes mum away. For a while there, the girls saw it as the devil.

“But I want to show my girls that racing doesn’t have to be all at Olympic or world championship level. It can also be a lot of fun, quality family time.”

That's why she's taking them racing, along with their grandmother Pauline. As far as the regatta organisers know, they will be the first all-women’s keelboat crew in the regatta’s 17-year history.

It’s in the Bay of Islands that Ferris-Choat first encountered sailing as a young teen. She was taken out on a friend’s family yacht, where she learned to snorkel and sail a dinghy. “I was in absolute heaven,” she recalls.

She then joined the Kerikeri High School sailing team, learning to sail under the legendary Derry Godbert – who also first coached Emirates Team New Zealand sailors Blair Tuke and Andy Maloney.

Sailing also helped Ferris-Choat in the classroom. “I’m incredibly dyslexic and, until then, I was failing at school. But the self-confidence that grew from my sailing transferred into my school work,” she says.

Impressed by her daughter’s passion for the sport, Ferris-Choat’s mum, Pauline, began sailing herself. “Then my three younger brothers all got into it,” Ferris-Choat says. Her brother Justin has now sailed in the Volvo Ocean Race four times.

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