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Celebrating the community of women in racing

by J/105 Class 6 Jun 2020 09:57 PDT
Celebrating the community of women in racing © Dave Mathias

According to Dictionary.com, the definition of "role model" is "a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people." And studies show that people are more likely to emulate role models with whom they can identify.

That's what extraordinary about people like Tracy Edwards who skippered the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race in 1989, and Dawn Riley - the first woman to manage an entire America's Cup syndicate in 2007. They influenced many young women to go beyond commonly accepted boundaries and insert themselves into a previously male-dominated sport. Role models and inspiration can be found in many places, though.

It was at the end of 1994 that EWYC member Corrine del Bane had the idea to form a women's sailing association, and I joined the inaugural group that kicked off the organization with a fundraising event at the University Club in early 1995, with Dawn Riley as keynote speaker.

Now known as the North Coast Women's Sailing Association (NCWSA), the group is still going strong with 200+ members, and the original mission still in place: "To empower women to become more actively involved in sailboat racing through regattas and clinics, and to create a spirit of good fellowship among members."

Hosted by Edgewater Yacht Club and operated solely by volunteers, NCWSA organizes races, educational meetings, social events and an annual regatta throughout the year. The group encourages men to be active in coaching, training and race committee, and relies on many to loan their boats for NCWSA activities. Fleets include J/22s, J/24s, Ensigns, Dragons, as well as JAM, PHRF and Race "Prep" boats for those who are brandnew to sailing. Tom and I both participate with NCWSA as well as regular club races and regattas on our own boat.

There were very few women skippers and/or boat owners in the Cleveland area when I started sailing. My husband Tom and I were introduced to the sport during the summer of 1987 and crewed on a C&C41 out of Edgewater Yacht Club (EWYC) from 1988-1994. Eventually (because we were the ones who always showed up for every single race!) over time, the skipper relied on us for recruiting, training and organizing crew for club races and travel regattas.

At first, it was the men on the boat who primarily got the regular crew positions, while the women generally would ride the rail. However, that eventually changed when inevitably we were short on regular crew, and women were ready and able to do some hands-on learning.

That same year of 1994, we bought our first boat when our oldest son was three months old - a J/29, Ovation - and put together a crew.

For the next several years, we took turns; one of us raced while the other stayed home with our son, and a few years later, two sons. This allowed us to equally develop our skills and confidence at the helm. Eventually when we started to race together again, we had to work on our team management skills, since we were both used to being "in charge."

In 2018, we sold the J/29 and bought a J/105, still named Ovation, and began racing in the one-design fleet at EWYC. We still take turns at the helm, while the other takes the pit, sail trim, foredeck or navigation, depending on whatever needs to be covered. We have found one-design racing to be a welcome challenge, extremely competitive, with a hugely supportive fleet.

The one-design fleet reminds me of what is special about all-women crews - the camaraderie. But nothing beats an all-woman crew, because female networks tend to feel warm, welcome, and safe. Just ask anyone who is in a book club. Same thing.

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