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Australian Women's Keelboat Regatta - Day 3

by Di Pearson / AWKR media 12 Jun 2022 18:26 PDT 10-13 June 2022
The Catherine North owned and skippered Duxelle - Australian Women's Keelboat Regatta © Andrea Francolini

The Australian 30th Australian Women's Keelboat Regatta (AWKR) has again attracted women from a wide variety of sailing backgrounds, from the highly experienced down to novices in the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron's (RMYS) three-day event, which finishes this afternoon.

Among the more experienced is Sarah Clough. Her parents, Les and Gai, are past commodores of the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron. Les filled the position from 1993-95, while Gai became the first female yacht club commodore in Australia from 1997-99.

It also happens that Gai was the founder of the women only AWKR in 1991, that has gone on to become Australia's premier all-women sailing event. Gai competed in it many times over the years and lived to see it grow to the regatta it is today, attracting entries from around Australia and New Zealand.

Following a long battle with cancer, Gai passed away in early December, 2020, but her daughter, who was blooded in sailing early on, has continued the tradition. This year she is skippering the S80, Georgia, the RMYS's training boat.

"I started sailing here at Royal Melbourne as a baby. I was in a baby chair on my parent's boat, Second Lady. I sailed Sabots and gaff-rigged Cadets when a got a bit older. I've been sailing Dragons and Etchells in recent times. I sailed a Dragon in the Prince Phillip Cup with an all-female crew," Clough explains.

She missed the first AWKR, but Clough did the second or third on her dad's boat, Update as an 11 or 12 year-old. "I've done around 12 or 13 AWKRs," she says.

"I think it's fantastic what Mum's done. We've had a lot of shared experiences sailing together. I'm very proud of her.

"Dad and I took a bit of break from sailing when Mum got ill. Dad became her primary carer at home. He hasn't sailed for over a year, but he'll get back into it."

Clough thinks that where the AWKR has originally come from, "To get women sailing and together socially, to how it's grown so much, with a wide variety of experience among the sailors is special. The vision Mum had has grown ten times more than she ever imagined. What she created here has changed the blokey environment and the camaraderie is so good."

This weekend, the 41 year-old's crew is made up of four experienced sailors and "two very green sailors - and they are really enjoying it - and I've enjoyed watching them grow," ends Clough, who coming into today's final race is third overall in the S80 Division.

At the other end of the spectrum, Catherine North began sailing later in life. In 2016, at 53 years of age, she signed up for the 2017-2018 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and was fortunate to join Wendy Tuck's crew on Sanya Serenity Coast for the entire 11 month, 40,000 nautical mile race.

They won and Tuck has gone down in history as the only woman to win an around the world race as a skipper. Just beforehand, North met her Melbourne partner, Michael Mactavish, who ended up doing a couple of Clipper legs.

American-born, North hails from the land-locked state of Idaho in the US but has called Melbourne home since 1999. Her love of the sea, she says, has always been there: "My dad owned a boat when he was growing up, before moving to Idaho. When I was younger, I read books about the sea and sailing. I've always been fascinated by it," North says.

From a raw sailor in the Clipper race, North returned to Melbourne and the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria's Winter Series and the Women Skipper and Navigator Race. She learned to race on Duckmobile with David Seaman, the then Commodore of the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria.

"He loaned his boat to be used at the AWKR. I loved the Duckmobile and when it came up for sale, Michael and I bought it."

Renamed Duxelle, she is a 36ft X-362 Sport boat and North is skippering her at the AWKR and using the yacht to encourage more women into sailing.

Of the regatta, North says, "The fact that has been going for so long and the empowerment we get from doing an all-woman regatta says it all. I entered the 2020 and 2021 regattas, but they were cancelled because of Covid, so this is my first one as a skipper.

"I have a mixed crew. Three are very experienced; two are not so experienced. I have appreciation for all those who have donated time, boats and to mentoring. I am pretty new to this still and have had a lot of help from Michael and others."

Duxelle is currently ninth in Division 1, with a race to go. Commenting on yesterday's racing, North said: "We were pretty chuffed to do the long race and to be rewarded with sailing to the conditions. We've been pretty conservative with the sail plan, we didn't use spinnakers and had a reef in the main, so to come in ahead of those who did fly kites and had a full main, was gratifying."

On the beautifully named No Mans Land, the Sydney 38 owned by Sal Balharrie, there is not just a mix of experience, but a united nations of sorts.

"The crew is made up of English, American, Canadian, French and Australians. The youngest is 22 and the oldest 62 and they are at different levels of sailing. Included in the crew is Balharrie's sister Kylie.

"We are a beautiful group of friends," Balharrie shares. "Jane is sailing her first racing event with us and Petria (Dorrington) does all the hard jobs on the boat - below packing spinnakers and more. She has now bought her own boat. It's rewarding to see so many women getting involved and owning their own boats."

In 2020, the Melbourne yachtswoman had purchased the trophy winning Sydney 38, Chuztpah38, from well-credentialed yachtsman Bruce Taylor. She sent an email to a broad range of women, asking 'would you like to learn how to sail?'

"Within a day I had a core of 12 prepared to commit to learning how to sail. With training in place, we were headed to the Australian Women's Keelboat Regatta," With 2020 and 2021 cancelled, this is No Mans Land's first AWKR.

No Mans Land is currently fourth overall in Division 1. However, she is on equal points with the second and third placed boats, Mrs Overnewton (Helen Willmer from South Australia) and Vertigo (Clare Olding, Vic), so today's final race will break the tie.

The Australian Women's Keelboat Regatta attracts anyone from novice sailors, youths making their way up, club racers, university students, those doing training courses up to Olympians and world champions.

For example, Laura Harding, who sailed the J24, Gridlock, to a Division 2 overall win in 2019 is missing, as she is in the throes of an Olympic campaign in the 49erFX skiff. And then there are the stalwarts, such as Deb Parker, who has done over 20 AWKRs.

Three time Olympian Karyn Gojnich has returned from Sydney, this time with her J70, Madness, while others have contested world championships and major yachting events, such is the diversity of the AWKR.

This afternoon, winners in the various categories will be announced, from overall winners to prizes for Novice Helm, Most Improved, Sportsmanship, Best Performed Owner/Skipper and the Rohan Brownlee Leadership and Endeavour Award. It is a unique event in every way.

Full results and all information at www.awkr.com.au.

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