Sunday, September 25, 2011

Teenage Girls Sailing J/30 Double-handed

J/30 Rafiki- sailed by two teenage girls in Milwaukee* Teenage Queen Bees Sail Queens Cup In J/30 Double-handed?  Hmmm. Something fishy about this headline?  Not really.  Whitney Kent admits she slept through her first several Queen’s Cup races-- after all, starting as a "princess" that’s understandable, considering she was just 4 years old during her first race with her parents in 1997.  Her sister Alison (Gator) was 3.

This year, at ages 18 and 17, Whitney and Alison Kent launched their own campaign in the Short-handed Fleet on RAFIKI, their J/30. They have probably set a record as the two youngest sailors in the 73-year history of the Queen’s Cup.

Whitney’s idea to do the Queen’s Cup with her sister was sparked in 2009 when she sailed in the Short-handed Fleet on Quicksilver with her mom, Cheri Kent Jones.

However, Whitney felt that Quicksilver, a C&C 41, was a lot of boat for two teenagers to handle. When she got RAFIKI in 2010, it was the right-sized boat, but it wasn’t ready to sail until later that summer. She had another year to make plans for the 2011 Queen’s Cup with Alison.

The next step was to convince the parents this was a good idea. “They quizzed us — what would you do in this situation, what would you do if this happened?” Whitney said.

Stepdad Eric Jones (“Inky”) was finally convinced last winter that the two sisters could safely campaign RAFIKI.

Meanwhile, their dad Tim Kent would be racing against them in the Short-handed Fleet on NEMESIS, a J/35.  “We had a bet going that the losing boat would have to buy dinner for the winner,” Whitney said.

The day of the race — Friday July 1 — winds were 25 knots and gusting higher. Whitney and Alison had some trouble on the way to the starting line. With the apparent wind indicator up to 38 knots in the harbor, the mainsail got stuck on the way up. To make matters even more “interesting,” as Whitney described it, the engine wouldn’t start. These experienced sailors did not panic. They anchored to keep from drifting into the break-wall and called for help. The SSYC tender came to their assistance, and they were able to hoist the mainsail and start the race 20 minutes late. “We made up some time,” Whitney said.

Alison said her first goal had been to beat her dad in the race, followed by the goal of finishing. After the problem at the start, she said her priorities were switched – her first goal was to finish the race!

During the night, each of them took turns at the helm for an hour. “It was a real workout,” said Alison. “I needed both hands on the tiller to steer through the waves.” Their point of sail across the lake was a beam reach. With winds mostly above 17 knots, it was a fast race.

During the night they made two headsail changes. When winds were down to about 12 knots, they shook out a reef and put up the #2 genoa. Later, they put the #3 genoa back up.

How did they feel when they crossed the finish line in the dark at 3:40 a.m.? “Pretty excited,” Whitney said. The excitement quickly turned to focus on finding a tow to the dock. This year was Whitney’s second fastest crossing, finishing in 9 hours 59 minutes. At thirty feet long, RAFIKI is also the smallest boat she has sailed in the Queen’s Cup.

“We really bonded,” Alison said about the experience with her older sister. Both Whitney and Alison say they want to race in the Short-handed Fleet again. Also — they beat their dad Tim Kent on NEMESIS!

How did the blue-hulled J/30 get the name RAFIKI? “When I was little, I watched The Lion King and Rafiki was my favorite character,” Whitney said.

Whitney will be a freshman at UW-Milwaukee this fall, and Alison will be a senior at Brookfield East High School.