Thursday, October 1, 2020

"Women at the Helm Regatta"

 j/70 women's teams

48 NORTH had a great article in their recent September 2020 online issue, contribution from Jennifer Harkness. 

"No matter how you slice it, if you're someone who had any plans this summer, chances are fairly good that the Coronavirus dashed them. I am certainly one of those people. Plan A for the summer was to stretch my sailing skills and build new ones on the Clipper Round the World Race (see 48° North September 2019 "The Sailing Unicorn" for that story). Well, crap. Plan B then became a spot-on team Repeat Offenders for the Race to Alaska, but ... yeah that one became another victim of the pandemic. With those two big races postponed or canceled, I had pretty much given up on doing any racing of significance this summer. 

So it was, until a regatta for all female skippers came back on the radar. I had seen the race on the SARC earlier in the year, but at the time it wasn't a race I could participate in since I was going to be racing across the Atlantic Ocean on a Clipper 70. Thanks to the courageous Jenn Harkness and the wonderful allies at the Sloop Tavern Yacht Club, the Women at The Helm regatta was all systems go (with appropriate safety precautions), virus be damned! 

Alright, a regatta for all female skippers in the middle of a pandemic— let's have some fun. Emre (John) Sezer, owner of J/80 RECKLESS and my dear friend and mentor, empowered me to helm his boat and build a crew, so build a crew I did! We had Kathy Harris, a new racer who continues to wow us with how quickly her skills are ramping up on the good ship Reckless. The ray of sunshine that is Stephanie Campbell came down from tropical Anacortes to kick butt trimming main, calling tactics, and coaching Kathy and I, (she had some great tips for Emre, too!). For the most part, Emre sat on the rail in his tutu (ha!) looking pretty and worked with Kathy on hoists and headsail trim while offering thoughts on course and tactics. With our epic crew assembled, this thing was really on. 

The week leading up to the race, I was a mix of nerves and excitement. Seeing the list of rad lady skippers and the boats who would be out, I knew there would be some serious competition. The nerves got a bit bigger when the class breaks got announced and I saw that the J/80 fleet was going to be combined with the J/105s? Yikes, those are some big boats and a very competitive fleet! I figured, "Ok, we'll have a fun race but won't likely end up with anything too impressive results-wise." Turns out, the universe had different plans. 

J/80 women skipper
The day of the race was full of nothing but good vibes on our J/80 RECKLESS. To make things even more fun, and because I could, I brought tutus for everyone on the team. I'm missing the weekly summer outlet I have for dressing in goofy outfits on sailboats. Duck Dodge, we miss you, but I know the committee is making the right choice by not holding the race. 

We got the boat ready and made our way out to the starting line. Skipper Cathy Van Antwerp looking strong at the helm of her J/111 VALKYRIE. 

Masked smiles and waves were shared across the course, and soon it was time to start. One such wave was to the boat my mom, Elly Cyr, was helming. It was really special that, for the first time, my mom and I were both helming boats for a race. Maybe in the future we'll race on the same boat, but we might have to sell tickets to that show! 

Nerves were firing on all cylinders, but thanks to Steph and John coaching me, we wriggled our way through the fleet and got into a clean spot. Approaching Meadow Point, the usual debate of how far to go to the beach ensued. Then, before we knew it, it was time to get ready for the spinnaker hoist. AHH! High stakes, helming for my first kite hoist in a real race. Can we pull this off? The crew did a great job and off we went. 

We continued to sail our race and ... whoa, the finish line is almost here. Wait, are we right by the J/105s? How much time do they owe us? OMG, we might have this one! Sure enough, we did win the first race and suddenly my mind went from "Ok, let's just have a clean day of racing," to "FULL SEND BABY!" 

We enjoyed between-race beers (thanks, Steph, for confirming that was the right call!) and lunch, and the rest of the day carried on fantastically. There were a couple of spicy moments with other boats that served as yet another indicator that this wasn't a play regatta, this was a real regatta with real stakes. 

The next race hilariously included the mark sequence NMEN which was called out by another woman on VHF... "Really? You're running a course called MEN at Women at the Helm?"

The committee claims it was an accident but, come on, that's too easy. The last race of the day was the longest race, sending us to the mark everyone loves to hate: Spring Beach. For this one, we figured the 105s would walk away from us and, sure enough, they did. When we finally determined that we did, in fact, have sight of the mark and weren't being fooled by a seagull or crab buoy; we prepared for our final hoist of the day and, again, it went beautifully.

Next stop, after a few lovely jibes, was the finish. Big whoops and hollers were heard when we crossed the line, then we realized the rest of the J/80 fleet was behind us, which led to more whoops and hollers. All of the J/80 skippers sailed their hearts out, I'm so proud to be part of such a wonderful fleet.

After we finished the last race, I was on Cloud 9. I couldn't believe it. Thanks to an amazing crew, I had successfully finished helming my first real regatta. We made our way back to the dock for some well-earned beers and snacks. A few other sailors joined us for what became a lovely socially-distant hang out on V-dock. I'd squirreled a bottle of Prosecco away in the dock box and I popped it on the bow, and promptly sprayed some of it around in victorious Grand Prix fashion. The day had just been too much fun.

We knew at that point that we had sailed well but were eagerly awaiting the news of how we had done on the rest of the fleet. Preliminary results were posted and ... wait, WHAT?! Some happy swear words (sailing words?) came out of my mouth when Reckless was listed at the top of the class results list. We sailed against all those talented ladies of the J/80 and J/105 fleets and we won?! 

I was speechless and, admittedly, teared up a little bit. The day had been an absolute dream, with everyone on the boat working really well; and to get rewarded for that with a "W" at the first regatta I helmed was unreal. To have something finally go so right during a year that seemed to be full of disappointment and heartbreak meant a lot. To have it happen on a beautiful day doing one of the things I love most in the world was the cherry on top of a funfetti cupcake with sprinkles. The euphoria provided a big contrast to the 
major episodes of depression that have rocked me (and many others) through this insane year. From long-awaited adventures postponed to the months that I wasn't able to sail at all due to the stay home order — my mental health plummeted.

I will never take sailing for granted again. It took some digging deep into the mental health toolkit, including leaning on friends and family when they had the bandwidth. I encourage everyone to please do what you need to for self-care and to care for those around you. 
I have nothing but big, big gratitude and love for the organizers of the Women at the Helm Regatta, included among them is fellow badass unicorn Jenn Harkness. 

Thank you Sloop Tavern Yacht Club for being willing to safely put on a regatta in the middle of a pandemic, the boat owners who gave their vessels over for the day, and last-but-not-least the amazing talent spread across the helms and crews on the race course. 

This event proved that women's sailing is not just some fluffy thing (even when tutus are involved and, even then, turns out that's a winning combo!), women can and do sail just as hard and well as any other gender. We are fortunate in the Pacific Northwest to have some amazing role models like Team Sail Like a Girl and many others. We also have a lot farther we can go to get equity in the sport. I look forward to many more awesome events that empower women to sail and hope that one day there is a true mix of genders and races spread across the race course. 

As for my next adventure? At this point who even knows. I am more motivated now to get off my unicorn tail and get more sailing certifications."  Thanks for this contribution to support women sailing from 48 North: