Annapolitan Strives To Upgrade Women's Racing Skills


February 06, 1991|By Nancy Noyes

Nance Frank recognizes that there's more to a successful yachting campaign than knowing how to get over the starting line and staying in there until the finish.

As the skipper of the U.S. Women's Challenge in 1989, Frank and her all-female crew were able to cross the starting line for the first leg of the legendary Whitbread Round The World Race off Southampton, England.

But they were forced to turn back immediately and retire from therace, because the team's financial needs had not been met sufficiently by sponsorship and other support.

In addition to the team members' personal disappointment in not being able to participate in the race, their retirement also meant that the United States was not represented in this race.

No other U.S. challenger had been able to successfully mount a campaign.

Returning to her home base in Annapolis, Frank has continued to work tirelessly to ensure that next time, in 1993, the U.S. Women's Challenge will be able to cross the starting line and continue on to a respectable outcome at the end of the 33,000-mile race.

She has undertaken extensive ongoing efforts to enlist corporate sponsors and private donors to her cause. She also has been working to promote women's sailing generally and assisting novice women sailors individually in achieving their personal goals of competency and confidence on the water.

The latest step in that direction is a new women's sailing seminar, "Before The Mast," set for March 2 and repeated March 3 out of Blue Water Marina in Mayo.

This all-day seminar combines classroom and on-water training and likely will be the first in an ongoing series. It focuses on foredeck work, anarea of expertise that can make women especially welcome on racing sailboats, but which many women new to racing lack for one reason or another.

Frank helped organize and took part in a Philadelphia regatta for women last fall, conducted by the Liberty Yacht Club, which also served as a fund-raiser for the USWC.

Although Frank and her fellow skippers -- many recruited from the Annapolis area -- were skillful and experienced racers, their randomly assigned crews tended notto be.

A particular weakness the Annapolis women found in the skills of their enthusiastic, but green, crews was on the pointy end. Virtually every team was missing an experienced foredeck hand, and manyalso lacked crew experienced in the critical supporting roles farther back on the boat that make a foredeck worker's job easier.

Topics Frank will cover in her seminar include deck setup, spinnaker sets,gybes and takedowns, as well as the important support positions.

These are obviously important skills for women to have if they want to sail in the increasing numbers of women's regattas. But this kind of knowledge has a strong application to regular fleet racing, too, even if one has little or no desire to make the foredeck itself a regular position.

Generally speaking, foredeck work looks a lot more complicated and intimidating to the novice sailor than it actually is. A helmsman, pit and mast crew who are on their toes and know what they can do to help can make it go smoothly. And while a certain amount of strength, agility and quick-wittedness are valued characteristics in a foredeck crew, a lot of bulky muscular weight generally is not.

A good foredeck hand gets in, does the job quickly and gets off the bow again before the boat's performance starts to suffer from the extra weight forward of the mast. But if something goes wrong, it's generally less damaging to the boat's speed to have a lighter-weight member of the crew up there straightening it out, instead of the biggest, heaviest guy on the boat. Especially on smaller and more weight-sensitive boats, this means that a skillful female foredeck often can choose from several good options in finding a team to join.

A lot of sailors, this writer included, believe that everyone in a crew -- including the helmsman -- should have some practical experience up there on the pointy end working the foredeck, regardless of whether it'sa position he or she ever wants to take in a race. Effective teamwork demands an understanding of how one's actions in one position help or hinder other crew members' jobs. This kind of knowledge makes any sailor, male or female, more capable as a teammate on any crew.

Frank explained that the seminar was requested by women she has sailed with here and those she met during the Philadelphia regatta, who asked for the training and set the terms.

"They came to me and said, 'We want to support the (U.S. Women's) Challenge, and we want this outof it.' They've organized the whole thing, set the price, and everything. I'm thrilled to be doing this, and I'm really grateful for the interest and support for the Challenge."

Tuition, in the form of atax-deductible contribution to the non-profit USWC, is $125, including lunch for the all-day course.

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