In this weekend's big-boat regatta, women are at the helm

ON THE WATER

On The Water

July 27, 2005|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Melissa Currier had a problem.

Put in charge of organizing what turned out to be the only women's big-boat sailing race in the United States, she had to find women to invite to the competition.

"All of the contact information for all of the boats that are registered listed men," she said. "Typically, they own the boats."

Of the nearly 800 names listed in the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association's green book, she found about 20 women's names.

So, on a Tuesday night, Currier got together with her sailing girlfriends and flipped through pages of men's names. They tried to remember names of women they'd seen sailing alongside those men.

"We literally sat down with a group of women and a glass of wine and stared at the list, and we figured out who was who," Currier said. "We were Googling people all the rest of the week to find addresses for them."

Maybe it's a testament to how interconnected the world of competitive sailboat racing is - or maybe it just goes to the power of group gossip - but in the end in the end, Currier had a list of 300 "lady sailors," as she calls them.

Invitations went out, and Currier, the race's chairwoman, is expecting at least 150 women for the Chesapeake Bay Women's Challenge Regatta, which this year is being hosted by Eastport Yacht Club and starts Saturday.

(The regatta raises funds for the Anne Arundel County Court-Appointed Special Advocates, community volunteers who work with neglected or abused children. Last year's regatta raised about $6,000 for the group.)

Smaller-boat sailing is not nearly as male-dominated as it used to be, said Currier. Not so with the bigger boats, she said, but Currier was surprised when U.S. Sailing - a body that governs competitive racing in the United States - told Currier that this weekend's race is the only women's big-boat regatta in the country. Currier is hoping that next year, U.S. Sailing will sanction the race - which could attract sailors from all over the country.

On the larger boats, women often get stuck trimming the sails and setting the spinnaker in the bow while the men steer.

"You learn a lot more the farther back in the boat you are because you can see a lot going on," Currier said.

"Women do sail differently when there are no guys on the boat," Currier said. "They are a lot less reserved. I think they'd tend to make their own calls. Whatever comes out of their mouth is more of a command than a question."

There will be at least two fleets participating in the regatta.

A one-design fleet of J/22s will compete. The top boat in that fleet qualifies to sail at the Adams Cup - a national women's J/22 regatta hosted by American Yacht Club in Rye New York and scheduled for mid-September.

The second fleet will be the big boats. All vessels must be bigger than 22 feet, and the start line will be crowded with different kinds of boats sailing against each other.

Each boat will receive a handicap to even out advantages some boats have because of their design or sail area.

Currier hopes there will be four of five races over the two days - although she's also concerned about the other problem that keeps regatta organizers up at night.

"There might not be much wind," she said.

Today is the last day to register for the Chesapeake Bay Women's Challenge. For more information about the regatta - or to contact Currier and sign up for the list of "lady sailors" - visit www.chesbaywomenschallenge.org.

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