Sea Bags Women’s Sailing Team Takes on the Big Apple
Sometimes, when least expected, an extraordinary opportunity presents itself and leads you to something grand.
Our 2019 regatta schedule was already in motion when we received news of the revival of J/24 competition in New York Harbor, June 8th and 9th, for the top amateur female sailors in the U.S. Thrilled to hear of the opportunity to race against other women’s sailing teams and compete under the watchful eyes of the Statue of Liberty, we signed up immediately despite our busy season. We knew we needed to be there to support women’s sailing. We didn’t just want to compete—we wanted to win and were really close to making that happen. In the end we brought home the second-place trophy.
The Sea Bags Women’s Sailing Team was one of twelve teams that participated in the Lady Liberty Regatta hosted by the Manhattan Yacht Club in Jersey City. The first Lady Liberty Regatta was organized in 1989. Thirty years later, the relaunched regatta brought together an amazing group of female sailors passionate about racing, including our crew Hillary Noble, Jess Harris, Erica Beck Spencer, Karen Renzulli Fallon, Barbara Gold, Kim Calnan.
Our team had never sailed in New York Harbor before but knew that the current of the Hudson River would make racing quite intense. We did our homework and studied the Eldridge report and the tide charts posted at the Stevens Institute of Technology. On Friday, we went out on the course to learn as much as we could about where to get current relief and how to use it to our advantage. We spent a ton of time on Friday practicing timed approaches to the starting line with current.
We have learned from experience that winds can shift abruptly on rivers in cities with tall buildings. At the Lady Liberty Regatta, we didn’t experience many crazy wind shifts, but we did have current shifts. The winning team would know the current the best and be able to adjust faster than everyone else, regardless of wind conditions and unpredictable boat traffic.
Another unique facet of the event was that the J/24s we raced were provided by the Manhattan Yacht Club. All we needed to bring was a crew and our spinnaker. The shrouds and the back stay were fixed and could not be adjusted. We could adjust the traveler, but it was rigged differently than our J/24. Every boat was slightly different and had its own quirks. To make it fair for all we’d rotate after each race, so every team got to race each boat.
We started the regatta strong by winning race one by half a leg. We learned quickly to stay clear of the Staten Island Ferries crossing the Harbor. The second race was a very mentally challenging race for all of us but served as a good reminder that we needed to work hard, adjust quickly, and fight for every point. We had a hard time getting off the line with speed and the wind shifted in the middle of the race, giving us back-to-back downwind legs. The competition was close at the end of the first racing day.
We started day two with a pep talk about our team goals for the day. We focused on the positive things we did and talked about the things we all needed to improve. We started the day off with a sizable lead but were late to the start in race five. On shore before the final race we did the math; we would need to win race six and a the local team in first place would need to come in fourth place in order for us to win the regatta. We led the pack and I’m very proud to say that under significant pressure, we focused on the job at hand. At the end of the regatta, we were proud to place second overall.
Racing against all female sailors is something we hope to do again and again, and we’re so grateful to the organizers of the event, and the amazing teams that came to race. We will forever remember racing in the Big Apple, surrounded by gorgeous high rises, dodging fast moving commercial vessels, navigating the tricky current patterns, and taking in the breathtaking Statue of Liberty.