Sea Bags Women’s Sailing Team Takes First Place at NOOD Regatta

Sea Bags Women's Sailing Team takes first place at the NOOD Regatta.jpg

In most sports, two teams compete against each other and only one can win. In sailing regattas, only one of many teams can win. Winning in sailing is the goal but it’s rare, especially when we are racing against ten, twenty, and even up to eighty teams at a time. At most big events we find ourselves competing against full time professional sailors.

The Helly Hansen National Offshore One-Design (NOOD) Regatta at Marblehead Race Week presented us with a different outlook. None of the five teams racing in our J24 class had professional sailors on board. Going into the event we wondered if we could win the whole thing.

The NOOD Regattas are held across the country every year and the Boston Yacht Club hosted the Regatta at Marblehead July 25-28. Our small fleet of J/24s joined 12 other fleets and some 170 teams for intense racing in ocean waters off Marblehead. Three of five J/24s were all women teams, which is unheard of in most fleets in the country.

The starting area had four fleets: the Vipers, the J/80s, the Comets and us. The Vipers, a high-performance dinghy went first each race, so we were able to watch to try and see which side of the course was favored. We then would watch the J/80s get off the line, followed by our fleet of J/24s and then Comets. The race committee did a fantastic job spacing out the racing so that we weren’t on top of each other and got off eight solid races.

Wind conditions varied throughout the three days and a 1.5-knot current ripped across the course every single race, varying in strength and direction. We watched the lobster buoys to learn as much as we could to use the current to our advantage. Many fleets had trouble crossing the line.  

On Sunday, three fleets in a row had the left-most boat hit the pin, and most struggled to cross the line on starboard. At the beginning of the day, the current ran right to left, making layline calls relevant. The key to a successful beat was short tacking the port layline. As the current flooded, speed and time off the line became critical. The starts were the most crucial part of the race, as the fleet was tiny and the competition was tight, getting ahead early made it easier on the crew moral.

On days one and three when the wind was lighter, we found it paid off more to be in pressure than on the lifted tack. When it paid off, gains were made by managing the fleet, and sailing on a header to match the other boats. Trying to stay on the tack pointed directly at the mark (or jibe) also benefited us. Downwind laylines were just as crucial as upwind. Not jibing too early helped defeat the light air and strong current pushing us away from the gate since the course was quite skewed. Coming in with speed and rounding the mark that had most pressure while still sending us in the correct direction kept us ahead and clear of any potential traffic. Even if the port end of the line was favored, it paid to come in further up the line on starboard with speed in order to maintain momentum. 

By using the current to our advantage and thinking two steps ahead, we were able to establish and maintain our lead. Regular communication throughout the race, and keeping an eye on the compass, whether we were lifted or headed, made a huge difference. We won day one with a second and two bullets. We won day two with a second and two bullets. Day three was our worst day of sailing but going in with a big lead allowed us to maintain our lead on our competitors and win the regatta.

Our core team has learned a ton sailing together as often as we have. We are more patient and better communicators. It’s easier to set up for success when you know what is possible and what we can and cannot do in close racing quarters. Although it was a very small fleet of boats, the racing was unbelievably close all three days. Appreciation and respect for each other was unflappable during and after every race. 

The 2019 Marblehead NOOD Regatta ended for us at the Boston Yacht Club for the awards ceremony, where all J/24 teams were recognized. When we walked forward to receive our first-place trophies, Josh Toso from Shifty gave us the biggest high fives making the moment even more special.

Allison KilleenComment