Team Race Like a Girl, which is competing again in this year’s Race to Alaska. Photo by Wendy Hinman

Team Sail Like a Girl has evolved into something of a movement, initially tugging at our heartstrings as an underdog story when this all-women team defied naysayers by competing and winning the 750-mile Race to Alaska, they carried this momentum ever higher to inspire and create more opportunities for women.

For them, it’s always been about more than just winning a race. First they made a generous donation from their $10,000 prize money to breast cancer research, and then continued to race as an all-women team to raise even more in the Pink Boat Regatta.

The team has used the media attention and the voice it offered them to raise the profile of women in sailing and to spawn women’s programs and maritime opportunities on multiple fronts. Skipper Jeanne Assael Goussev joined the board of the Northwest Maritime Center to devise strategies for giving more women the opportunity to excel in maritime pursuits. She recently spearheaded a women’s training program along with team mate Aimee Fulwell and sailing instructor Margaret Pommert to offer women from diverse background the chance to hone their skills at a higher level — recognizing that while many classes teach beginners how to sail, there remains a huge gulf between basic sailing skills and skippering a boat, especially for women. Helping women jump that chasm is a goal they share.

Haley Lhamon, who was one of the drivers on the 2018 R2AK race, is now coordinating a burgeoning women’s group out of Port Madison Yacht Club with the aim of getting more women out on the water. It offers matchmaking between sailors of all levels and boats seeking crew, as well as instruction on everything from knot-tying and boat handling to currents and tactics.

Yet the R2AK and its siren call still beckons, so the team is competing again in this year’s race. “There’s nothing like being out there in the wind and the waves and tapping into your inner warrior,” says skipper and boat owner Jeanne Assael Goussev.

She and others felt compelled to revisit the challenge and camaraderie the race offered, not to defend their title, but to recapture the experience of pushing themselves amidst the currents, racing conditions and the whims of Mother Nature on the Inside Passage and working with other women towards a worthy goal.

But while all of last year’s Team Sail Like a Girl members retain fond memories of the race they experienced together and their bond remains strong, not all would be able to make such a large commitment again this year. Teammates Anna Stevens and Aimee Fuller were eager to sign on for another adventure. Though they’ve done the race once with stellar results, they recognize that each year conditions are unpredictable and are glad for another challenge.

Lisa Cole, who teaches women’s sailing classes through her company SheSails Seattle, is also joining this year’s team. Lisa will handle main trim and has been practicing and studying the peculiarities of the Melges 32, seeking advice from other Melges sailors, riggers, and national and international champions. Both she and Laurie Anna Kaplan (“LA”), another longtime Seattle-area racer and experienced ocean passage-maker, have done multiple Swiftsure races and the Van Isle 360 aboard a variety of boats. Neither could resist the opportunity for adventure.

Filling out the crew roster as another driver is British sailor Nikki Henderson, who met Jeanne while she was skippering the Visit Seattle team during the Clipper Round the World Race. Nikki was the youngest skipper to win a leg of this hotly contested multileg race around the globe and led her team to a second place finish after 40,000 miles. First and second place of the Clipper Race were won by the only female skippers, lending credence to what women are capable of achieving, given an opportunity.

Adding Nikki to the team seemed a natural fit, since the 26-year-old has been ocean-racing and working in women’s sailing education for years. She recently skippered the first leg of the three-year Maiden Factor voyage — a global voyage to raise funds and awareness for girls’ education — to commemorate the all-women team led by Tracy Edwards that completed the Whitbread Round the World Race (now the Volvo Ocean Race) in 1990. (Maiden is expected to visit Seattle in August. Don’t miss it!) This commemorative tour of the globe also has a mission to raise awareness for educating girls, which, during a time of bleak global news and numerous recent setbacks for women in particular, offers inspiration to women and girls and dovetails perfectly with the goals of Team Sail Like a Girl.

The last member of the team, videographer Katrina Zoe Norbom (Zoe) arrived from Key West, Florida, just minutes before their recent send-off party hosted by title sponsor First Federal on Bainbridge Island. Zoe joined the Northwest Maritime Center in 2016, met the members of Team Sail Like a Girl and forged a bond with them when she filmed their exciting race-winning arrival in Ketchikan. Since then she founded Ocean Mountain Media and has been filming races around the globe, including the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, the Havana Challenge and races to Cuba. When Jeanne asked Zoe to join the team, though scheduling was tight, she wondered how she could say no to such an adventure.

The R2AK begins two weeks earlier this year, on June 3, which has compressed the preparation schedule. As of this writing, teammates and supporters are in the frenzy of essential last-minute details critical to prepare. Once again the team raced Swiftsure for a shakedown, but this year conditions were in stark contrast to the blustery conditions they faced last year, and little to no wind meant few competitors finished the course. Jeanne and crew missed their biking stations that got so much use in the last R2AK.

This year, anything could happen. The fleet is different and the weather unpredictable. The team has a tested boat and plenty of experience behind them, but they are still hard at work loading supplies, reviewing race strategy/weather/tactics, and tweaking the boat in various ways to make sure they are ready for anything race conditions and Mother Nature might throw at them. Whether or not this team of adventurous gals wins this year’s R2AK, there’s no doubt they will succeed in inspiring other women to reach higher to be the best they can be.

Race details:

Don’t miss the fun! The R2AK Pre-race Ruckus is from noon to 8 p.m. today, June 2, in Port Townsend during which the team will have a boat blessing ceremony. The start, even though it’s at 5 a.m. on Monday, June 3, is sure to have folks cheering, coffee cups in hand. This race is like no other. R2AK is not as big as the other races, but the heart and soul of this race is amazing. It’s fun and refreshingly cheeky, with all sorts of vessels and characters joining in just for the challenge of it. Everyone will be out there excited for the racers.