When a new regatta is met with incredible success and enthusiasm… what do you do? Do it again, but this time go further!

After the first Women at the Helm Regatta (WATH1), the Shilshole Women Sailors Group (SWSG), co-led by Shauna Walgren and Elise Sivilay held a race review. 

Elise explains, “SWSG is a community of women that come together to support each other in their sailing endeavors. Every third Thursday evening of the month, SWSG hosts a social (either virtually or in-person at Corinthian Yacht Club of Seattle) to bring women together around a variety of relevant topics. Open to anyone—including men—who relishes the pure love of sailing, and is committed to fostering a supportive, relaxed, and non-judgmental environment for all.”

As the group excitedly discussed the fun, success, and terrific enthusiasm for the inaugural WATH, an idea was put forth for a distance race. She Regatta had been cancelled due to Covid, and thus a date had opened up in late September.  

Eric Finn, from the Sloop Tavern Yacht Club (STYC), attended this virtual post-race meeting. He took the distance race idea to STYC and they, once again, unanimously agreed to support our local women sailors. Thus, the second, longer-distance version of Women at the Helm (WATH2) was born. 

It is a lot of work to create and run a race, let alone when the window from inception to event date is less than 30 days in the midst of a global pandemic. It is representative of STYC’s commitment to local women sailors and to expanding equity in sailing that they pulled it off. Dana Brooks was on Rubigale to perform committee boat duties, with assistance from STYC board member, Mike Danger. Dana said, “Registration filled within 48 hours and 21 of 25 registered boats made the race. I wish I had kept better count of the all-female boats, but Mike remembers me mentioning them as they finished and we both remarked on how cool it was. Despite the light wind start, everyone finished well within the time limits.”

Elise added about the rapid race prep endeavor, “A whole community of sailors put forth tremendous effort to ensure a strong showing and successful event. SWSG recruited boat owners and the Seattle Sailing Club to lend boats, invited women to helm and crew, and organized weekly practices. The September social was a “Chalk Talk” in preparation for WATH2 with Sail Like a Girl race team skipper, Jeanne Assael Goussev, and members, Haley Lhamon and Christa Bassett Ross. It was a success with over 28 participants joining and openly discussing race strategy and tactics. A great time was had by all.” 

As the date neared, not only was COVID casting its shadow of uncertainty on the event, but dangerous smoke and air quality loomed throughout the region, calling the race into question. Luckily, the air cleared the day before the race and the game was on! Smoke clearing wasn’t the only serendipitous element to the timing of WATH2—it felt special to hold a women’s race the day after Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, died. Many of the sailors dedicated the day to her lifelong service to this country and equality for women. Relatedly, the event logo (created by the author) featured sailing women with diverse skin tones posed like ‘Rosie Riveter’ along with the slogan “Going the Distance”—the message was not only for us on the water for WATH2, but also in our collective pursuit of greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sailing community and beyond.

Women at the Helm Logo by Jennifer Harkness.

In keeping with the mission of community and amplifying women’s voices, I reached out to the race skippers and participants to write about their experiences. 

Jeanne Assael Goussev said,

“What a sight to see two dozen amazing women helming this regatta. All levels of experience came out for what felt like a collaborative and competitive race. The light winds were a challenge and brought out conversations on board of strategy, placement, winds, and currents. All eyes on deck were scanning the horizons for advantage. Seeing the power of women sailors in such full force was inspiring.”

Kelly Moon on Morphine mirrored the sentiment for strategy,

“Racing in a drifter is never ideal and often frustrating, but we kept our spirits up and stayed focused.  Thankfully, the tides worked in our favor and the wind kicked in just before the finish, though of course I wish it had filled in just a bit sooner (our summoning techniques might need some work).  In the end, though, what mattered more than finishing or race results was the chance to empower women in sailing.”

Cathy VanAntwerp from her J/111 Valkyrie had this to say,

“Every small decision counts and every mistake is magnified when you’re racing in low winds. WATH2 was one such race. It was great to watch each skipper handle the course so elegantly. Huge kudos to Regan Edwards and the Nefarious crew for absolutely nailing it. It was a hard-fought race!”

Paula Bersie sailed the J/80 Rush to first place in their one design class and said,

It was a frustratingly fun day out on the water. I was really happy that Phil and Pete asked me to come race with them on Rush. Rush is a well-tuned machine. And with all of the double-handing Phil and Pete do, crew maneuvers with me at the helm were flawless. The light wind coming from pretty much every possible direction throughout the race made for some frustrating conditions where tactics become both much broader, but also much smaller. Meaning, you have to look around a lot, apply the local knowledge you have, but you can only sail in the wind you have at the moment and make the best of it. I hope we can have more of these races! I don’t get to helm nearly enough these days. Thanks to everyone who put the race together and all of the other women out there racing!”

Regan Edwards, who took home the overall first and first in her class had this to say,

“While it was disappointing to have the most competitive events cancelled this year, it is serendipitous that a couple of local sailors from STYC came up with WATH. With these races, all became right in my world. I grew up sailing with my dad and he let me drive often because he was much faster raising halyards and pulling the J29’s jib from side to side. Since moving to the Seattle area, the opportunities to helm have been sparce. I asked the owner of Nefarious (Farr 30), Dan Randolph, if I could enter his boat for WATH2 and he didn’t hesitate before replaying, ‘let’s do it!’ For WATH1, I pulled together a crew of women (3 out of 5 are Seattle Yacht Club women’s team friends) and we had a great day. For WATH2, most of my ladies were busy with special events, so I asked my race committee friends to join me. Believe it or not: with two judges aboard and the SYC Sailboat Fleet captain, I still managed to foul Bat Out of Hell (BOOH) on the starting line. It’s never good to start off doing a circle, but I felt really fired up and confident in our ability to catch up. We ‘slalomed’ to and from the “U” mark: lots of gybes aren’t always a winning strategy, but I wanted to ‘connect the dots.’ So, we sailed every puff and tried to keep moving in light air.”

Liesl Mordhorst was on BOOH, which took second behind Nefarious. She said,

“I crewed for Regan Edwards in the first WATH and put together a team for the second. One thing I valued about both events, especially because of COVID, was being able to see friends in “natural” settings. Women who don’t normally have the opportunity to run programs stepped up and proved something—to themselves, their crew and those watching from the outside. I get the feeling that some are seeing women sailors differently as a result of these races. I hope each woman recognizes the helm as their natural setting and I look forward to seeing them on the line in events to come.”

Dulcina racing with the sign “Racing for Ruth: Women belong in ALL spaces where decisions are being made.” photo by Kelly Moon
Dulcina racing with the sign “Racing for Ruth: Women belong in ALL spaces where decisions are being made.” Photo by Kelly Moon.

Danae Smith Hollowed attested to the difference these races and our community has made in her life.

“The WATH2 race meant a lot to me—it was my first time skippering a race and also my first race on my new-to-me J/105 Dulcinea. I came back to sailing last year after a break of many years. All of the amazing supportive women sailors I met over the past year inspired me and gave me the confidence to buy my own race boat. Having my daughter join me as crew for this race was just the icing on the cake. I was very happy with our finish and attribute this to my crack crew: Megan Kogut, Remy Lang and Cindy Barrett and Elise Hollowed. We also went out for several practices ahead of time, which helped us develop our teamwork and communication. The Meadow Point buoy was pretty incredible—the wind died and we were swept by the current towards the mark. We swept by with inches to spare. Many other boats had to do a couple of more tacks to make the rounding.” 

Overall, the second Women at the Helm race was a great success and I hope to see more races like it in communities all around the northwest. We have a large community of women sailors and I would like to see more driving on the start lines or making calls in the back of the boat in the years ahead.