Monday, 19 May 2014

Pioneer's project draws women to Port Phillip 24 years on

Australian Women's Keelboat Regatta 2012. Image copyright Alex McKinnon

by Lisa Ratcliff

The Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta began as a Melbourne event in the early 1990s thanks to a pioneer who would later become Australia’s first royal yacht club Commodore. Twenty-four years on the stature of the nation’s only women’s keelboat competition is unrivalled.

According to historians the sentiment at inception reflected the “let’s give the girls a go” thinking of some club members at the time. Decades later there are plenty of Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron members delighted to lend their boats to female crews year after year, and the quality of competitors is such that a second division has been added to cater for novices through to the best amateur keelboat sailors.

Mood Indigo on Port Philip Bay with Sabina Rosser at the helm. Image copyright Alex McKinnon

The June long weekend series, June 7 – 9, 2014, is expected to draw 20 teams and over 100 women racing keelboats, many borrowed from generous members of the RMYS and other clubs around Port Phillip bay. So far teams from South Australia, the Northern Territory, New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria make up the entry list.

The AWKR is gearing up for an important anniversary next year - 25 consecutive years. RMYS member Sabina Rosser has competed in all 23, around 20 as skipper, and as long as the body holds out she’s planning to be part of the quarter century celebrations.

Australian Women's Keelboat Regatta 2012. Image copyright Alex McKinnon

“I’ll try and get 25 under my belt and then probably call it quits,” Rosser said. She’ll skipper the S80 Mood Indigo for this year’s regatta. “I enjoy the camaraderie of just women on the boat; I think women find it different being novices when there’s a guy on board,” she said. “This opportunity gives women the autonomy to call the shots and sail the race they want.”

Reflecting on the past 23 series she adds, “The regatta hasn’t changed much. There’s a greater level of ability these days, and it’s fantastic to see the interstaters.”

Gai Gough was inspired to create an Australian women’s regatta after she and Kerry Goudge formed a team for the International Women's Keelboat Championship in New Zealand. Shortly after, in 1991, the year Paul Keating challenged Bob Hawke twice for the Labor leadership and became Prime Minister on the second bid, the Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta was founded.

Overnewton. Image copyright Alex McKinnon

Nine years later Gough was voted in by RMYS members to the most senior Flag Officer position, becoming the first female Commodore of a royal Australian yacht club. Next month Clough’s daughter Sarah will skipper an Etchells in the AWKR and compete against the club’s current Commodore, Linda Goldsmith, on the Elliott 9.6, Phantom.

“Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron has always taken great pride in how we encourage sailing, particularly for women,” said Commodore Goldsmith. “Women are one of the fastest growing classes of yacht club membership and we have been at the forefront of this trend for a long time.

“Starting up the Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta has encouraged women to learn to sail and given them an easy entrée into learning. It’s also made it easier for them to walk into a yacht club, which might have been intimidating. It’s an easy event to walk into.”

South Australia’s Helen Willmer and her crew have made the journey to RMYS for the past five years, recently campaigning the Bavaria Match 38 Mrs Overnewton. At 69 and with a lifelong spent in the sport she admits “I still need my dose of salt”. She says her team’s participation has sparked the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron and its members to be more active when it comes to women sailing. 

West Australia is fielding its first team and the Northern Territory’s Darwin Sailing Club is sending a crew a great distance to campaign the S80 Outlaw.

Jody Lukeman from the AWKR organising committee says, “The event is there not just to showcase the best in amateur female sailing but also to encourage and develop women in the sport. Accordingly we have created a new award for novice helm and also we are hoping to get some of our junior sailors out on the course this year.”

Looking to next year’s silver anniversary Lukeman adds,” Next year is our 25th consecutive year and we'd like to see a team from every state and territory plus at least one from NZ as it was a Kiwi all-female regatta that triggered the idea in the first place.”

Two races per day are scheduled to the west of the St Kilda breakwater, Port Phillip, from 10am daily June 7 – 9, 2014. Race Officer and RMYS assistant manager Louise Hutton will oversee the race management team and the three-day on-water competition.

Winter in Melbourne can dish up extreme conditions from near to no breeze up to a 30 knot icy blast. Either way the wind chill is sure to test the Territorians’ grit.

RMYS is midway through its annual May lecture series with fantastic guest speakers talking on specialist topics including fleet racing tactics, downwind trim and sailing pathways. This educational series is open to everyone including all AWKR competitors.

The AWKR is proudly supported by Helly Hansen, Club Marine, IBG insurance, Logie-Smith Lanyon Lawyers, Peninsula Hot Springs. The event charity this year is the Think Pink Foundation.

Entries close at 1700hours on Wednesday May 21, 2014 although late entries may be accepted after this date with an entry fee of A$70pp. View the NOR here