Saturday, November 28, 2015

VEGA RAGAZZA Girls are Fast Sailors!

J/24 Vega Ragazza- German women's sailing team(Hamburg, Germany)-  Stephanie "Steffi" Köpke (30 yrs old) first started sailing on the Elbe River in Optimists.  Then, eight years ago she became the skipper of the J/24 VEGA RAGAZZA and the women’s team from Mühlenberger Sailing Club (MSC). Meanwhile, she is working today at Audi AG in Ingolstadt, Germany in marketing/communications.

At the J/24 World Championships in Boltenhagen, many women teams were participating from across Europe.  In fact, Steffi’s team won the “Ladies Trophy” for the top women’s team at the J/24 Worlds!  Sven Jurgensen at Mittelman’s Werft interviewed Steffi and the team.  Photo here- Nele-Marie Bock, Silke Basedow, Ann-Katrin Bruges,  Stephanie Köpcke, Amelie Panuschka

Stephanie Koepcke- German women's sailing skipper on J/24s and J/70sWhen did you start sailing together as a women's team?
“The beginning of the MSC women's teams was due to the efforts of Kirsten Harmstorf, she built the first female J/Team at MSC.  When she and her team finished sailing the 2007 Trans-Atlantic in a bigger boat, the MSC’s club J/24 was free for them to use in German and European J/24 regattas.  So, she formed a six women team.  Since then, Nele, Annika and I have remained together all these years. Through professional training and jobs, some of our team had to be changed over time.   Inga and Amelie joined in 2009 and Silke supported us after her match-race career.”

How did you choose the name "Vega Ragazza"?
“VEGA is the name of a Hamburg shipping company that has sponsored us. When we sailed for the first time in Italy, we heard some Italian J/24 teams shout out, ‘ciao ragazzi’.  We learned later they meant “hi fun girls”!  So, we changed it to rhyme with Vega, that is how it became Vega Ragazza.

Why were there so many women-only teams in the J/24 Worlds at the start?
“The J/24 is a simple boat to sail, well understood, and with a women’s crew we can be competitive even in very windy conditions! We always have five people sitting on the rail.  With a crew weight of 400 kg, we have a higher percentage of our weight on the rail!  In addition, there are many women’s teams that have seen us (and other women’s crews) as examples to follow that have been successful at the pinnacle of sailing sport in Germany and J/24s worldwide.

J/24 Vega Ragazza- German women's sailing teamWhat distinguishes the J/24 from other boats to sail in Europe?
“The J/24 is easy to sail, the deck layout is clearly understandable and simple and it makes the jump much easier for teenagers that have been sailing a two-man dinghy!  A bigger boat needs more crew and considerably more strength from the crew.  In addition, Hamburg has a large, active scene in the J/24 class that has constant competition with the other clubs, especially BSC and SVAO.  Lots of fun! A real plus is the affordable price point of a used J/24; it is a nice inexpensive “keelboat for kids”!

Is the J/70 a competition for the J/24?
“Each new, modern class is a challenge for an older style boat. I myself would love to try to sail J/70 and find out how the boat sails; especially where the technical differences are relative to the J/24.  But, in order to succeed at the amateur level, I think the J/24 is still a great boat.  A J/24 is cheaper than the J/70 (used boats, of course), but also the sailors in the class are a little less performance-oriented.”

What distinguishes the J/24 class?
“Personally, I remember especially a fairly cool party in the summer of 2014 in the boat shed the FSC... Yes, the party was great.  But, the class can do much more than party and drink beer. We have a very good cohesion, as we had at the beginning of our campaign.”

J/24 Vega Ragazza- German women's sailing teamHow does your 2016 season look like?
“It will, unfortunately, be not much different than our 2015 season.  We are much more restricted professionally (we all have jobs and family to worry about!) and that means less time for training.  We are now at a cross-roads as a team, so after a great performance at the J/24 Worlds in Boltenhagen, we need to move forward as individuals (family, works, kids, school, etc).  It’s sad that we have to move on from here.”

As a result you have to celebrate properly the end of your tenure in J/24s!  First winner of the German Open and then the best women's team in the World Cup!
“Yes, we are!  It was a wonderful way to end our three seasons of sailing together.  We learned a tremendous amount from our experience.”

Will the Mühlenberger SC build a new women's team?
Unfortunately, not in J/24s.  Instead, the club wants to sell the J/24 and invest in a new J/70, so that the club has the proper training boat for the Deutsche Segel-bundesliga.  As a result, I hope to have my first experience sailing in J/70s!  I look forward to sailing more regattas in the future!