Saturday, March 31, 2018

Sea Bags Women's J/24 Sailing Team Kicks Off Season

J/24 women's Seabags sailing team(Portland, ME)- Erica Beck Spencer created the SEA BAGS WOMEN'S SAILING TEAM several years ago to give women a greater chance to experience top-level competition in the J/24 class.  Based out of Portland, Maine, she has traveled thousands of miles and had several dozen women from all over America sail on her team. Here is here latest update after she sailed the J/24 Midwinters in Miami, Florida:

“The Sea Bags Women’s Sailing Team Kicks Off Their Fourth season at the J/24 2018 Midwinter Championship in Miami!!

It is astonishing how much there is to learn in the sport of sailboat racing. Before, throughout, and following an event there are new things to consider, things to tweak, and other people to watch and learn from. We analyze video and photos following the event to see how we should better trim our sails the next time we see those same conditions. We capitalize on every opportunity to improve our practice: be it talking to each other about what we could do better, getting to know the pros in the fleet, and asking them as many questions as they’ll allow, learning from our fellow Corinthian sailors who are better than us and getting advice from them, and we attend every dock talk with notebook in hand, questions at the ready.

As the skipper for an all-women’s team I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in just over three years. In fact, the recent 2018 J/24 Midwinter Championship in Miami marked the beginning of our fourth season together.

Exactly four midwinters ago we picked up Jess Harris’s new boat in Annapolis, towed her to Davis Island, named her “Wait For It…”, rigged her, tuned her, and got her in the water. So much was new to us, or at least new to us being the ones in charge of the finer points of putting all this together. It’s easy to not really learn something when someone else is in charge. Just getting on the water was an accomplishment to be proud of.

But, finally in the very first race, with all the excitement and anticipation, we started aggressively and slowly one by one, boats passed us and we came in dead last. I was not expecting to do well, but last?! I was not expecting that either.

J/24 women's teamThe next day I got to the club early and got some help from Will Welles.  Hands down he is one of the greatest J/24 sailors of this era.  He helped tuning the boat, and that day we improved, dramatically! In one race, we rounded the windward mark right behind Will. It was one leg, but it filled us with some hope of the promise to come. We had a fast boat, and some skill on our team, we just needed lots of time to figure out how to get it all together. At this first event, we finished 24th out of 27th if memory serves me correctly. Not last!

I believe some of the reasons we’ve been able to improve as much as we have includes the fact that I am never ashamed to ask for help with tuning. I’ve improved tremendously in this essential task, but only because I’ve asked for help over and over again. Some guy friends have teased me about this fact, but I think more guys who have skill levels equal or less than mine, should ask for help. When a male friend from Portland, our home, got a new-to-him J/24, I was able to give back by sharing some tuning advice with him.

Is this a difference between men and women- that women are more willing to ask for help? I don’t know, but I think all newbies should ask for help. Why the hell not!? I am honored when someone asks me questions. Maybe it is unique to the J/24 fleet, but everyone is very helpful.

One friend we’ve made along the team’s journey is Alain Vranderick from Canada, a Star sailor.  We fondly call him “coach”.  He said to me somewhere in the beginning of our campaign, “first you put together a good leg, then a good race, then a good day on the water, and finally you put together a good event.”

Our progress feels slow because we all want to be doing better- but, what we’re doing is no easy task. We’re bringing a team of six women together, all of whom have day jobs, and some have families- none are professional sailors. Many of us are sailing in relatively new positions on a J/24.  Plus, I am relatively new to skippering keelboats. Our tactician is new to being in this role. We’re competing against teams who have been doing this a lot longer and the great teams typically have sailed together for over six years.

Every event we go to we’re learning and growing as a team. At midwinters this year, we struggled, and I was disappointed with our results- but a lot of learning happened.

women J/24 sailors downwindGeoff Becker (World J/24 and Lightning Champion), another person who I’ve asked approximately a zillion questions to, was able to watch us come down wind (we won’t say why he was able to do this…) and took some photos of our team.

He found me post racing and talked about our speed downwind. He pulled up this photo on his phone (IMG 3294) and talked about how the shoulders of our spinnaker were too high and compared them to the other boats around us.

He said, “We’re all taught that the clews should be matched, because that is a nice way to teach kids, but you actually want the leading edge to be a little tighter than the back edge. The pole end will be slightly lower than the clew. This will keep the front edge more stable and keep the boat from bouncing around as much.”

He added, “The wind flows from luff to leach of spinnaker so you want the back edge more open than the front edge. Certainly, the spinnaker end should never be higher than the other side.” He also shared these rules:
  •  Keep pole flat (play around with upper and lower ring to find that level spot)
  • Clew never past the head stay
Finally, he challenged us that in roll gybes you can actually hook the clew on the forestay and have that anchor the spinnaker as you roll, until you get the pole back on, but I’m not sure I totally get how to do that. We may need to have Geoff on board for some coaching to see how that one works!

For more information about improving spinnaker trim check out this great article, Spinnaker Trim for Speed Sailing by Mike Toppa and Gary Jobson.

As part of our commitment to give back to the sailing community, especially to those who want to go from being good racers (most of us) to better ones, we write about what we’re learning along the way on our From Good to Great  blog.

We’d love you to follow along at website or on the Seabags Sailing Team Facebook page.

So, we didn’t finish as well as we’d like in Miami, 19th out of 35. There is so much more to learn and yet we had fun. How could we not? It was 85 degrees, some of us swam, we sailed near dolphins, the location was stunning, and we shook off the winter months of not racing together. Looking forward to a great season with much learning and growth. We hope you’ll follow along on the journey.”  Sailing photo credits- Connie Bischoff/ Geoff Becker/ Chris Howell Add to Flipboard Magazine. Add to Flipboard Magazine.