25th anniversary of Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta

Published on April 15th, 2015

Organisers hope up to 30 teams representing every Australian state and territory plus an international team from New Zealand will head out on Port Phillip Bay on June 6-8 to mark the silver anniversary of the longstanding Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta, hosted by the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron, Victoria.

Skipper Sabina Rosser, part of the first event in 1991 and a 25 year member of the host Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron hasn’t missed a series as a competitor, and has given countless years to organising the unique women’s mixed keelboat sailing event.

In the founding years and for at least a decade Rosser hand made all the trophies. “I’d commission someone to make the clay boats and I would paint them, then I’d get somebody else to make up pieces of wood for the base and I would varnish those and get plaques made. I’ve given more time than I would like to imagine,” she recalls.

Rosser is looking forward to her annual show of support for women’s sailing, for the 25th time. “I like the camaraderie of the whole regatta, and it’s fun. Women might sail a lot but not get the opportunity to helm a boat. Being part of the AWKR gives you an opportunity to run your own race. Being part of the regatta year-on-year is second nature to me now. I’m a skier too and it was always a toss-up whether to go for the opening weekend of the ski season instead, but I worked out my priorities and have been supporting the event ever since.”

Port Phillip’s mid-winter daily temperatures range between 6 and 13 degrees on average, lower with the wind chill. “Rug up” is Rosser’s first tip for surviving the nippy conditions, second is “have a little flask handy…to keep the cockles warm.” Rosser will skipper an S80 this year.

The Notice of Race is online outlining the entry process and what’s on offer to competitors. A third division for sportsboats has been added to the two keelboat divisions, a result of the Victorian Sports Boat Association approaching organisers to be involved.

Given so few women own boats the Squadron goes out to its database seeking owners willing to loan theirs. “There are normally a few who put their hand up at this point and then teams can fit in with the kind of boats that are available,” explains RMYS sailing coordinator and AWKR facilitator Allicia Rae.

“Otherwise a team will come to me, tell me how many people they have and what they normally sail on, then I hunt around. This year I have branched out to ask the other clubs around the bay if they would help in the search. Without such generous boat owners lending their boats this event simply would not happen.”

Two races are scheduled to start daily at 1000hrs June 6-8, 2015 on Port Phillip to the west of the St Kilda breakwater and east of the shipping channel. The long distance course may extend as far as Brighton.

In the lead up to June, Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta competitors can take the opportunity for some class time via the traditional lecture series offered by the RMYS starting Thursday April 30 with a special presentation for beginner foredeckies. Over the following four Wednesdays seminars on weather; sail trim and crew work; rules; and essential skills and strategies for starting excellence will run at RMYS at St Kilda on the edge of the Melbourne central business district.

South Australian skipper Helen Willmer says women’s regattas “are a bit friendlier, and the people of Melbourne are so hospitable it makes it easy for an interstate team to feel welcome.” Recently Willmer’s crew, sailing for the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron, has had the use of Les Norton’s Bavaria Match 38 called Mrs Overnewton for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend series.

“It’s not about being hot shots, its knowing our Squadron support us to do our best,” adds the 70 year-old, who tries to add up how many regattas she’s attended consecutively. “At least five… I’d have to go back and read my T-shirts.”

The regatta is open to women of all skill levels, offering serious competitive sailing as well as the opportunity for novices to get a taste of the sport.

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