Women’s Invite brings fierce competition

Published on February 14th, 2022

Twenty-four teams from around the US and Mexico made their way to San Diego on February 12-13 for two days of competitive sailing in the 2022 Women’s Winter Invitational (WWI). Hosted by San Diego Yacht Club (SDYC), the J/22 regatta invites yacht clubs from all over the country to apply to send their best all-women teams for a series of racing in La Playa Cove.

This year, over 80 talented women raced in a total of 54 races, with teams swapping boats after each race, but only one team took home the bragging rights for 1st overall. Defending champions, California Yacht Club (Cal YC), just up the coast in Marina del Rey, sent a team familiar to the San Diego racing scene, Skipper Simone Staff with crew Beka Schiff and Melia Grasska.

“Our team was incredibly consistent this weekend. We wanted to try and have an average of two or less throughout the entire event, and we succeeded. Besides staying consistent, our goal was to keep our head out of the boat during each race, as you really need to connect the puffs in the La Playa venue and reset when we did poorly. During the finals, we had two terrible starts, but by having that mindset, we were able to stay in the zone and work our way back through the fleet,” said Staff.

“The all-women aspect is incredible because even though each team is here to win, every single woman there is so supportive of every other team. These women push you to your limits as a sailor, while still being able to hit the dock and enjoy a nice, cold mimosa and a few laughs.” As the defending champions, Cal YC has secured their invitation for the 2023 running of the regatta.

The Women’s Winter Invitational was started five years ago by SDYC member and J/22 Fleet Manager Kris Zillmann with the hope to establish a prominent regatta for women sailors. Since then, the WWI has seen significant growth with teams traveling from as far as New York, Hawaii, and Mexico.

“There are a lot of female sailors out there who need avenues to gain experience and make connections. I hope to see all the women who competed, and in the sailing world, help support events like this by attending and even hosting some of their own. It feels really good to see them all come together and have their way with our water,” commented Zillmann.

The regatta format is a round robin type event, with 24 teams racing on the 12 boat fleet of J/22’s. The teams rotate boats after each of their races. Each race has a four team fleet start, with the object being to race as many races in Stage 1 as time and wind allow for the first day and the first half of day two of the regatta. A race lasts about 10 minutes per race, the teams round giant inflatable flamingos which stand in for “normal” windward and leeward race marks.

At a specified time on day two, the top 12 teams are split into the Gold (1st-6th) and Silver fleets (7-12th place). Stage 1 finalists carry over a race win total bonus into the final to acknowledge their performance over all of the stage 1 races. Each fleet sails up to three races to complete the regatta.

This allows for the 24 invited teams to sail an equal number of races on SDYC’s fleet of 12 J/22s, and still have time to enjoy the camaraderie, sunshine, and mimosas on the docks. The event is trying to remain true to the ‘let’s just sail around flamingos in the basin’ roots, which means the Race Committee runs as many races as possible for everyone before splitting off the top 12 teams into gold and silver fleets for the two-race final series on Sunday afternoon.

It was summer-like weather in San Diego this week. Santa Ana winds brought the warm weather without compromising the sea breeze. Racers saw 9-12 knots of wind for most of the races, making for great sailing and great spectating right off the SDYC docks. For teams spending their winters in Northern US states, the opportunity to sail in San Diego in February is only one of the perks of the regatta. And for others, the challenges of mild winds in Southern California can be an experience on its own.

The Race Committee was able to set up the start/finish line right in front of the docks this weekend, so the competitors in the Finals could hear the shouts and cheers from the other teams and spectators as they finished the series.

Eliane Fierro, the skipper for the Acapulco Yacht Club team in Mexico, applauded the camaraderie and competition of the WWI. Fierro has sailed at the Olympic level and brings experience to the course. “This event invigorates my spirit at every level! Connecting with old friends, getting to know new friends, meeting the young talent that beat us, it ignites my desire to train a team and come better prepared to race,” said Fierro.

Finishing the regatta in second place was New York Yacht Club Skipper Emily Maxwell with crew Bianca Rom, Abby Preston, and Elizabeth Dudley. In third was Newport Harbor Yacht Club’s Carolyn Smith with crew Kayla La Dow and Colin Voigt.

After the racing and intensity on the water, teams were treated to a typical San Diego fiesta on the Club’s Front Deck on Saturday night with a Grateful Dead Tribute Band and plenty of tacos, and enjoyed another fun night for the Awards Ceremony and party at the completion of racing.

“The mood onshore is casual and light-hearted, but you can see people get serious as soon as they step into the boat and the intensity only escalates until the last boat crosses the line. Unless you own your own boat and can manage to campaign it, the opportunities to keep excelling in the sport are too few for too many, so every regatta is approached as a valuable opportunity to make the most out of your team’s time and enjoy it.

“Having watched some really great racing this past weekend, I hope that more women come to sail and learn to live life more intensely,” finished Zillmann.

What first started as a casual event has grown into something really special. The laid back vibe is still present, but the competition has become fierce, so much so, that there is now a sail-off event in the Fall to determine who will represent the local San Diego clubs at the Women’s Invitational in February.

The 2023 Women Winter Invitational has already generated excitement, and many of this year’s participants are ready to come back to the San Diego Yacht Club for some more exciting racing with more amazing women sailors.

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Source: Casey Coffin, SDYC

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