All-Women Team Leading the Change

Published on May 15th, 2023

Chelsea Freas

by Chelsea Freas
Sometimes it feels like there aren’t that many “firsts” left in sailing these days, but then you see examples like Kirsten Neuschäfer, who just became the first woman to win a solo around-the-world race, and it becomes clear: the path that was started by the likes of Tracy Edwards and Dee Caffari for women in offshore sailing is still being carved out.

So I was only slightly surprised to find out that an all-women’s crew had never competed in the 473 nm Annapolis to Newport Race before. This June, for the first time ever, that will change.

I’ll be navigating this iconic race with one of sailing’s brightest up-and-coming sailors Maya Hoffman and a stellar crew of women that she has assembled for the Leading the Change! campaign.

I got involved in this campaign through Maya, who is my mentee in The Magenta Project’s flagship 9-month mentoring program. We have been working together since October 2022 on weather routing and strategy education, including a hindsight review of the 2022 Newport to Bermuda race, where Maya was boat captain and an onboard coach for Team Bitter End (the first all-female youth team to compete in that race).

Our mentoring sessions were going swimmingly, but we wanted to go a step further – to get out on the ocean and apply all the work we’ve been doing to a real race.

Maya had the spark of the idea to campaign for the Annapolis to Newport race, running it past two other Magenta Project mentees, Emma Janson and Lindsay Gimple, and myself before we all agreed to go for it.

With Maya skippering, Emma agreed to be boat captain and Lindsay our campaign advisor (already committed to another team for the race). Maya launched into putting together a crew and finding a boat, and the rest unfolded naturally and quickly.

One of the reasons she chose this race is because I had navigated it twice and, as she told me: “This race has always appealed to me because of the layers of navigational thought that goes into sailing that route.”

We both loved that this race is half coastal down the Chesapeake, and half ocean race. It’s the perfect venue to really pair inshore sailing skills with offshore routing strategy. We see this race as two distinct races-within-a-race. The Chesapeake section will require knowledge of sea breezes, land effects, and currents. The Atlantic portion will require longer term strategy, and endurance to keep the speed going 24/7.

Things for the campaign were falling into place, but something became clear to us: We didn’t want to just race for the sake of racing, and neither did the crew. We wanted to race with a purpose rooted in our values, passions, and beliefs. So, we decided to race for three missions.

Maya described our first mission in her words perfectly: “Women are underrepresented in positions of leadership in offshore racing. Like the Magenta Project, we are fully committed to advancing women in the sport by allowing them to gain access and become more competitive. Our intent with this Annapolis-to-Newport Race program is to give young women with experience, skills and talent a chance to be leaders offshore.”

Which leads into our second mission: youth development. Young people often are rarely afforded opportunities to race offshore, and when they do, it’s by jumping on the rail of other people’s boats. They rarely have the chance to have an ownership stake in an offshore campaign and hold positions of leadership. Leading the Change! is working to close this gap and provide those opportunities.

We got connected to two incredible young women through the MudRatz program, Lily Flack (20) and Ellie Menezes (16), who both raced in the last Newport-Bermuda Race aboard Spitfire. Maya also brought on previous Team Bitter End teammate, Callie Dawson (17), on the bow.

We rounded out our crew with two very experienced sailors. As our speed coach, we are honored to be sailing with Leah Sweet, professional offshore sailor and Lead of the Mentoring Program for the Magenta Project. The most important piece of the puzzle clicked when we connected with Beth Berry, boat owner of the Tartan 4100 Kyrie.

She was immediately very supportive of our mission of advancing women in the sport, and is letting us sail on Kyrie with ownership of organizing the campaign from start to finish.

But we didn’t stop there! We have one other mission close to our heart that we are bringing awareness to – the environment.

Our skipper Maya and boat captain Emma are already Skippers (ambassadors) for the organization Sailors for the Sea Powered by Oceana, and they’re both getting their advanced degrees in environmental work. We thought it would have a lasting impact if we could educate sailors about the environmental issues along the route they are sailing.

So, we’re giving presentations to local yacht clubs and sailing groups about those route-specific issues, while developing and testing offshore sustainability best practices alongside Sailors for the Sea.

This is one area we are excited to continue our work with Leading the Change! in the future, offering route-specific talks on environmental issues that sailors should know about for other races. We also plan to make this a long term movement that will continue long after this race ends. We will be providing our resources, tools, and lessons learned to the next generation of women seeking to campaign, so they aren’t starting from scratch.

This month, Maya and I will continue to meet and discuss route strategies and plans, and watch the weather patterns leading up to the race, which starts on June 2nd. We’ll also continue working hard fundraising the final dollars for this campaign (as of this writing we’re just over 70% of the way to our goal).

And most importantly: we’re loving every second of this journey. It’s an honor and privilege to collaborate with such amazing, passionate women, and grow from the unique experience and knowledge they all contribute to this project.

Donations can be made here:
We are grateful for any donation amounts, which are fully tax deductible through our 501c3 fiscal sponsor, Monterey Bay Marine Life Studies.

How to follow Leading the Change! Sailing Team:
Team Website:

About the Magenta Project:

Race details:

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