An invitation I couldn’t refuse

Published on March 13th, 2024

by Ellie Menezes
While dreaming of sailing during the depth of winter in southeastern Connecticut, my c420 coach Esteban Forrer (29) from team One United called to see if I wanted to race in the 2024 J/70 Midwinter Championship. As a 17-year old in High School, it was as if I’d gotten the golden ticket like Charlie in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

I was all in, and thankfully prepared due to my experience with the MudRatz Youth Sailing Organization. Peter Bergendahl had donated his Melges 24 to this non-profit, community sailing group in 2016 which we named Opportunity as it gave myself and over 30 other ambitious youth sailors experience in sportboat racing.

Additionally, Laura and Rick Grondin had recognized there were few pathways for teenage girls in the sportboat fleets, so the following summer they provided the funds for a Melges 24 specifically designated to create an opportunity for young women to skipper and hold leadership roles.

I skippered the Melges 24 Equal Opportunity for two years, and the local fleet welcomed these two youth boats with advice and mentoring. Community sailing professionals took interest in the program including the US Coast Guard Academy Sailing Director Doug Clark who coached the boats in the local Melges 24 races. The MudRatz promote the motto #realprosgiveback.

While I had never sailed a J/70 before the 2024 Midwinters, my knowledge and experience sailing the Melges 24 allowed me to transition to the J/70 with confidence. Youth sailing is primarily in dinghies with coaching in between races, but our keelboat team offered more collaboration between youth sailors, onboard coaches, and teammates. Doug had taught us how to think, and not what to think, by detailing his decision making in real time, and Esteban engaged in that same style of coaching.

I contend that creating keelboat and sportboat opportunities for youth sailors is vital to the longevity of the sport.

Along with Esteban and myself, our J/70 crew included Annie Samis (17), Matthew Sexton (18), and Hank Seum (19). Matthew and Hank trimmed the jib and spinnaker, Esteban trimmed the main, Annie skippered, and I did bow position. Having Esteban onboard allowed us rookies to learn his approach to tactical decisions in real time, with post-race discussions that fast-tracked our education.

I am hopeful that more opportunities for women and youth sailors can continue, whether it is through boat donation or simply as crew for a Wednesday night race. I’ve been so fortunate to have these incredible experiences, and they have inspired me to dream bigger. It is my long-term goal to compete in The Ocean Race. I hope my peers will have life-changing opportunities like I have experienced.

One United aims to continue supporting youth and female participation on the sportboat circuit. Please reach out to if you are interested in supporting or joining this phenomenal program.

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