south by southeast

The effervescent Alex South shows that not only can she sail some of the world’s quickest boats, but in contrast to most of the neanderthals in the 18-foot skiff fleet, she can actually write, too!   Here’s her report after making history with Skiff Chicks Racing; the first all girl’s team to ever finish the JJ Giltinan.  Make sure you like them here.

I won’t lie.  When I heard about the Chad’s Angels challenge for the JJ Giltinan, I swore…a lot. I yelled at their YouTube video, and I stalked them online. Put simply, I was devastated. Who were these girls? Why would they choose to challenge right now, when we were on the verge of our historic debut?  Why hadn’t they bothered before?

I can now confidently answer all these questions myself.  Chad’s Angels are a bunch of girls as ballsy as the SCR team. They wanted a benchmark and we’d finally given them one (They are also some of the best party pals you can find!).  Having the Angels in the boat park not only added some flair and spice to the overpowering scent of testosterone, it also made the change room fuller and the showers colder. But it allowed SCR to see our progress, and above all, was another challenge to rise to.  And it would determine if the vastly experienced Katie Love could overcome our hometown advantage and lots of practice on the Harbour.

And so, we did it!  The Skiff Chicks became the first all girl crew to ever finish a race at the JJ Giltinan in it’s 74-year history. Unfortunately the Angels didn’t make it to that first start line, so it was our record to write. I’m not saying it was pretty; not at all.  With 17-20 knots from the Southeast, the longest of all possible courses was up.  We had our big rig, everything to gain, nothing to lose, and good position before capsizing on the first run.  We clawed our way back into the fleet before our tackline committed mutiny, deciding it liked the inside of the pole better than the outside.  We pulled it together, still in front of one team before the tack blew itself up again, sending the kite into a wrap around the wing wire.  Our only option: rip it off and hope we could salvage what was left.  We got to the finish almost 2 and a half hours after we’d started; like I said, it wasn’t pretty.

Was it worth it? Every single frustrating moment…absolutely.

We always knew it would get easier from that first JJ race – nothing more could have gone wrong at that point.  The next few races were a mix of light airs and stupid mistakes. Like getting ourselves around the top mark in 10th only to get buried under the fleet, have a few port/starboard incidents and end up losing boats, then losing some more.  We were confident we could race with the middle of the pack, but it just never happened; we’d make silly mistakes and couldn’t hold on or capitalise on the good moves.  I guess that’s the nature of being a rookie crew. We walked away, however, as the first ever Female JJ Giltinan World Champs.  To me, that still sounds pretty sick!

The question I get asked the most is some variation of ‘what’s it like being in the boat part of such a male-dominated game?’  If you drop 6 (blonde) girls into a fleet of 90 blokes, not only is there going to be gossip, but there’s going to be a good time. The boys were nothing but accepting of us (most days) and I think finally learnt that we weren’t just there to fill the numbers or bring spectators to the ferry. We know our rules and we do pack some punch when we need to, or at least we have the ability to do so. It was to the surprise of a couple of the boys that I actually took it to another skipper after an on-water incident, something like, “s#!^” girl, you got some fire in you…”

It was during the famous Nor’Easterly course that the tracker showed we sailed an entire kilometre less than the boys upwind- always good going the right way, but apparently being fast doing it kind of helps… An extra 65 kg (150 pounds) – around the size of the SCR sheet hand would be handy!

So the million-dollar question, will we be back next year? Yes, in some form or another. I think it’s clear that you need the weight to be at the top, and looking at the top 5 overall, that’s pretty evident. Not to say there aren’t exceptions, but it seems to be the trend. Regardless of the disadvantages, I think we have the momentum and we’re riding the wave of a point of difference – it’d seem silly to quit – who the heck goes through a year of hell to just walk away? The women’s sailing movement (and sporting) is definitely on the move. I’m not feminist, but I do believe that allowing girls the chance to be competitive and the opportunity to develop their skills is going to be the future of our sport- one that struggles to attract media attention and sponsor dollars as it stands today.

I know for a fact that I’m coming back- there’s nothing more enticing then a flat-strapped kite run down the harbor, and the Rag Night, well, that’s another story…

So was the year all up worth it? My god, there were times when the last thing I wanted to do was wake up in the morning and go for a sail. After the 4th capsize and I’d pull the kite down for the last time, I wasn’t too keen to keep going. But finishing our first ever race, getting around the top mark in the top 5 during the season, the top 10 during the JJ, the glamour rides, the acceptance, the respect, the fun, the drama, the gossip, the challenge from the Angels… I won’t lie, I wouldn’t change a thing.  (Ok, except maybe next time some top tens would be nice!)

Thanks to our sponsors and supporters who have made the success of this campaign possible.

-Alex South, Skiff Chicks Racing