The sailing sisterhood was out in force on Labor Day weekend in Annapolis for the second Fleet 3 J/105 Women’s Regatta. Host Sailing Club of the Chesapeake welcomed 97 sailors ranging in age from college students to retirees, and experience running the gamut from college sailors and Olympic campaigners to international champions and weekend warriors. Over 30 spectator boats gathered to watch the competitive racing.
After a two-hour delay on shore to allow the southerly to fill, PRO Sandy Grosvenor was able to get three races in. The one-day regatta featured 8- to 12-knot consistent southerly breezes, 14 boats, well-known sailors, and close competition, with three different boats each winning a race.
“Two finishes in Race 1 were so tight that we had to review them in video to figure out which boat beat the other,” Grosvenor said.
Ashley Love skippered Mayhem to victory, starting off strong with a win in the first race. Megan Ploch drove Velvet Hammer, dialing in to win the last race and placing second overall. Alexandra Clary on Champagne Puppy was one point behind to finish in third, an overall finish she also claimed in the 2022 edition of the regatta. Sara Morgan Watters on Crash finished fourth overall with a win in the second race.
“The starts were aggressive,” said Jonathan Bartlett of North Sails. “Weather mark roundings were tight and well sailed. That tells you right there how well sailed the boats were.”
Scott Nixon of Quantum agreed: “The actual racing was tight, and the starts looked very even, as most of the teams hit the line at full speed on time. The teams that rounded the weather marks in the top spots displayed nice J/105 set-ups in the light and choppy southerly breeze.”
Grosvenor’s Race Committee was “excited and impressed by how good the competition was and how close the racing was, especially given that most crews do not normally sail together and many of the drivers, while experienced sailors, were not necessarily that experienced with the J/105.”
Ashley Love has recently led several teams to the podium at the Corinthian Yacht Club’s National Women’s Invitational Team Race for the Thayer Trophy. Love had Marie Crump, who skippered the winning entry in 2022, calling tactics. Crump has had an illustrious sailing career in world match racing, an Olympic Yngling campaign in 2004, and was part of the winning J/80 Championship team in 2013 and 2021.
“The starting lines were competitive in big current, the short legs kept mark roundings condensed and skilled boat-handling had the fleet crossing the finish line overlapped,” Love said. “There was never a dull moment and our team stayed dialed in and fighting for every inch.”
Maddy Ploch, who organized the crew for Velvet Hammer, had her sister Megan drive for the regatta. Megan Ploch’s resume is peppered with wins, including the 2017 edition of the reincarnated International Women’s Keelboat Regatta in J/70s.
“The regatta is a great time,” said Maddy, a “Firstie” senior on the U.S. Naval Academy Offshore Sailing Team. “Everyone is supportive and competitive at the same time which makes for an amazing environment to race in.”
Alexandra Wardell Clary, originally from Canada, had Stephanie Bacon, commodore of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in British Columbia, and a former member of the Canadian Sailing Team, trimming main. Bacon and Clary reunited after sailing 470s together “years ago.” Clary enjoyed the “high level of competition and first class race management.”
Sara Morgan Watters, who has been making sailing headlines since her All-American career at St. Mary’s College, has been part of Love’s winning match racing team for the Thayer Cup and won the inaugural Susan Widmann Sinclair Women’s Championship at Noroton Yacht Club in June.
“The talent and ability of the crew at the regatta was impressive,” she said. “Women filled their roles with confidence and competence which must have been fun, but not surprising, for the many supporters and spectators that came out to watch.”
The popular regatta drew a large spectator fleet, who got to see not just local teams, but some out-of- town talent as well. Two teams traveled to race on borrowed boats: the Charleston team, Pirate Princess Racing, was skippered by Katie Mallory, and the Buffalo team was skippered by Magdalena Jaworska. The USNA Offshore Sailing Team entered Constellation, skippered by Sophomore Nancy Rhodes of North Carolina.
In addition to strong competition, camaraderie was a focus for the organizers. The weekend events kicked off with a skipper’s meeting happy hour Thursday evening, sponsored by the Annapolis School of Seamanship. The teams were able to weigh in, introduce their crews, and get to know each other off the water. Over 150 competitors, volunteers and fans attended the awards party. With teams having been formed across boats and fleets, Love observed, “There was more bonding and interaction amongst boats on land than I have seen at a J/105 party.”
J/105 Fleet 3 is one of the largest fleets in the J/105 class, and one of the biggest amateur one-design fleets in Annapolis. This women’s regatta is part of an overall J/105 class initiative to get more women involved. Multiple J/105 women’s events have been held in 2023, including in Toronto, San Francisco, Seattle, Galveston Bay, and Charleston.
The Sailing Club of the Chesapeake (SCC) altered the 105 rules for this regatta to encourage all-women teams. The SCC specializes in hosting “signature” regattas that each have their own personality, like the EWE Spirit Regatta, the J/105 Women’s Regatta, and the Hospice Cup, to be held on September 16. Grosvenor enjoyed the “terrific race committee. They were a pleasure to work with.”
The regatta would not have been possible without the support of many. As Watters summed it up, “Thanks to the boat owners who unquestionably lent their boats and equipment, sponsors for investing in the event, and organizers for giving their time to build the platform and make this opportunity possible.” Sponsors included CBYRA, the J/105 class, WeatherGage Technologies, Dr. Vernon Sheen, Annapolis School of Seamanship, Darling Charters, Forward Brewing, Gill, Local By Design, Oyster Insight, Quantum Sails, Scotty’s Vodka, Helly Hansen, Laura Moore Designs and Sea Bags of Maine.
The 2024 regatta is already on people’s minds. Nixon said, “It was really fun to watch and see how high the level of women’s sailing has gotten here on the Bay. Seeing a handful of the teams train over the past few Wednesday Night races in preparation for this event shows how serious the regatta has become. I am sure this event will be even more competitive next year.”
Bartlett also talked about next year: “The crew work for the top boats was better than the bulk of the fleet but that gives the fleet something to shoot for in 2024. Practice will make the difference for them.” The date for the 2024 J/105 Women’s Regatta will be announced this fall.