2016 WORLDS : GIRL POWER HOLDS WELL FOR THE FUTURE OF WOMEN IN THE MELGES 24 CLASS
November 8th, 2016 - Miami, FL, U.S. - Written by Glenda Nixon, crew of Melges 24 AUS812 ACCRU, Nixon family team -The strong contingent of female sailors at the recent Line Honors Melges 24 US National Championship, held at Lake Geneva Yacht Club, holds well for the future of women in the class. Finding them also at the entry list of the approaching 2016 Melges 24 World Championship is a great time to meet and greet them.
Well known for its professional sailing teams and tough racing, the Melges 24 is also seeing women owners and crew becoming a bigger part of the class and adding to the competitive environment. The movement has being inspired by women like Kristian Lane (USA 812, Brickhouse), the only female driver to win a major Melges event to date and Sallie Lang(USA 140, POSSE), one of the first woman co-owner/drivers in the class. Women also currently make up part of the crews on the current world title holder teams in both the open and Corinthian divisions.
Dani Rast, the current Melges 24 European Champion, has always been a strong supporter of encouraging more women into the class. Dani was destined to be a sailor growing up with a Mom who worked in a boat yard and a Dad as a sail maker. Dani participated in junior sailing, but did not start to enjoy sailing until she raced with her dad on a Tripp 40 every Wednesday night. At the young age of 13, she found herself with a crew spot on the Farr 40 Heart breaker campaigned by Bob Hughes and Wally Tsuha. Another highlight for Dani was four years of college sailing for SUNY Maritime culminating in being named "All- American Crew" in her senior year.
A turn in a Melges 20, followed by a Melges 32 campaign led her sailing a Melges 24 in the 2011 Key West Race Week. To quote Dani, "I love the Melges 24 fleet, the people that sail in this fleet are good people". In partnership with husband Chris, Dani started her own Melges 24 campaign, SUI684 EFG Bank in 2012 and the team won the World Championship in 2015. Dani is a bow-woman and takes her role very seriously. "I am excited to see more women break the paradigm of the ol' boys sailing club." says Dani.
Top female crew Aoife English from Embarr IRL829, who just finished second in the 2016 Line Honors US National Championships, also attributes her love of sailing to her family's strong ties to the sport. "Sailing is just part of my family's blood, so you could say I never really had a choice!"
Aoife spent much of her childhood in Crosshaven, Co.Cork, a stone's throw from the Royal Cork Yacht Club, travelling to international events with her dad Joe and sailing with her brother Robbie and friends in a Cork 1720. In recent years Aoife has been involved in all the different sailing disciplines from Ladies Match Racing to the National IRC circuit in Ireland and RORC offshores in the UK. A highlight of Aoife's sailing career was in 2008 whilst at college in CIT she was part of the Irish team who won the Student Yachting World Cup (SYWOC) in France. This event made her realize how much she loved sailing and wanted more competitive racing in her life.
Like Dani, Aoife enjoys the community and culture within the Melges 24 class which she says is just fantastic. "I love the fact that the class includes a full international spectrum of sailors. I'm very excited for the Worlds this year. With over 100 boats entered the class speaks for itself. The racing is going to be action packed and I'm sure it'll be a battle to the end." Aoife's position on IRL829 Embarr is also bow and she is really enjoying it and the good dynamic of her current team. On other boats Aoife has done anything from bow all the way back to main trim but hasn't done much helming since sailing with her Dad which is something she intends to challenge herself with in the next Irish sailing season.
Newer entrant to the class Gigi Arias,18, from the Georgia Melges 24 USA801 SHAKA reckons she was thrown into sailing. Gigi's brother sailed when they were younger and one day when she was down at the boat ramp helping launch boats another dad was asking Mum's on the dock if anyone had a boy to crew for his son. With no luck he called to Gigi's mum, "What about the girl?" Next thing Gigi knew she was on a boat with a stranger who seemed to know what he was doing because they preceded to win every race and she was hooked. From this modest start, Gigi was selected to participate in the high performance sailing training center at Oakcliff Long Island and then later their inshore match racing program. This incredible opportunity lead to sailing in the Nacra 17 Nationals against some of the best sailors in America and being part of one of the only youth women's match racing teams in the country. Gigi credits this as the biggest highlight of her career so far.
Gigi heard about the Melges 24 class last year when her current driver approached her about crewing. After hearing about the boat and what the class was about, she couldn't wait to get out there for herself. Shaka gained a very creditable place of 3rd Corinthian in the US Nationals last month. Gigi is currently on the bow and would one day like to move to the back of the boat as either tactician or driver. "Someone once told me that a great tactician can write their ticket anywhere, and I really liked the sound of that. But my skipper also let me drive his Melges 24 for a women's event once and I was hooked. Either way, I see myself at the back of the boat in the near future."
Megan Ratliff owner of Melges 24 USA805 Decorum grew up living on a 30 foot Pearson during the summer in Macatawa Bay Michigan. She went on to race Optimist dinghies, Lasers and 420s. She also sailed a little whilst an undergrad with Marquette University's Sailing Team. With a demanding professional career she took ten years off racing whist going through her residency only spending the occasional weekend pleasure cruising with her family.
Sailing with her brother Hunter (a US 470 Olympic sailor) and a group of friends in a Melges 24 fall regatta in 2014 reminded her of the fun involved in competing and the great friendships on and off the water. After exploring many different boats to buy she settled on the Melges 24 because she likes what it had to offer.
"I think it is strange that in 2016 more women do not own boats. I don't think it is a big deal to be a female boat owner as I have never felt that being a woman prohibited me from doing anything I wanted to and in this case it is owning a beautiful boat."
Megan does the bow on her boat and loves it. "It is an important position on any team and fortunate for me my size is made for it." However she is spending a lot of time at the gym on the rowing machine and is hoping to replace her spinnaker trimmer in big breeze sometime in the near future!
Jessica Koenig sails on USA851 Monsoon, one of the top US teams and a solid contender for the upcoming Worlds. Jessica grew up cruising on Chesapeake Bay on her step dads Bristol 32 and then Bristol 38.8. She got into small boats in her early teens at a summer sailing program in Maryland. She obtained her US Sailing Instructor Level 1 certification and got the opportunity to travel around the country and work at a variety of clubs. She attended Washington College and was a member of the Varsity sailing team and continued to sail after graduation. On moving down south the first boat she got a ride on was a Melges 24 and was hooked.
"I have had the opportunity to travel and meet so many wonderful people from all over the world through sailing and am very grateful to be a part of such a wonderful team." Jessica thoroughly enjoys being part of the Monsoon team, the competitiveness of the Melges 24 fleet and flying downwind in heavy breeze. Jessica not only covers the usual bow duties on board but also plays the traveler upwind and calling the breeze downwind.
Sallie Lang is the only woman driver signed up for the upcoming worlds. Sallie learned with her Dad on the coast of Maine when she was little in a Cape Dory 14, a little catamaran boat. She was also part of her local school racing team. "I think for me one of the best things about sailing growing up was learning independence and the ability to control a large machine all on my own." Sallie's reasons for loving the Melges 24 are a great endorsement for the class. "First, pure fun. We live in a big wind area and this boat is just so much fun planing in the big wind. It is such a responsive boat. It's really like sailing a big dinghy. It's such a thrill. Secondly, the competition is fierce. You are constantly challenged. Thirdly, I feel like we are continually improving and learning. For me, I have never gotten bored with this boat. Frustrated, yes but not bored. There is always more to learn."
Sallie, who part owns her boat with good friend Jan Crosbie-Taylor, is the driver and is really interested to learn more about driver tactics. She is also very interested in getting more women into the fleet. There is no position on this boat that women can't do and from her perspective it would be even more fun, diverse and interesting with more women competing in a variety of positions. Jan is the West Coast Governor for the US Melges Association board. Sallie and Jan currently sail with three women in the crew of POSSE.
The two clear messages from all our inspiring woman sailor stories is the strong role that their families have had in introducing them to the sport, especially their dads, and the clear joy they have from the fun of sailing in the Melges 24 class.
A final inspiring word from one of our youngest female sailors Gigi: "I think that women of all ages need to start taking to the tiller and/or calling tactics. We are so unused to seeing women driving boats like Melges 24s or 32s which is all the more reason why we need to."