All-Women Crew Sets Their Sights on the Annapolis to Newport Race
By Maya Hoffman
The never-ending allure of blue water races is real. Last summer I was one of the onboard coaches for Team Bitter End, the youngest all-female crew to complete the Newport Bermuda Race. The journey with Team Bitter End was everything I imagined it would be and more. The intensive six weeks I spent at Oakcliff Sailing, training and working with the team, proved to be pivotal in my life. When we finally stepped off the boat in Bermuda, I remember feeling overjoyed with our successful race and thinking at the same time, “Okay, what’s next?”
Upon my return to the States, I applied to The Magenta Project Mentoring Program, and got accepted as a mentee in their 2022-2023 program. The Magenta Project opened doors for me to learn and grow as a sailor in all parts of the industry, and it inspired me on a daily basis to advance my sailing career.
One blustery morning in December, I drove to a small café in Madison, CT where I was due to meet up with another mentee with The Magenta Project, Emma Janson, and the North America mentee representative, Lindsay Gimple. We were getting together because we figured it would be nice to all meet in person and get to know each other better. At the café, we got to chatting about how important it is for women to compete in offshore races, and how amazing it is that we get to know and learn from so many incredible women sailors through The Magenta Project network. I offhandedly mentioned how cool it would be one day to run an offshore campaign with an all-women team. Emma and Lindsay were enthusiastic about the far-off dream.
The next day, on a whim, I started doing some research into the upcoming 2023 Annapolis to Newport Race. The 475 nautical mile race had always interested me. As I scrolled through the NOR, the idea materialized in my mind: What if I fielded a team for this year’s race? I knew it was a long shot. I mean—I’m a grad student and this race was only six months away! That’s a lot to bite off in not a lot of time. However, I couldn’t get my mind off the idea. I immediately texted Lindsay with my idea and was grateful when she responded, despite my million typos from overexcitement and despite the fact that it was Christmas Day, with an encouraging, “I love the way you think! It leads to exciting possibilities. This is totally doable.”
And thus began the creation of the Leading the Change! Annapolis to Newport sailing campaign. Lindsay was already committed to another boat for the race, but she was eager to help me with this campaign in an advisory capacity. Having run her own offshore campaigns in the past, Lindsay has a deep pool of knowledge and experience on all parts of the campaigning process. Lindsay quickly became an invaluable part of the team, serving as Campaign Advisor. We set up an initial Zoom call where she gave me the overview of what I needed to do, starting with getting a boat and a core crew of at least three other sailors who would be fully committed to the journey with me.
I immediately reached out to my mentor at The Magenta Project, Chelsea Carlson Freas, meteorologist for the U.S. Sailing Team and founder of SeaTactics, and asked if she would join the team as navigator. Chelsea responded enthusiastically and agreed to navigate.
The core crew was slowly coming together. I’m based in California right now for grad school, so I knew a difficultly in running this campaign was going to be having “boots on the ground.” When you have to find a boat to sail offshore, you want to make sure that boat is in good condition. It’s hard to do that when you live more than 3,000 miles away from the race area. I needed someone on the team who was a strong offshore sailor, who would be invested in the campaign, and who would be willing to serve as the “boots on the ground.” Fortunately, Emma Janson fit that bill perfectly. Emma had raced offshore in events like the Vineyard Race and had captained a boat in the British Virgin Islands. When I asked if she’d be interested in joining the campaign as our Boat Captain, she was eager, especially given that the idea came from our random lunch at a café.
I had the core crew, and just like that, my campaign became our campaign. I was pursuing leads on obtaining a boat. Things were falling into place, but something became very clear to me: I 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, naturally, we decided to race for three purposes.
The idea for our campaign emerged from a passion for gender equity in sailing. We wanted to continue the legacy of female mentorship on boats, something that I have personally benefitted from multiple times as a sailor – from working alongside Libby Greenhalgh with Team Bitter End to working with Chelsea through The Magenta Project Mentoring Program. We wanted our boat to display female leadership, as women are often underrepresented in positions of leadership on boats. So, our campaign was rooted in this idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
But we had more we wanted to do.
Both Emma and I are pursuing Master’s degrees in marine environmental work. Emma is getting her Master’s from the University of Rhode Island in Marine Affairs. I’m getting my Master’s from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in International Environmental Policy, specializing in Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. We’re also both Skippers for Sailors for the Sea Powered by Oceana. Our shared passion for environmental conservation inspired us to sail with an environmental mission.
We’ve collectively established a vision where we are working on route-specific environmental awareness, sharing information about the areas of environmental interest along the race route via presentations and story maps. We’re also working on using our boat as a research platform to evaluate how offshore sailors can engage in best sustainability practices while facing the often intense conditions of offshore racing. We’re also aiming to collect water samples during the race and map the debris we come across in GIS after the race.
The final purpose that we felt passionate about in relation to our sport was youth development. I grew up sailing on the Monterey Bay in California, and I frequently reflect on all the amazing life skills I’ve gained from learning to sail at such an early age. Sailing taught me how to be calm in high intensity situations. It taught me adaptability and mechanical skills. It taught me how to work on a team and how to be a leader, and so many other things. Sailing can serve a young person for life, so I wanted to make sure this campaign provided opportunities to young sailors who care about the sport.
This mission is what inspired the next two crewmembers joining our team. We got connected to these incredible young women through MudRatz. Lily Flack is a 20-year-old student at St. Mary’s College of Maryland who did the Newport Bermuda Race last year aboard Spitfire with the MudRatz Racing Team. Sharing with me what appeals to her about offshore racing, Lily said, “It’s the idea of the unknown, and being disconnected from real life. I love getting offshore and being surrounded by only other boats and the elements. It is so peaceful to be free of the distractions of everyday life, and focus on making the boat go fast.”
Ellie Menezes is our youngest crewmember. She’s 16 and was also aboard Spitfire. “I was super excited when Maya emailed me, Ellie enthused. “I had a huge smile on my face. I don’t think I have ever typed an email response so fast before.” As the recipient of that email, I can attest to how fast it reached my inbox. I pressed “send” and within seconds had her enthusiastic “Yes!”
I managed to secure a boat with an extremely helpful private owner. We are in the final stages of signing our contract with her and we will announce the boat very soon. The next step for the campaign after getting the crew together and securing our boat was raising money. We had our first Zoom meeting where we made a game plan on fundraising, got a PayPal set up by our charity partner/fiscal sponsor Marine Life Studies, and then I immediately left for Libano, Colombia for two weeks of studying regenerative agriculture on coffee farms for school.
I was a little nervous leaving for so long at such an important part of the campaigning process, but the team stepped up in such an epic way to keep the ball rolling. I watched on from the deep Andes of rural Colombia with my minimal, spotty Wi-Fi, as the crew took ownership of the campaign and passionately raised money to help get us to the start line while spreading our purpose-led messages.
We’re still working hard every day to raise money for the campaign and to raise awareness of our DEI, environmental, and youth development missions. 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.
I know we’re all excited for when we reach the start line and get to embrace the marvels and moments of magic that come with offshore racing. However, until then, we’re going to fight for every step of this campaign, and hopefully Lead some Change! along the way.
How to follow Leading the Change!
Leading the Change! is an all-women’s team currently funded through donations. We are actively seeking sponsorship and support for the 2023 Annapolis to Newport Race. To help Leading the Change! provide this opportunity to women and youth, please visit paypal.com/donate?campaign_id=5HUFAB79Y8U68&fbclid=IwAR0_AymJwLCX7FLDQKBnSETNKak5m8Ghz9Zynoxy9-kbNjOSbq1MhShtOIM.
To learn about sponsorship opportunities, contact Maya Hoffman via private message Instagram or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow the Leading the Change! team journey, follow us on Instagram at