Written by Rick Bannerot & Buttons Padin
Photos © 2023 Rick Bannerot/OntheFlyPhoto.net
Mother Nature threw her best at the fleet of skilled sailors in the inaugural Susan Widmann Sinclair Women’s Championship, hosted by Noroton Yacht Club in Darien, CT June 16 – 18. Twelve teams came from across the U.S., Canada and Bermuda to participate in an all-women’s fleet race, with an all-women’s Race Committee organized by Noroton YC’s Nancy Pearson and PRO Shannon Bush (Houston, TX), and an all-women’s on-the-water umpiring team. While it may not be nice to fool Mother Nature, she got more than she bargained for from these intrepid competitors and race officials.
Sailing NYC’s evenly-matched Sonars, the winning team comprised skipper Sara Morgan Watters and teammates Gloria Kevliciute, Catherine Shanahan and Sophie Taczak. Unusually, rather than asking for donations for the St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s team Head Coach Adam Werblow stepped up to help underwrite the alumnae of “Team St. Mary’s.”
With a dreadful forecast for all three days of the regatta, PRO Bush knew she had a serious challenge on her hands. Day One saw multiple attempts to get off a race with the marks needing to be set, reset, and then reset again as the wind clocked back and forth in 40-to 50-degree shifts. By 1 pm the breeze “settled” in out of the north only to have thunderstorms roll the Connecticut coastline on the second leg. Various support boats quickly took the Sonars in tow and ran for the safety of the Noroton YC’s beautiful new clubhouse, scotching the last chance for any races the first day.
Day Two again proved the weather forecasters and Mother Nature were not going to be in agreement. While the northerly continued to blow, it was almost as shifty as Day One as competitors experienced a little bit of everything as is typical in Long Island Sound. In addition to routinely oscillating over a 60-degree arc, the wind velocity bounced between 5-8 knots one minute, then gusts over 25 the next. The crazy conditions required a wide variety boat-handling skills, adept course management and lightning-quick shifts in tactics. When the wind peaked near 30 knots on the second downwind leg of Race 3,, some boats experienced crash jibes while others opted to drop their spinnaker and finish under control. Despite the conditions, five races were sailed on Saturday with Sara Watters winning that day’s finale, putting Team St. Mary’s atop the leaderboard.
Sunday’s conditions continued to challenge the race committee and sailors alike. After Race 6 the northerly shifted to a southerly, and the final race was completed with winds finally swinging into a more consistent westerly. The only people more tired and sore than the racers were certainly the mark boat crews, who did yeoman’s work in adjusting the course all over the western Sound for three long days.
PRO Bush noted, “I was forewarned that conditions on Long Island Sound would challenge a race officer to the max…and they did!” At the awards ceremony, Bush was roundly thanked with hoots, hollers, and applause for conducting races in adverse conditions.
Finishing second, thanks to two second-place finishes on Sunday, was Noroton YC’s Erin Maxwell, who won a tiebreaker over fellow Noroton YC sailor Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick. Carmen Cowles, representing Larchmont YC, clawed her way into fourth overall with a flourish, posting a 3-1 on the final day. Yale sophomore Carmen was recently named the Quantum College Woman Sailor of the Year, and she sailed this event with her twin Emma, also a Yale All-American.
Event Chair Nancy Pearson, who worked for over a year pulling this event together, said “Sue Sinclair was a pioneer world champion sailor, Adams Cup winner against the best female sailors in the U.S., and the 1962 Martini & Rossi (nee: Rolex) Yachtswoman of the Year. She was an inspiration to our juniors as well as the women sailors at Noroton…and she was a friend of mine. When Commodore Bobby Lawrence asked me to help create, and then run this Championship, I was honored at being asked to develop and execute something that would reflect well on our club, women’s sailing, and Sue’s legacy.”
“And that she did!” enthused Commodore Lawrence. “What Nancy, her cadre of volunteers, our sponsors, and our club staff did this weekend was nothing short of outstanding! I know Sue was looking down on her Championship with a smile.”
Based on the unanimous decision over Mother Nature, and the enthusiasm of all those involved in the inaugural Sinclair Women’s Championship, the second Susan Widmann Sinclair Women’s Championship is already being planned, and will again be hosted by Noroton YC
in 2025. ■