The 2009 US Women’s Match Racing Championships were held in St. Thomas, USVI from November 12 to 15. The best female match racers in the United States and their crew came down to the Virgin Islands to race in our one-design IC 24s and were treated to every imaginable weather condition that the Caribbean had to offer.
On Wednesday, the practice day before the regatta, a squall blew through with winds so intense that the main on one of the boats was ripped before the crew could take it down. The next day, of course, dawned without any breeze, and everyone floated around the bay until noon. Then the customary 10-12 knots filled in, but refused to settle from any one direction, giving the race committee and mark boats quite a challenge in the huge shifts. Friday and Saturday were the best days, breeze-wise, but thunder and rain threatened throughout the weekend on to Sunday, where huge weather systems hovering over St. John and the BVI as well as on the South side of St. Thomas sucked the breeze out of the racecourse, making conditions tricky.
The format of the regatta was a triple round robin, one round robin per day, followed by a consolation round for the bottom four teams on Saturday afternoon. Sunday was reserved for the semi-finals and finals, with the top two teams racing for best of five matches, and third and fourth racing for best of three matches.
Now there were eight teams, but actually there were only seven of the best, which I can safely say because I was a member of the eighth. This was the first time that the Championships had ever been held outside the continental United States and, as is customary, the home yacht club—my home club, the St. Thomas Yacht Club—got to field a team.
My fellow crew-members, Kelly O’Brien, Emily Newbold, Sophie Newbold and I were all pretty green to match racing, and very green to our respective positions. When I say pretty green, I mean that Kelly was the only one of us who had ever even done a match race before and her experience was on the bow, whereas this time she would be at the helm. Emily would be taking her place on foredeck—a position she had also never held before—Sophie was going to trim jib, and I would be at the main calling tactics. Though I’d done team racing in college, the match racing game is a whole different bag of tricks, and I’d never trimmed main on an IC before. Suffice it to say that we all had a lot to learn.
When we signed up to do the regatta in September, we knew what we were facing, so we began practicing immediately. How’d it go? Well, the first few days were rough all around. Thankfully, we had a club full of experienced match racers, including Peter Holmberg, Morgan Avery, Maurice Kurg and Ben Beer, who came out with us over the subsequent three months to give pointers and help with our racing strategy. By November, I wouldn’t call us a well-oiled machine, but our boat mechanics and understanding of the match racing game had certainly come a long way. And then it was time to race.
Our first full match race ever was against the 2009 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and 2008 Laser radial Olympic Gold Medalist Anna Tunnicliffe and her team of college sailing coaches and professionals. We lost, of course, but after we crossed the finish line, Peter Holmberg gave us a thumbs-up. We had done all right. It was a little early for celebration, and over the next three days we would lose far more races than we would win, but it was a start.
We ended up with a record of 22-3, eighth place. Our races were finished on Saturday, and we were free to watch the semi finals and finals on Sunday. The semi finals were between Katie Pilley-Lovell and Annie Gardner-Nelson. Gardner-Nelson took the first, and Pilley-Lovell came back, winning the second and third races with close finishes to take third place.
In a similar manner, the finals were decided in an incredibly close race, with Genny Tulloch and her team taking the regatta by winning matches one, three and four. The fourth race literally came down to the wire, with Tulloch clearing her own penalty by forcing a port-starboard situation in which Tunnicliffe was at fault mere boat-lengths from the finish line.
Even with the breeze dying, you couldn’t have asked for a more exciting race to watch. “Anna’s always been super fun to sail against, ever since college when we were competing for college sailor of the year. So it was really fun to match up again,” said Tulloch.
Andrea Bailey is a recent graduate of the College of Liberal Arts at Georgetown University, Washington, DC and a former collegiate sailor who has returned to her home island of St. Thomas.