All it takes is a good idea, the tools, and the talent to make it happen. This was the serendipitous scenario that came together in advance of the 5th annual Caribbean Multihull Challenge (CMC), held in St. Maarten from February 3 to 5, and put an all-women crew on the water. What’s more, the plan-turned-reality saw the women finish with a podium-placing second in class, and an experience to remember.
The road to the founding of Team FOPE for the 2023 CMC started with a boat. St. Maarten Yacht Club President and avid sailor, Frits Bus, announced last fall he was entering his 2007-built Lagoon 38 in the CSA Racing Class with an all-women crew including his daughter, Berit Bus. Next came the sponsor, FOPE.
“This is the third year FOPE has sponsored an all-women sailing team at the CMC,” says Janelle Couts, director of business development for FOPE USA, based in Boca Raton Florida. “It is a wonderful partnership that amplifies FOPE as an Everyday Luxury brand. Each piece of jewelry is timeless, elegant, and comfortable thanks to the flexible nature of the signature designs and FLEX’IT technology behind every collection. FOPE is a perfect fit for an active lifestyle such as sailing.”
Finally, the third and most important element was assembling the crew. And, doing so from the wealth of talent locally on the two-nation island.
“Historically, the marine sector has been a male-dominated industry and the entry of women was not popular,” says Berit Bus, who grew up sailing Optimists and Lasers and is now a full-time Clinical Dietitian who spends weekends on the water often sailing with the Melges 24, Island Water World team. “However, there are numerous women who have contributed to the marine world by breaking the norms and just going for what their hearts desired.”
Since the Lagoon 38 had been out of the water for a while, none of the women crew, including Berit, had experience sailing it. That didn’t deter Gwen Robic, a Brittany, France-born sailor who started sailing dinghies when young. Her sailing experience includes serving as an instructor for a well-known travel firm in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, working for a major sailboat manufacturer in France, and a position with a yacht charter company in French St. Martin. Today, when not cruising with her husband and daughters, Robic works as a yacht broker for Catamaran Brokerage.
“I was happy to be part of the event as a member of an all-female crew. I am working as Yacht Broker in a female team which is not common in the yachting industry,” Robic says.
Another crew member was Grace Cheasley, who has sailed since she was born, lived on a boat when she was young, and sailed to over 20 countries or islands and across the Atlantic. Cheasley now works full-time at the St. Maarten Yacht Club teaching students from ages 7 to adult five days a week.
“I have sailed and raced many different boats during my time at the yacht club and was excited to race more. I was also excited to see all the magnificent boats sailing and to be able to race myself,” says Cheasley.
Aygeleyn Bregita, Charlotte Hathaway, and Annemarie Saat rounded out the team, along with Kimberly Reyes-Puello, a staff member at the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau, a sponsor of the CMC.
Looking Back and Looking Ahead: Lessons Learned from the First Annual Caribbean Multihull Challenge
The first day proved a learning curve for Team FOPE, which finished third in class nearly an hour after the winner, the Dominican Republic’s Georges Coutu on his Lagoon 50, La Novia, and runner-up, St. Maarten’s Petro Jonker on his Leopard 47, Seaduction. Day two and three were different stories with Team FOPE finishing a solid second to La Novia and besting Seaduction for the trophy.
“I had a very intriguing experience getting to know and understand the basics of sailing,” says Reyes-Puello.
Racing was far from a comfort zone for Hathaway, a professional skipper from the UK who captains the local wooden motor schooner, Spirit of St Maarten, and who took the role of Queen of the Starboard Winch. “Since I’m usually single-handed or the skipper, the thought of dealing with the pressure of having to go fast and try and win had always been quite intimidating. But being part of a team with a set job was really relaxing (mentally) and exciting. I didn’t need to stress about the strength of the wind or the sea state; it wasn’t my job. I just needed to be alert to where other people needed help, and just grind the winch or ease the sheet. It gave me the confidence to go out in other racing environments.”
Saat, a Netherlands native who didn’t start sailing until she moved to St. Maarten in 2015, has experience in the SMYC’s Keelboat Series and St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and was excited to be asked to join Team FOPE.
“It was a very fun experience, and I learned a lot, as it was the first time for me to race on a catamaran,” says Saat, who served as mainsail trimmer. “What I liked most was to experience how a group of ‘strangers’ on a ‘new’ boat, turned into a well-performing team within only a few days! Even though it wasn’t always easy, especially in the heat of the moment. And, I think above our own expectations, we did a good job finishing second in our class. I hope to be part of it again next year!”