Women of Opportunity: Meet the female skippers changing the face of CRC Bay of Islands Sailing Week

Sally Garrett’s Farr MRX Ovlov Marine, racing with her all-female crew in the RNZYS series. Photo: RNZYS

It’s the new normal to see female sailors in just about every position on racing keelers these days, and each year at CRC Bay of Islands Sailing Week, more women and girls are seen comfortably taking up positions from bow to stern.

But there remains a wide gap when it comes to women taking the helm, and taking on boat ownership, with the overwhelming majority of boats entered in the regatta still owned and skippered by men. This year, however, there are more women than ever bucking the trend. And not only are they breaking the mold themselves, they’re passionate about giving others the opportunity to do the same.

Robyn Caundle, skipper of Young 88 Rascal Tom, is actively involved with getting more women on the water, mainly via the organisation of the same name – Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club’s ‘Women On Water’ (WOW). She’s entered CRC Bay of Islands Sailing Week for the first time with an all-female crew, Team ‘Yeah The Girls’, whom she’s been racing with competitively for the last two years.

Team ‘Yeah The Girls’, headed up by skipper Robyn Caundle (top), with team-mates (clockwise) Kerry Caundle, Elly Warren, Beth Ross, Kate Harvey, Lyndsay Hayward (centre).

Robyn is enthusiastic about the way WOW enables women from both sailing and non sailing backgrounds to get on the water and experience keelboat racing. She’s equally happy sailing in a mixed crew, but says sailing with the girls is characterised by inclusiveness and kindness, and it’s something she’s glad to have the opportunity to share with others.

“I really enjoy giving other females the opportunity to sail and race in our team,” Robyn says. “It’s nothing against mixed crews, it’s just the way we formed as a crew, and we really enjoyed sailing together. The hardest thing people struggle with is that they don’t have access to a boat, and I had that opportunity through my father to race his boat quite regularly, and we enjoy being able to give that opportunity to others as well.”

Robyn says CRC Bay of Islands Sailing Week appealed because it gives her crew the opportunity to learn and develop beyond local harbour and coastal racing. But primarily because it fulfils their number one goal when they go sailing – to have fun.

“We just heard so many good things about Bay Week”, she says. “A lot of boats travel up from Tauranga and I heard from a lot of people how fun it is. It’s a big part of why we go sailing. It’s always obviously to develop our sailing, but fun is the bottom line. We go out to have fun and have a laugh.”

Also in the Island Racing divisions is highly accomplished sailor and Women’s Keelboat National Champion Sally Garrett, who together with co-skipper and co-owner Christine Weston will be sailing the Farr MRX Ovlov Marine with a majority female crew.

“We’ve got a couple of boys sailing with us this time, but the main part of the crew, five of the sailors, are part of my women’s keelboat crew,” Sally says, adding with a laugh: “I have two boys because I figured you can’t just have one, it’s not very fair. But I’m not sure they’d do the same for us!”

Much of Sally’s female crew has the benefit of sailing together for 20 years, which she says irrespective of gender gives them an edge.

“Having the same crew for a long period of time, some of the benefits in our sailing that we get just knowing what the other person’s got to do, is not really related to being women. It’s just that we’ve sailed together for such an extended period of time.”

After sailing extensively with both mixed crews and all-female crews (she’s competed several times with sailing partner Rob Croft in the two-handed Round North Island and Round New Zealand races, and in Women’s Keelboat Nationals since 1996), Sally says she enjoys the dynamics of both.

“Both are just as equally exciting. I love sailing with the girls, some of the best friendships you’ll ever have are with the people you sail with long term. But mixed racing is quite exciting too, so I do both most of the time. And all the girls on the boat are sailing both all the time.”

But while experience and time on the water together are invaluable in a crew, Sally feels it’s important to give younger sailors opportunities too.

“Each time we get a space we try and get someone new and young into the fold”, she says. “What we used to have was the youngest person on the crew was 38, which was pretty bad! So we’ve got a Northland local, Bella Boyd, she’s sailing with us. She’s in the Youth Programme at the Squadron, and started sailing with us in October.”

Sally is no stranger to CRC Bay of Islands Sailing Week, having competed in at least four previously, originally in her Flying Fifteen, and most recently with Rob Croft on his Farr 38 Expedition Coppelia. Now with the added bonus of youth and local knowledge, Ovlov Marine is a strong contender.

“The other MRX that went up last year did really well on line and not so well on handicap”, says Sally, “so we’ll just have to see how it goes. I’m hopeful we can do quite well.”

Certainly with women like Robyn and Sally providing opportunities for women to experience both the fun and the competitive side of keelboat racing, it seems the new new normal may be even more confident female sailors taking the helm at CRC Bay of Islands Sailing Week in future.

Robyn Caundle’s Team ‘Yeah The Girls’ racing Young 88 Rascal Tom in the WOW division in Tauranga.