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Festival of Sails: women on water at Festival

Peter Blake and Kate Mitchell's Goldfinger. (Credit Festival of Sails)

Peter Blake and Kate Mitchell's Goldfinger. (Credit Festival of Sails)

Geelong’s iconic Festival of Sails offers people of all ages, experience and backgrounds the chance to enter an eligible boat, crew on someone else’s, or watch the action play out from the scenic shoreline.

Children sail with parents and grandparents, husbands and wives join forces and the initiated and uninitiated come together for the Australia day weekend of shoreside and watery fun on Corio Bay, starting with the traditional passage race from Williamstown on Friday 24th January for most classes.

The entry list is steadily climbing, now at 235. There are a handful of women recorded as owner/skippers and many more will bring their skill and flair to the competition by fulfilling key roles on participating boats, from the pintsize to the supersized.

Kate Mitchell is the co-owner of the Farr 52 Goldfinger, a seasoned offshore and regatta competitor that hails from Sandringham Yacht Club, where Mitchell is Vice Commodore.

In terms of women participating in sailing in Victoria over the past decade Mitchell has noticed a lot more women in sailing, and they are being taken seriously. “They are no longer doing the ‘drinks’ role but are filling key positions that are physically demanding. There are some fabulous women on the bow as well as terrific trimmers,” Mitchell says.

In terms of specific challenges to women owning boats Mitchell says they are the same for men,
“As long as women are regarded as sailors first”.

She cites the rewards of ownership; “Being integral part of a team and leading a team using your own particular skills….sometimes in a more collaborative manner!”

Georgie Mitchell’s (no relation) experience of sailing with grumpy skippers and being shouted at was one of the deciding factors that led her to the purchase of a Spacesailor 24 called Mary Bryant, named after the Cornish convict sent to Australia who became one of the first successful escapees from the fledgling Australian penal colony.

Now the Rear Commodore of Hobsons Bay Yacht Club at Williamstown, Victoria, Mitchell says the biggest realisation of becoming an owner was, “All of you a sudden you are responsible for the boat and the people on it, whatever you do will have an impact”.

She’s had great support from her yacht club and other boat owners, usually men who are “more than willing to give advice,” she jibes. “I’ve been taught by the best of them so I know how to compete, even though I’m not competitive.”

Mitchell makes her boat available to women who want to race, offering the helm to those with skippering aspirations, and the club has a very active group Women on Water (WOW). “We do a lot of training programs with our women and the club bought an S80 called Satie which the women have reserved for a number of races each year.”

For the Festival of Sails, January 21st – 27th 2014, Mitchell will sail with the same crew as 2011, the last time the boat contested the longstanding regatta. Mitchell will helm and partner Tim Ford and crew Maureen Dickens, who was instrumental in founding the WOW group, will make up the rest of the team on the 24-footer.

“I just like sailing. I do the Geelong regatta because it’s good fun. I get to race with a number of similar boats in the Cruising Non-Spinnaker division,” Mitchell adds.

“I am such a chilled captain; my crew will compete without any pressure. We’ll be the ones with the water bombs and the music going.”

Kate Mitchell’s Goldfinger is racing in the Racing Series. Theirs will be a more serious-minded approach over the four-day schedule of windward/leeward and passage racing from Friday 24th – Monday 27th, but only during the daylight hours.

“It’s a great regatta with very serious racing and very serious partying too,” Kate adds.

The Royal Geelong Yacht Club is actively working to promote sailing and involvement at the Yacht Club to the entire local community, and have a number of programs targeted specifically towards women and girls.

RGYC Sailing and Training Manager, Charlotte McDonnell, is a recent recruit to the club who is reshaping the offering to a wider demographic of the community, “I am really excited to see the increase in participation in both the competitive Women and Girls in Sailing programs as well as ladies getting involved in our race management teams and juries.

“We are expecting to put over 700 girls and boys through the free Discover Sailing experiences that we will be operating across the whole weekend of the Festival of Sails. It is such a great way for adults and kids to come and try sailing during the event,” said Ms. McDonnell.

There are only three days left until the standard entry fee closes for the 2014 regatta.

To avoid the late processing fee boat owners can apply here now.

Enter here.  Notice of Race available here.

By Lisa Ratcliff / Festival of Sails

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