With the November 1 entry deadline closed for US SAILING's upcoming Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship (Rolex IWKC), 41 international teams representing four countries and 12 U.S. states have entered including two-time defending champion Sally Barkow (Nashotah, Wis.) with her Team 7. The biennial regatta, celebrating its 12th anniversary of offering women of all abilities the opportunity for top-level competition, is scheduled for November 14-17 and hosted by the Houston Yacht Club in LaPorte, Texas. The 11-race series features evening social activities and culminates with the traditional Rolex gala and awards presentation where a Rolex timepiece will be awarded to the winning boat's skipper.
"Personally, I think it's going to be great in Houston," said Barkow, who also is ranked #1 on the US Sailing Team in the Yngling. "We've scheduled it and plan to make another go at the title of this regatta. It will be interesting to see the other teams that have been training, and to see how everyone has changed and improved since 2005."
Although Barkow has spent little time in Houston - only the Pan Am Trials in 2003 and some coaching of Optimist sailors - she has confidence in her team's ability in the International J/22 keelboat. "We race in a lot of other boats, so going back to a J/22 is comforting and it's not too complicated for us," she said. "We like the boat and feel like we sail it really well. We don't know what to expect of the conditions there, but whatever it is we'll do our best."
Adding to the list of high-profile names is Anna Tunnicliffe (Plantation, Fla.) , who recently captured the Laser Radial berth to represent the U.S. at the 2008 Olympic Games in Qingdao, China. Ranked for the past year as the world's #1 Laser Radial sailor, she graduated from Old Dominion University where she was a multiple All-American. Tunnicliffe is joined by Liz Bower, the assistant coach at ODU, from where she graduated as a multiple All-American and women's dinghy champion. Molly Vandemoer, trimmer and an All-American while at the University of Hawaii, competed in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Sailing in the 470 class where she and her skipper finished third. They are joined by tactician Ali Sharp, assistant coach at the U.S. Naval Academy. She graduated from St Mary's College where she was a multiple All-American.
One of the long-term goals of the Rolex IWKC is encouraging growth in women's sailing and among the local host's region. The Houston area is represented by 15 teams and one of them is Team Over the Edge, a mixture of friends and family who enjoy the challenge of racing. "Our team is very excited and proud to be members of the host club," said skipper Anne Lee, an owner of a landscape design company in Houston. Lee, who competed as crew in the 2005 Rolex IWKC, has been sailing all her life, but has only recently chosen to take the helm in serious racing and will fill the role of skipper. She is joined by Diana Strickler, on bow, a very busy mother to young sons, Reaves and Jacob; Terry Eukel, trimmer, who loves to race sailboats and is mother to teenagers, Alex and Phillip; and Neave Nunes, on tactics, a veteran racer and crew in several major regattas
Another local team is skippered by Dana Bethancourt, who will compete with bow #1 for being the first registered team. She and her daughter Chelsea, a high school senior, are joined by Patricia Escorihuela (Ensenada, Mexico) and Sandra Baldridge who competed in the very first Rolex IWKC in 1987. Bethancourt says that sailing with her teenage daughter, while challenging at times, has led to a stronger mother-daughter relationship both on and off the water. "This will be a first Rolex IWKC for Chelsea, Patricia and me, but we have all done some national and international sailing events," said Bethancourt. "Our goal is to be the top local boat and hopefully to break into the top 10. We are all strong and determined women, and will do the best we can!"
When the regatta began in 1985, it charted new territory for women's keelboat racing in a sailing world that associated females mainly with dinghy competition. The Rolex IWKC has become one of the best gauges of talent in women's sailing. The competition roster typically reads like a who's who of women's sailing and includes US SAILING's Rolex Yachtswomen of the Year, Olympic medalists and America's Cup veterans. Even more enjoyable, however, are the women of all ages with varying levels of experience who compete.
The youngest team is skippered by 18-year-old Shelby Aughtry (Edmond, Okla.) and her Team Speedeaux. Aughtry and her teammate Allison Moorhead placed first at Texas Youth Race Week 2007 in the 420 fleet. In 2006 they received the Brooke E. Gonzalez Award at Newport, R.I., and they were awarded the Sportsmanship Trophy at the U.S. Junior Women's Doublehanded Championship for the Ida Lewis Trophy. They are joined by Letty Eby, who has been sailing for over 20 years and has competed in many Area F Adams Cup events, J/24 and J/22 Southwest Circuit regattas and the J/22 North Americans in 2005. This will be the fourth Rolex IWKC she has participated in. Dolores Aughtry has over 20 years of sailing experience, and has 18 years of experience on the bow of the J/22; she has also competed in several J/22 Southwest Circuit regattas as well as the J/22 North Americans in 2005.
Although skippering a boat at age 18 is certainly impressive in such a competitive fleet, the record for youngest skipper is held by Anna Tunnicliffe. In 1987, the then 14-year-old finished 13th among 36 teams representing eight nations.
An international event always attracts sailors from various parts of the world and this year's regatta is no exception. Teams from Canada, South Africa and the British Virgin Islands will compete.
For Sarah Bury (Toronto, CAN) , representing the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, the Rolex IWKC will be the first time her team has sailed together. "All of us are training hard in hopes of representing Canada at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing," she said. "Myself, Martha Henderson and Katie Abbott are competing in the Yngling class, and Jen Provan is a skipper in the 470 class. We are excited to compete in the Rolex Women's event, and to try our hands at a J/22!"
Dominique Provoyeur (Koelenhof, Stellenbosch, RSA) and her Team Isigungu are her country's representatives for the 2008 Olympic Games in the Yngling Class. They first competed in the J/22 at the 2002 ISAF World Sailing Games and since then their goal has been racing keelboats in the Olympics. Provoyeru, who finished 11th out of 42 teams at the 2005 Rolex IWKC, sees this year's regatta as a cross-training platform for her Olympic campaign. "As part of our training we have decided to participate in the 2007 Rolex Women's Keelboat Championship and Team Isivungu is joined by a fellow South African, Lara Dugas for this year's event," she said. "After the regatta, we head to Miami to train and then compete in the (US SAILING's) Rolex Miami OCR."