Only last week the entire downtown area of Annapolis was under more than six feet of water due to the tidal surge caused by Hurricane Isabel, but regatta host Annapolis Yacht Club and its citywide corps of volunteers rose to the challenge of returning the sailing venue to normal. The regatta, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, has attracted a record fleet of 67 international teams from as far away as New Zealand, Denmark, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Canada and South Africa, as well as from 17 U.S. states. A 10-race series is planned in International J/22 class keelboats on Chesapeake Bay, and at the end of five days of racing, the winning team will receive a Rolex timepiece.
With the debut of women’s keelboat racing at the 2004 Olympic Games, the Rolex IWKC has attracted top Yngling talent, including five-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and five-time Rolex IWKC champion Betsy Alison (Newport, R.I.). She brings her world #1 ranked Yngling team members Lee Icyda and Suzy Leech. Dini Hall, who crewed for three of Alison’s Rolex IWKC winning teams, rounds out the foursome.
Alison skippered for the first seven Rolex events, took a year off in 1999 and crewed in 2001. "With our Yngling program in full gear, skippering a boat again myself is the logical thing to do," she said. "Since its inception in 1985, the Rolex IWKC has grown into a premier women‘s event on the international scene, and the sponsorship by Rolex is fabulous. If this year‘s event is anything close to what it has been in the past, then we‘re all in for a treat."
Among other notable sailors competing is the Annapolis team of Nancy Haberland, Dina Kowalyshyn, Karina Shelton, and Aimee Hess. Loaded with a wealth of sailing success on their resume, Shelton and Hess were two of the winning crew at the 2002 ISAF Women‘s World Match Race Championships. Haberland joined them in 2003, and together they won the 2003 Santa Maria Cup. Kowalyshyn was part of the winning team at the 2001 Rolex IWKC. Collectively, the team has won over 25 national, international, and world titles as both skipper and crew.
US Sailing Team member Carol Cronin (Jamestown, R.I.) returns to skipper an entry for a second time, having crewed on the winning team at the event in 1999. Cronin will sail with her Yngling team members Elizabeth Filter and Kate Fears. Linda Epstein, who has participated in years past, joins them.
Representing the "future of women‘s sailing" is local girl 17-year-old Katie Schellie who is the first Rolex Next Step graduate to skipper in the Rolex IWKC. The Rolex Next Step Program, established in 1997 to expose juniors (ages 12-16) to international women’s sailing in a mentoring atmosphere, will host 38 participants from around the country and overseas for a weekend at the opening of the regatta.
Schellie was so motivated by her Next Step experience at the 2001 regatta that she immediately joined the Severn High School Sailing Team. Her coach has allowed her to practice after school in a J/22 rather than the school‘s 420s. "I know we could finish last," said Schellie, "but we‘re going to have so much fun and learn so much that I just can‘t wait." Sailing with Schellie will be Ally Gambarani, Lesley Sutherland and Kim Thomas.
The "Hot Flash" team from Minnesota of Carol Pine, Jan Nielsen, Jan Rupert and Terry Jewett, is made up of a diverse group of accomplished women sailors who, as their name implies, all are over the age of 50. With their program, which has put them in the national media spotlight, the team aims to accomplish three goals: to transform the way women over 50 see themselves and their potential; to inspire women over 50 to pursue their passions; and to challenge stereotypes applied to mature women.
Foreign teams are eager to take on what has become an American stronghold in women’s keelboat sailing.
Jane Moon and her Cayman Islands team of Pam McDonough, Lindsey Macfee and a yet-to-be named crewmember return for the fourth year. "We are not sure how we will fare at this event," said Moon, who finished fourth at the J/22 U.S. national championship. "Our regular fourth crew member is out of action due to recent knee surgery and I haven‘t done much sailing in 2003 due to the birth of my third daughter in July. However, we are looking forward to the regatta and will definitely have a great time in Annapolis again."
Two-time Olympian Paula Lewin has represented Bermuda in the Rolex IWKC before and this will be her second showing as skipper. Since the 2001 event, she has launched a Yngling campaign and will represent Bermuda at the 2004 Games in Athens.
South African Dominique Provoyeur and her crew of Tania Coetzee, Penny Alison, Lucy Norton come from Cape Town. Provoyeur, Coetzee and Alison have sailed together for the last year and a half and finished eighth in the 2002 ISAF Worlds in France.
New Zealand is represented by three teams. Amber West and crew Sally Garrett, Raynor Smeal and Merran Walbridge have been among the top-ranked women’s teams in New Zealand and have won many national titles among them. West was the 2002 New Zealand National Women’s Keelboat Champion, and her toughest competition may come from the current New Zealand National Champions Karleen Dixon, Jenny Egnot and Paula Satherthwaite. The third team is skippered by Kylie Jameson and has as its crewmembers Melinda Erkelens, Stephanie Wondolleck and Patricia Caticchio. Jameson was the second-place skipper at the 2003 New Zealand Women‘s Keelboat Nationals and second at the New Zealand Match Racing Nationals.
Opening Ceremonies are set for City Dock in Annapolis on Sunday, Sept. 28.