Barkow up against the boys
Nine of the world's best match racing skippers have accepted invitations to the 46th Congressional Cup taking place over 23-27 March. A 10th will be Sally Barkow, who didn't wait to be invited...Barkow, 29, of Nashotah, Wis., earned the privilege by winning last summer's Ficker Cup qualifier on the same outer harbor course off Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier where she'll meet the men in the same Catalina 37s. It's the only Grade 1 Open match racing event in North America.
The rest of the line-up, alphabetically, with current ISAF rankings:
Johnie Berntsson (9), Sweden, Royal Gothenburg YC
Gavin Brady, Annapolis, Md./N. Zealand, Royal Hong Kong YC
Francesco Bruni (24), Italy, Yacht Club Costa Smeralda
Simone Ferrarese (31), Italy, Yacht Club Cortina
Bill Hardesty, San Diego, Chicago Match Race Center
Damien Iehl, (3) France, APCC Voile Sportive
Eric Monnin (30), Switzerland, Yacht Club Immense
Evgeniy Neugodnikov (20), Russia , Team Synergy
Dave Perry (45), Southport, Conn., Long Beach YC
The rankings are based on a sailor's best four results dating back two years. Brady and Hardesty have competed in only two and three events, respectively, in that time.
Berntsson is defending champion. Brady is one of three four-time winners. Perry won in 1983 and '84.
"We're really excited about it," Barkow said. "It was our goal going to the Ficker Cup."
But there's much more than that to the resume of the lady from the Pine Lake Yacht Club: Rolex (American) Yachtswoman of the Year in 2005 and 2007; three-time all-American at Old Dominion University, with a BS in psychology (that helps in match racing); in 2004, with Debbie Capozzi, Carrie Howe and Annie Lush of the UK, the ISAF Women's Match Racing World Championship; Olympic skipper at Qingdao in 2008.
Not bad for a lake sailor from the Midwest, starting at age 5.
She won Ficker Cup with an all-woman crew that she hoped would remain intact, but they'll be unavailable while preparing for the Olympic-geared Princess Sofia match race regatta at Palma de Majorca, Spain, which starts just after Congressional Cup ends. Barkow plans to join them for the first day of racing.
She will be only the fourth woman skipper in the Congressional Cup, following JJ Fetter Isler in 1993 and '96 and Betsy Alison in '99. Fetter was the only one to race with an all-woman crew. Barkow will have Dave Dellenbaugh as tactician and is arranging for alternative talent that will probably include a male-female mix of six or seven.
Whatever works out, now it's "Sally forth"---definition: "to set out in a sudden, energetic or violent manner." Barkow will offer nor receive no slack. ISAF ranks her 16th among women and 118th in the Open classification, where no woman is ranked higher. That's because she divides her racing between the two groups, preferring to race against men when she can.
"We had been racing on the women's circuit, which hasn't given us the points, so we just started racing on the Open circuit last March and we've been moving up in the ranking," she said. "We started in the thousands and then we were in the hundreds. Our goal of the year was to get into that top hundred."
They almost made it. Their breakthrough achievement came in the Grade 3 Ficker Cup where they whipped five teams, including those of Perry, the current US Sailing match racing champion, and Annie Nelson with an otherwise all-male crew. The contest is named for Bill Ficker, the 1974 Con Cup and 1970 America's Cup winner. The champion automatically receives a Con Cup berth.
Barkow has a new sponsor: Safe Passage Sailing, which provides opportunities for intermediate and advanced sailors to participate in high-profile events internationally.
In 2008 she and crew Debbie Capozzi and Carrie Howe---Team 7 Sailing---sailed an Yngling for the U.S. in the women's Olympic match racing at Qingdao, China and placed seventh.
"[Match racing] is the bigger thing for me right now, trying to break into the circuit for another year or two," she said. "I really enjoy sailing the bigger boats."
But now, testing the Congressional Cup waters, isn't there a risk of reaching too high and setting back the cause of women in the game?
Barkow said, "You take the opportunity to race against some of the top guys. We recognize that racing against women gets you only so far.
"I don't think there's much difference with the way women and men sail. Other sports, like basketball, they can just jump higher. Sailing is a unique sport. There is an equality there and, yeah, we're looking to close that gap and get the respect we want and have a chance to go race against them.
"It comes down to the same things that win every event, which are experience and knowledge and talent. There is nothing holding women back from that except going out and doing it."
She is not in the least intimidated by crossing the gender line. She did that a lot as a kid and as an all-American at Old Dominion.
"I grew up with three older brothers," she said. "That's how I learned to sail."
The 10 six-man crews will rotate daily on Catalina 37s owned by the Long Beach Sailing Foundation. Each team will race every other team twice. The top four qualify for the championship sailoffs on Saturday.