How to Prep for Your Top Regatta: Sea Bags Women’s Sailing Team’s Journey to the 2015 J/24 North Americans

After sailing the 2014 J/24 World Championship in Newport, Rhode Island, Erica Beck Spencer decided to put together an all-women’s team. Her ultimate goal – sail in the 2018 World Championship. Spencer started by enlisting Jess Harris (bow) and Charlotte Kinkade (trimmer). Together the three southern-Maine women purchased what would soon be known as USA 2918: Wait For It…

They wanted their first regatta to be the J/24 Midwinters at Davis Island Yacht Club, but they still had two spots to fill. Marina Carlson (mast) and Kim Calnan (tactician) joined them for their debut.

The ladies of USA 2918 gained momentum, and quickly filled their calendar with regattas on the East Coast. They even acquired a practice boat to use in their Wednesday night summer series. The practice boat – affectionately christened Side Hustle – let the team practice all summer long while keeping the race boat in excellent condition for higher-caliber events. Calnan, a Florida native, even moved to Newport so she could continue sailing with the team.

In July, they secured their first sponsorship and officially became part of the Sea Bags Sailing Team. Sea Bags is a Maine-based company that upcycles used sails into bags and promotes greener sail-recycling practices.

Due to some scheduling conflicts and other commitments, the Sea Bags Women’s Sailing Team enlisted other women to fill in when the core team was unavailable. Katie Hatch, Molly White, and Carol Pickering have all subbed for the team, and Sandy Yale, a junior Optimist sailor at the Portland Yacht Club, will join them for the North American Championship to sail at max weight. 

August 29-30, the team competed in the ONE Regatta in Marblehead, the first regatta since J/24 Midwinters where the full team was back together. Sailing in PHRF Class 6 with two other J/24s on the line, the ladies earned their first three bullets as a team before ultimately winning their class.  

“Our competitors were incredible, and they knew we were practicing for North Americans. We had to work really hard on Sunday to hold our lead, but I am so incredibly proud of this team,” said Spencer. “It’s amazing to see our hard work over the past several months pay off. We are still a new team in an extremely competitive class, but, if we sail half as well as we did on Saturday, we are going to be very successful at North Americans.”

How the Sea Bags Women’s Sailing Team is preparing for the 2015 North American Championship and other future regattas:

1. Setting Goals – One of USA 2918’S new traditions is to set daily goals on the way to the race course, a ritual that started at the 2015 Newport Regatta in July.

“It makes us accountable for not only our goals as a team, but our personal goals as well,” said Calnan. “The ultimate goal at the ONE Regatta was practicing for North Americans. A lot of the discussions we had on the boat were whether we would make the same decision in a 50 boat fleet.”

Besides setting goals to keep improving and succeeding at regattas, the ladies hope to inspire more women’s teams to get involved and travel competitively with their own programs.

“Why do guys clap and high-five us when we successfully back up our trailer? We need more women on the sailing scene!” said Harris.

2. Cross Training/Weeknight Sailing – Spencer, Harris, Kinkade, and Carlson sail every Wednesday at the Portland Yacht Club. Calnan, unable to make the trip up to Maine every week, sails on Bob and Elizabeth Kinsman’s USA 4255 Dogfish in Fleet 50’s Thursday night series in Newport. Each member of 2918 also sails in other fleets with different teams, taking the opportunities to learn from other experts in the sport.

3. Communicating (On and Off the Water) – Great teams have great communication. They say the best teams win before they even show up – the ladies of USA 2918 are up to the challenge!

The team decides their schedule in advance, finding additional crew if subs are needed. Before each regatta, the ladies assign each member with a task (i.e. securing housing, researching tide charts/local knowledge and any other details for specific regattas). On the water, they keep a constant line of communication open, discussing conditions, other boats, and each maneuver.

“On Wait For It…, we definitely have high standards and expectations of ourselves and each other,” said Harris, “but we also practice positive reinforcement with each other before and during tough maneuvers. It seems to be working well so far.”

4. Asking Questions and Using Available Resources – Before the ladies’ debut regatta, the team met to review the racing rules and set a general game plan. They also researched online for sailing articles, and it’s not uncommon for them to receive a text with sailing or inspiring articles from fellow teammates throughout the day.

The team’s ultimate resource, though, is their fellow J/24 competitors. “Be it that the J24 is the most popular one design keel boat in the world, we have plenty of friendly competition and established professionals to learn from,” said Kinkade. “Even the big dogs in the class have been great resources. This class contains some of the world's best sailors, and we've made nothing but fantastic friends up and down the east coast.”

5. Recording Everything – After the ONE Regatta, USA 2918 made a point to keep track of all the information they learned along the way. Using a Google document, each member can add to and reference the information.

The document contains local knowledge of specific venues, information on tuning, advice from other sailors, notes on their specific positions, questions they had during the event, and any other information that may be helpful. The team also plans to include funny stories from each event to keep it entertaining.

The team considers every regatta practice for their next event. “We are so proud of our performance last weekend at the ONE Regatta,” said Carlson. “It shows just how far we’ve come as a team and the success that we are capable of. Having that momentum going into these next few events is a great feeling.

“We are a new team in an established competitive class,” said Spencer. “We have a lot to learn, but look forward to the journey.”

You can follow the Sea Bags Women’s Sailing Team journey at or on their Facebook page at USA 2918: Wait For It…

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Annapolis C&C 30 Clinic


Are you ready for your next C&C 30 challenge? Join Quantum experts for a day full of hands-on training and practice. Please reach out to David Flynn with any questions!

Location: Eastport Yacht Club – Annapolis, MD
Date: Thursday, October 22nd
11:00 AM – Dock review of rig tuning and set-up strategy with Dave Flynn
11:30 AM – On the water rendezvous for drills and practice including:

  • Starting and straight line setup
  • Tacking
  • Jibing
  • Leeward mark turns
  • Short course racing

3:00 PM – Practice concludes
4:30 PM De-brief with panel experts at Eastport Yacht Club with photo and video analysis of each boat. Cash bar to follow.

Quantum Experts:

David Flynn

Allan Terhune

Jason Currie

Doug Stewart

Andrew Scott

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Downwind Sail Choice Made Easy

With all of the advancements in downwind sails, there are a lot of options out there today, but how do you find the best sail for you—especially if buying more than one is not in your budget? Our cruising expert, Dave Flynn, has some great insights to help ease the pain of finding the best fit.


With a little luck and patient scheduling, the majority of extended cruising miles should feature plenty of off the wind work. While standard working sails are fine when the wind is forward of the beam, they are less than ideal at wind angles greater than 90 degrees apparent. Small size, heavy construction, and the fact that they get blanketed behind the mainsail, make them less than ideal tools for the job. Fortunately cruising sails to optimize downwind performance have come a long way in last decade or so, and cruising sailors now have a range of options. Let’s take a look.

Cruising Spinnaker Design

Since time immemorial, the classic approach has been to add a “cruising spinnaker.” But what is a cruising spinnaker? Traditionally it was a relatively heavy nylon sail (usually 1.5oz), with a foot length between 1.65 and 1.8 of the “J” (foretriangle length from base of mast to forestay), and a mid-girth (width halfway up the sail) of 90-95% of the foot length. Shaping was usually pretty much like a symmetrical spinnaker with the leech shortened so that the sail had a distinct luff and leech and was designed for the tack to be set at a fixed point on the bow. This got rid of the pole, and voila, the asymmetrical spinnaker.

The modern world of “asymmetrical” spinnaker design opens up a range of options. Sizing and shaping have become much more sophisticated. The basic concept is this; a spinnaker that is larger and has more shape is better at broad angles. A sail that is smaller and flatter is happier at close angles. Everything in between is possible. The mid-girth measurement is a key guide. A runner will have a mid-girth equal to or even greater than the foot. A moderate reacher maybe 90%. A code zero 60-70%. To support girth you must add depth or the sail will just flutter, so bigger equals deeper.

The other design issue is how the area is balanced between luff and leech, and specifically how much is placed forward of the straight line luff. Asymmetrical spinnakers for running have plenty of positive area forward of the straight luff which can rotate around to weather of the centerline when the sheet is eased and allow the sail to project from behind the mainsail. Optimize for closer reaching angles and this area is reduced. A Code Zero or Screacher (multihull version of the Zero) might have virtually none and be essentially straight or even hollow like a genoa.

There is also the simple issue of size. On a cutter with a big foretriangle (“J”), using 180% as a multiplier to determine foot length gets you a big sail. Maybe too big to handle conveniently. Conversely, on a boat with a small “J” (fractional rigs and modern mastheads) the bigger multiplier may be required to give the sail enough power to be worth it. Many cruising boats are adding bowsprits which open up options even further. With a sprit the only limitation on size might be the “aspect ratio,” or height versus width. Usually you don’t want to get too tall and skinny, or too wide and stubby. A balance is important to the sail’s performance.

Another consideration is boatspeed. The higher the speeds a boat is capable of, the further forward it pulls the apparent wind. Longer boats go faster. Some modern designs, especially on the cruising multihull side of the equation, are getting quite fast. This means that smaller, flatter designs will work well. On a typical moderate displacement design of medium size, the apparent wind angles are usually wider, so there is more need for bigger and fuller.

Finally, what does the rest of the inventory look like? If a big, overlapping genoa is the primary working headsail, then closer reaching angles up to a beam reach and even a little aft will be covered. If the primary working sail is a small, non-overlapping jib or self-tacker, the boat is going to need help as soon as the sheets are eased.


Choosing Your Sail

So, what flavor do we need? Well, there is no free lunch. It comes down to the apparent wind angle you want optimize for. Most cruising sailors want simplicity. One sail to do it all.

The middle road means apparent wind angles of 80-140. Moderate overall size, keeping in mind the size of the “J.” Girth in the range of 90-95%. Moderate depth and projection forward of the straight line luff. This is what, in many sailmakers vernacular, is called an “A3” all-purpose reaching sail.

Want to optimize for broad reaches and apparent wind angles of 110-155? Go bigger and consider a sprit. 180% foot length and 100% mid-girth with lots of shape and luff projection. Often described as an “A2.”

Fabric weight is boat size dependent, but one can assume that the typical cruising sailor will not be using the sail in more than 20 knots apparent so lighter weights makes sense for an A2 or A3. Lighter fabric will also help the sail fly in the target range and make the sail much easier to store and handle.

At the other end of the spectrum are the small, flat, genoa-like sails like the Code Zero. These are really big reaching genoas as much as anything else. Foot lengths will be shorter, 150-165% of the “J,” girths will be in the 55-70% range, shape will be flat, and luff projection minimal. Optimum apparent wind angles will be 50-120. Fabric weight will need to be stronger and more genoa like as well. These sails often require specialized composite materials. Nylon has too much stretch for the loads they see at close apparent wind angles.

The last thing to consider is the handling system. Handling systems come down to a choice between spinnaker socks and top down furling systems. Socks are simple and work well particularly on spinnakers with big girths. Top down furlers work but can struggle as the girths get bigger. They work well on smaller, flatter sails. Big width up high is still tough to get furled tightly and reliably. Top down furlers also need clearance between headstay and furled sail. A sprit really helps. A proper torsional rope is critical. Expense is higher.

So what would my dream, no budget inventory be for downwind sailing? I’d have a big A2 runner in a sock for broad angles. For reaching, a Code Zero on a top down furler. The Code Zero would take the place of a big overlapping genoa allowing me to use a small, easily handled and more versatile headsail for upwind work. Both would set on a sprit.   


Orignally published in Blue Water Sailing, June 2014

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