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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…

USA 2918 Wait For It... - The ladies hoist the spinnaker at the 2015 J/24 Midwinters at Davis Island Yacht Club in Tampa, FL. This was the team’s debut regatta.

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.”

The Sea Bags Women’s sailing team - First place at the 2015 ONE Regatta in Marblehead, MA for PHRF Class 6.
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…

The Sea Bags Women’s Sailing Team sails downwind at the 2015 ONE Regatta on Saturday August 29th. The team had three bullets for the day of the four races sailed. Photo courtesy of Andrew Sims.

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