This may be the year. Racing J/24s in choppy seas on Santa Monica Bay, skipper Susan Taylor led her team of Barbara Vantighem, Kellie Fennessy and Michelle Parker Andray to first place in the yearly Area J Women’s Championship, the second-to-last rung in the quest for the Adams Cup — given to the best U.S. women’s team.
Their winning score of 1-1-3 cinched this ladder event Saturday, August 5th, and advances the team to the U.S. Women’s Sailing Championships Wednesday through Sunday, September 13th to 17th, at the Edgewater Yacht Club in Cleveland, Ohio.
The big award is the Mrs. Charles Francis Adams Cup, and competition is thus known as racing for “The Adams.”
US Sailing divides the U.S. into 11 geographical areas. One winner from each area competes in the finals. Area J includes Arizona, Nevada and Southern California from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border.
This is the second time Taylor, representing California Yacht Club, has taken a team to the national finals and the third time competing in the Area J event.
After winning the semifinals, also in J/24s, at Dana Point Yacht Club in 2002, the team finished sixth at the nationals held in San Francisco.
In the 2003, semifinals, Taylor’s team was second, racing in 17-foot Thistles.
Here on the bay in this year’s Area J Adams, another California Yacht Club team finished second, when Joan Chandler skippered her team of Sue Service, Kelly Cantley and Gwen Abel to a score of 2-2-2.
In the last two races, they were only 40 and 46 seconds out of first.
The San Diego team, from Southwestern Yacht Club, of Colleen Cooke, Megan Pluth, Patricia Bazan and Julie Ardagna was 3-3-1 for third place overall.
Taylor has been moving up dramatically. Friends say she is indefatigable in pursuit of improving her and her team’s racing skills.
Besides campaigning the family J/24 Take Five, Taylor, sailing with her husband Werner Horn, regularly wins in the weekly Capri 14.2 series.
In 2005, Taylor and Horn placed second in the J/24 San Diego NOOD regatta.
She earned worldwide attention at the 2006 J-24 World Championship in Melbourne, Australia when she became the first woman to win a race.
Her husband was sailing with her on that one.
Conditions were reported as challenging, with winds ranging from five to 30-plus knots (nautical miles per hour).
Their boat was aptly named Nine to Five. In contrast to the many full-time sailors, they have regular jobs.
Spinnaker and jib trimmer Kellie Fennessy says Taylor credits recent coaching from 470 Women’s Olympic Silver Medalist Pease Glaser for their progress.
Fennessy said Glaser was particularly instrumental “with our pre-race planning and setting up for the start.”
Coming from high-wind San Francisco sailing, Fennessy didn’t think the wind Saturday at 15 knots, with higher gusts, was that daunting.
Taylor’s team was first around the windward mark in the first two races.
By the second race, white caps blanketed the ocean, signaling fresh breezes.
The local Marina del Rey sailors now assessed the wind around 17 to 18 knots, with bigger waves emerging out at the windward mark.
A few big rollers caused the race committee to grab for the nearest handhold and wish they were back on land.
Before the third race, in the logistics of transferring from one boat to another, Taylor stayed behind to sail the boat she was in solo until the next team arrived.
By the time she was motored to her new boat, the race sequence was beginning, leaving the team no time to check out the boat.
Seconds after the start, one jib block blew off, necessitating a quick tack to allow it to be fixed, then tacking back.
Further up the course, the other jib block came off. Again they were able to reposition it. They were in third place.
A swift jibe (in this case a left turn with the wind behind) at the windward mark started to move them up.
They caught up at the leeward turning mark, had a spinnaker snafu, and were pushed back into third.
All of the four-man teams were way under the normal 880-pound class rules weight limit —and usually with five-man crew.
US Sailing (which uses US SAILING with all upper-case letters in its written material) is the national governing body for U.S. sailors and its authority comes from the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of Congress in 1978.
The association is more than 100 years old.