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HomeNewsArchivesLIGHT AIR GREETS 15TH WOMEN'S LASER REGATTA

LIGHT AIR GREETS 15TH WOMEN'S LASER REGATTA

Jan. 4, 2002 – The 2001 Veuve Clicquot Women's Laser Regatta is under way. Yes, it's now 2002, but the event, originally scheduled for last Nov. 16-18, was pushed up to this weekend because of a need for restructuring.
A total of 26 competitors are taking part in the regatta, sailing in four classes, director Verian Aguilar said Friday afternoon as the sailors in the singles radial rig class were returning from their first three races, the only competition of the day. Three classes had been scheduled to race, but due to light air, the other two never made it out.
Ten women competed in the singles radial class, and about the same number are registered for the other classes, Aguilar said. "Some people are racing in as many as three classes," she added.
The radial rig is "a little smaller" than the standard rig, she explained. The other classes are singles standard rig, doubles with helmsperson age 16 or younger, and doubles with helmsperson older than 16 (for doubles, the crew can be of any age).
Because of Friday's light winds, "We'll be out all day on the water tomorrow [Saturday] from 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m.," Aguilar said. "We want to try to get in as many races as possible. We've got to have six races to make a regatta for each class, and we're hoping to get them nine, so they get one throw-out."
The regatta that had been planned for November was called off the weekend before the event because only four entries had been received, although previous regattas had typically attracted some 60 sailors from throughout the Caribbean, the U.S. mainland and beyond.
The lack of registrants was attributed to several areas of concern — a restriction that competitors had to be at least 18 years of age, whereas the event had always previously been open to younger girls; skill-level gold, silver and bronze racing classes; and a registration fee considered too high. There also had been plans to bring in a stateside band to entertain and to make the regatta a fundraiser for a women's support group.
With Aguilar newly installed as regatta director, the rules and regulations were revised in favor of simplifying and encouraging participation, especially of young people. The regatta ended up drawing a relatively small field, all from St. Thomas and St. John — counting college students home on holiday break. But the level of enthusiasm is high, Aguilar said, "especially the juniors. It's great to see them out there." She noted that some women who wanted to take part had a conflict because of a golf tournament this weekend.
One thing that remained unchanged from the earlier plans was the participation of Betsy Allison, five-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, former Women's Laser World champion, top-ranked match racer, sailing instructor and consultant with the National Women's Sailing Association. Allison "has been here the last few years," Aguilar said, providing coaching and critiquing as a part of the regatta program.
Allison conducted a sailing clinic on the water Friday morning and gave a talk on rules and regs just before the skippers' meeting in the afternoon, Aguilar said. While racing is under way, she observes from the changeover boat, the Spirit of St. Christopher catamaran.
The "changeover boat" is a vessel that allows crew to get off and on the racing boats without having to return to shore. With the same Lasers used for all classes, those who have finished a race come aboard the changeover boat, while other crew who have been on the larger boat replace them in the small craft for the next class of racing. "Betsy is in the perfect position to offer critiques to those who've just come back from racing," Aguilar said.
The Women's Laser Regatta was begun in 1986 as a one-day Mother's Day competition to promote women's sailing in the Caribbean. It's been held every year since except for 1995, in the aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn, and, now, technically speaking, for 2001. Because the spring date was uncomfortably close to the traditional Easter weekend Rolex Regatta, the event was moved to September. Winds of September, however, have been known to be outrageous, so November was tried.
Again, though, Aguilar said, "winds in November are not predictable, and it's too close to Thanksgiving." She thinks it's more than possible that the event will become a January fixture. "A lot of people are still on vacation, and a lot of college kids are home," she said. "We're really catering to that."
From its inception, the regatta has emphasized learning as well as competing. Organizers Nance Frank and Dee Spear early on enlisted Susan Warren-Ervin of Bellows International and other sailing-minded women to race and teach youngsters the joys of skimming across the water.
Nowadays, St. Thomas's Paul Stoeken, who competed in boardsailing at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, and other expert sailors give lessons to the girls, many of whom come from St. John's Kids And The Sea program. According to Evelyn Nye, a former regatta director and longtime supporter, the women's event is "a very popular regatta among families because there's an unparalleled camaraderie. After all, you're cheering on younger people, and people like to do that. The women support each other and cheer each other on, and it brings women into sailing. And men really get behind it."
When Veuve Clicquot champagne, distributed locally by Bellows International, came onboard as the regatta sponsor a decade ago, there was a further identification with women's solidarity. Nicole Ponsardin, born in France in 1777, married Francois Clicquot. Upon her husband's death, the 27-year-old Veuve (French for "widow") Clicquot took over his wine business and ran it with great success. Because of that, Nye said, "We sort of feel a connection — women and achievement."
Over the years, the regatta not only attracted participants from Antigua, Sint Maarten, Puerto Rico, North and South America and Europe; it inspired the establishment of women's Laser competitions in Antigua and Sint Maarten, leading to the creation of a Caribbean Women's Laser Circuit.
While this year's St. Thomas event is scaled down from previous years, it's staying true to the objectives of the founders: motivating youngsters to develop competitive sailing skills and encouraging experienced sailors to serve as their mentors as well as their role models.
The social aspects of the regatta include a dinner Friday night at the St. Thomas Yacht Club, a beach barbecue Saturday night with music by Lightnin' Phil and the Low-Pressure System, and an awards brunch on Sunday at the yacht club.
The regatta will end by noon Sunday, Aguilar said, with the brunch to follow. To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the regatta, "we'll be honoring some of our founders — Dee Spear, especially," she said.
For more information, visit the Women's Laser Regatta page on the St. Thomas Yacht Club web site.

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Jan. 4, 2002 - The 2001 Veuve Clicquot Women's Laser Regatta is under way. Yes, it's now 2002, but the event, originally scheduled for last Nov. 16-18, was pushed up to this weekend because of a need for restructuring.
A total of 26 competitors are taking part in the regatta, sailing in four classes, director Verian Aguilar said Friday afternoon as the sailors in the singles radial rig class were returning from their first three races, the only competition of the day. Three classes had been scheduled to race, but due to light air, the other two never made it out.
Ten women competed in the singles radial class, and about the same number are registered for the other classes, Aguilar said. "Some people are racing in as many as three classes," she added.
The radial rig is "a little smaller" than the standard rig, she explained. The other classes are singles standard rig, doubles with helmsperson age 16 or younger, and doubles with helmsperson older than 16 (for doubles, the crew can be of any age).
Because of Friday's light winds, "We'll be out all day on the water tomorrow [Saturday] from 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m.," Aguilar said. "We want to try to get in as many races as possible. We've got to have six races to make a regatta for each class, and we're hoping to get them nine, so they get one throw-out."
The regatta that had been planned for November was called off the weekend before the event because only four entries had been received, although previous regattas had typically attracted some 60 sailors from throughout the Caribbean, the U.S. mainland and beyond.
The lack of registrants was attributed to several areas of concern -- a restriction that competitors had to be at least 18 years of age, whereas the event had always previously been open to younger girls; skill-level gold, silver and bronze racing classes; and a registration fee considered too high. There also had been plans to bring in a stateside band to entertain and to make the regatta a fundraiser for a women's support group.
With Aguilar newly installed as regatta director, the rules and regulations were revised in favor of simplifying and encouraging participation, especially of young people. The regatta ended up drawing a relatively small field, all from St. Thomas and St. John -- counting college students home on holiday break. But the level of enthusiasm is high, Aguilar said, "especially the juniors. It's great to see them out there." She noted that some women who wanted to take part had a conflict because of a golf tournament this weekend.
One thing that remained unchanged from the earlier plans was the participation of Betsy Allison, five-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, former Women's Laser World champion, top-ranked match racer, sailing instructor and consultant with the National Women's Sailing Association. Allison "has been here the last few years," Aguilar said, providing coaching and critiquing as a part of the regatta program.
Allison conducted a sailing clinic on the water Friday morning and gave a talk on rules and regs just before the skippers' meeting in the afternoon, Aguilar said. While racing is under way, she observes from the changeover boat, the Spirit of St. Christopher catamaran.
The "changeover boat" is a vessel that allows crew to get off and on the racing boats without having to return to shore. With the same Lasers used for all classes, those who have finished a race come aboard the changeover boat, while other crew who have been on the larger boat replace them in the small craft for the next class of racing. "Betsy is in the perfect position to offer critiques to those who've just come back from racing," Aguilar said.
The Women's Laser Regatta was begun in 1986 as a one-day Mother's Day competition to promote women's sailing in the Caribbean. It's been held every year since except for 1995, in the aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn, and, now, technically speaking, for 2001. Because the spring date was uncomfortably close to the traditional Easter weekend Rolex Regatta, the event was moved to September. Winds of September, however, have been known to be outrageous, so November was tried.
Again, though, Aguilar said, "winds in November are not predictable, and it's too close to Thanksgiving." She thinks it's more than possible that the event will become a January fixture. "A lot of people are still on vacation, and a lot of college kids are home," she said. "We're really catering to that."
From its inception, the regatta has emphasized learning as well as competing. Organizers Nance Frank and Dee Spear early on enlisted Susan Warren-Ervin of Bellows International and other sailing-minded women to race and teach youngsters the joys of skimming across the water.
Nowadays, St. Thomas's Paul Stoeken, who competed in boardsailing at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, and other expert sailors give lessons to the girls, many of whom come from St. John's Kids And The Sea program. According to Evelyn Nye, a former regatta director and longtime supporter, the women's event is "a very popular regatta among families because there's an unparalleled camaraderie. After all, you're cheering on younger people, and people like to do that. The women support each other and cheer each other on, and it brings women into sailing. And men really get behind it."
When Veuve Clicquot champagne, distributed locally by Bellows International, came onboard as the regatta sponsor a decade ago, there was a further identification with women's solidarity. Nicole Ponsardin, born in France in 1777, married Francois Clicquot. Upon her husband's death, the 27-year-old Veuve (French for "widow") Clicquot took over his wine business and ran it with great success. Because of that, Nye said, "We sort of feel a connection -- women and achievement."
Over the years, the regatta not only attracted participants from Antigua, Sint Maarten, Puerto Rico, North and South America and Europe; it inspired the establishment of women's Laser competitions in Antigua and Sint Maarten, leading to the creation of a Caribbean Women's Laser Circuit.
While this year's St. Thomas event is scaled down from previous years, it's staying true to the objectives of the founders: motivating youngsters to develop competitive sailing skills and encouraging experienced sailors to serve as their mentors as well as their role models.
The social aspects of the regatta include a dinner Friday night at the St. Thomas Yacht Club, a beach barbecue Saturday night with music by Lightnin' Phil and the Low-Pressure System, and an awards brunch on Sunday at the yacht club.
The regatta will end by noon Sunday, Aguilar said, with the brunch to follow. To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the regatta, "we'll be honoring some of our founders -- Dee Spear, especially," she said.
For more information, visit the Women's Laser Regatta page on the St. Thomas Yacht Club web site.