Twenty-four teams from the United States and Mexico made their way to San Diego for two days of competitive sailing in the 2022 Women’s Winter Invitational. Hosted by San Diego Yacht Club, the J/22 regatta invites yacht clubs from all over the country to apply to send their best all-women teams for a series of racing in La Playa Cove. This year, over 80 talented women raced in a total of 58 races, but only one team took home the bragging rights for first overall. Coming from right down the I-5, California YC sent team members familiar to the San Diego racing scene, skipper Simone Staff and crew Beka Schiff and Melia Grasska.
“Our team was incredibly consistent this weekend. We wanted to try and have an average of two or less throughout the entire event, and we succeeded. Besides staying consistent, our goal was to keep our head out of the boat during each race, as you really need to connect the puffs in the La Playa venue and reset when we did poorly. During the finals, we had two terrible starts, but by having that mindset, we were able to stay in the zone and work our way back through the fleet,” Staff says.
“The all-women aspect is incredible because even though each team is here to win, every single woman there is so supportive of every other team. These women push you to your limits as a sailor, while still being able to hit the dock and enjoy a nice, cold mimosa and a few laughs,” she says.
As the defending champions, Cal YC has secured its invitation for the 2023 running of the regatta.
The Women’s Winter Invitational was started five years ago by J/22 Fleet Manager Kris Zillmann with the hope to establish a prominent regatta for women sailors. Since then, the WWI has seen significant growth with teams traveling from as far as New York, Hawaii and Mexico.
“There are a lot of female sailors out there who need avenues to gain experience and make connections. I hope to see all the women who competed, and in the sailing world, help support events like this by attending and even hosting some of their own. It feels really good to see them all come together and have their way with our water,” Zillmann says.
The regatta format is a round-robin-type event, with 24 teams racing on the 12-boat fleet of J/22s. Teams rotate boats after each of their races. Each race has a four-team fleet start, with the object being to race as many races in Stage 1 as time and wind allow for the first day and the first half of day two of the regatta. A race lasts about 10 minutes per race, the teams round giant inflatable flamingos which stand-in for “normal” windward and leeward race marks.
At a specified time on day two, the top 12 teams are split into the Gold (1st-6th) and Silver fleets (7th-12th place). Stage 1 finalists carry over a race win total bonus into the final to acknowledge their performance overall of the Stage 1 races. Each fleet sails up to three races to complete the regatta.
It was summer-like weather in San Diego for the regatta. Santa Ana winds brought the warm weather without compromising the sea breeze. Racers saw 9-12 knots of wind for most of the races, making for great sailing and great spectating right off the SDYC docks. For teams spending their winters in northern states, the opportunity to sail in San Diego in February is only one of the perks of the regatta. And for others, the challenges of mild winds in Southern California can be an experience on its own.
Eliane Fierro, the skipper for the Acapulco YC team in Mexico, applauded the camaraderie and competition of the WWI. Fierro has sailed at the Olympic level and brings experience to the course. “This event invigorates my spirit at every level! Connecting with old friends, getting to know new friends, meeting the young talent that beat us…it ignites my desire to train a team and come better prepared to race,” Fierro says.
Finishing the regatta in second was New York YC Skipper Emily Maxwell. In third was Newport Harbor Yacht Club’s Carolyn Smith.
“The mood onshore is casual and light-hearted, but you can see people get serious as soon as they step into the boat and the intensity only escalates until the last boat crosses the line,” Zillmann says. “Unless you own your own boat and can manage to campaign it, the opportunities to keep excelling in the sport are too few for too many, so every regatta is approached as a valuable opportunity to make the most out of your team’s time and enjoy it. Having watched some really great racing this past weekend, I hope that more women come to sail and leave to live life more intensely.”