Not only is Western women’s sailing team excelling in a predominantly male-dominated sport, but they’ve also succeeded in taking Western to the semifinals for a national championship, said Rachael McCrady, a 20-year-old junior on Western’s sailing team.
Western’s sailing team comprises 50 members who pay dues, and 22 consistent sailors. Less than half of them are women.
“It’s a big deal to be a woman sailor, because you’re not taken seriously, generally,” she said. “There’s a different sense of pride in being on a women’s team.”
Five of Western’s sailors from the women’s team will compete in a regatta against teams from around the nation in the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association’s College Sailing Women’s National Championship’s semifinals in St. Petersburg, Fla., on May 21. If the women’s team wins they will compete in the championship on May 22.
McCrady began sailing as a college freshman for the social experience, but found that she had a talent for sailing, she said. She serves the women’s team as a crew, making sure the boat is flat and working the lines and the jib sheet. Senior Angela Gossom, 22, is McCrady’s skipper, whose job is to steer the boat and control the main sheet. The two will sail a 13.3-foot boat, known as a Flying Junior, at the semifinals.
Last year, the women’s team made it straight to the finals in Austin, Texas, after they beat the University of Washington’s team. This time they lost to Washington, leaving them to qualify in the semifinals. This is the first time any of the sailors have been to the St. Petersburg venue.
The team’s weaknesses vary person-by-person, McCrady said. Overall, the team is less experienced than last year, she said.
Kyle Eaton, the team’s coach for the event, said the team’s skippers are relatively new to their roles, making them less experienced than others. Because the sailing team is a student-run club and is mostly self-funded, it’s unusual for them to even have a coach.
Eaton is also a Portland, Ore., high school sailing coach and alumni president of the North West Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association. He said he already had plans to attend the Florida event when the women’s team asked him to coach.
Getting an all-women’s team together can be difficult because so many women work as crew, and because most skippers are men, McCrady said.
“If a girl does go into the skipper role we try to make it very encouraging,” said freshman Jazzy Gerraty, 19, another team member going to the St. Petersburg regatta.
Even though the team didn’t qualify straight into the nationals this year, the mental stamina of the women’s team is stronger than last year’s, McCrady said. Being on the team requires constant situational awareness as well as knowledge of the water, she said.
“A lot of sports require you to be as strong as you can, or as fast as you can and that’s it,” Gossom said. “Sailing is a combination of both. You need to have good cardio, but you also need to be able to think.”
Jeff Davis, Western’s Lakewood facility manager, said the team has put in their time on the water perfecting their boat handling. The tournament is a good opportunity for the team to compete against big-name schools with full-time coaches and more funding, he said. Davis acts is an unofficial part time coach for Western’s sailing team.
Eighteen teams will compete in the semifinals and nine will advance to the finals. There are already nine teams awaiting the semifinal winners for the championship, including Washington.
The event is hosted by University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s Eckerd College. The finals regatta can be watched live at Collegesailing.org on May 21.