* Erin Schanen at SAILING magazine recently had a chance to sit down and chat with two very passionate and enthusiastic sisters, Whitney and Alison Kent, who love to sail. Here’s their story.
“The J/30 is sailing on the final downwind leg of the last race of the season in the hotly contested womens series and although the boat is not in contention for the season championship because of missed races, its looking pretty good in this race. Its not easy sailing: a leftover lumpy sea and a dying breeze require a good deal of concentration and it would be great if the boat could make it to the finish without having to jibe.
The crew is in full race mode, constantly looking over the transom to see how the competition is doing. And then, a question pierces the concentration– Who is your chemistry teacher this year?
So goes life sailing on a boat sailed by teenage girls from 14 to 18 years old. Other quirks to expect: a constant supply of Tootsie pops, a cornucopia of snack foods and sodas that appears in the cockpit as the race committees finish horn quiets, and a fair amount of gossip. And one other thing: a whole lot of great sailing.
The leaders on the J/30 RAFIKI are a pair of sisters younger than most of the sails on their boat!! Whitney Kent, 18, is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Alison Kent, 17, is a high school senior. Both started sailing RAFIKI two years ago after their stepfather Eric Jones, a yacht broker, found the J/30 languishing in a boatyard.
Since then the pair have been the core of a crew of teenage friends on Monday nights, and a crew made up of other family members and good friends for other series, and even a crew of their own. This summer the two sailed the Queens Cup, a nighttime race across Lake Michigan, doublehanded, something their parents didnt allow until after a thorough quiz of what they would do in various scenarios, their mother Cheri Kent said.
The race was one of the fastest on record, with big seas and fluctuating winds, challenging even for the fully crewed boats.
We took turns sort of dozing in the cockpit while the other person steered, said Alison, affectionately known as Gator. Our arms were so tired. Whitney said she likes the doublehanded sailing challenge.
Its really fun when its just the two of us, she said. Its certainly harder, but I think its more rewarding. Its fun to try to do everything on the boat.
RAFIKI finished in ninth place in the doublehanded division, but the boat has its fair share of brag flags, all won with Whitney at the helm and Alison on the bow. On weekends and Wednesdays, Jones serves as tactician and their mother Cheri trims sails.
And the family sailing connection doesnt stop there. The girls get plenty of inspiration from their father, Tim Kent, who sailed in the 2002-2003 Around Alone race. His daughters said they have fond memories of meeting him at stopovers around the world.
When youre a parent and your kids are young, you try to do things to inspire them, Tim said. Thats one of the reasons I did the Around Alone: to prove to them they could do anything they wanted. Now the tables are turning and they are the inspiration.
Cheri, who sails most Monday nights with the girls and two years ago sailed the familys C&C 41 in the Queens Cup with just her daughters, said sailing is second nature to Whitney and Alison. Family photos from the time the two were babies bring back fond memories of bathing them in buckets on the foredeck and matching Barbie life jackets.
I always thought we might lose them to soccer at some point, but the best thing ever is that we all still sail together as a family, she said. Watching their progression as sailors has been super cool and as a mom Im very proud.
One of the benefits of growing up in a sailing family is that the friends the girls have grown up with, both on land and water, are now fellow sailors. Among the Monday night crew on RAFIKI are sisters Kate, 17, and Elizabeth Hayes, 14. A treasured photograph of the four girls taken more than a decade ago at a yacht club party is a reminder of the bond their shared love of the sport has fostered.” You can read the rest of Erin’s story about the sisters at SAILING magazine website here.