By Kimball Livingston
“The first boat I can remember was a Vanguard 15 . . .
“When my dad bought it, he threw me right in there because he’s a big guy . . .
“Six feet, seven inches . . .
“And with his six-year-old daughter crewing, the mix was just about right.”
Meet Madeline Gill.
And I reckon her old man did OK. Madeline Gill is one of eight skippers racing this week in the US Women’s Match Race Championship, opening Friday at her second home, Oakcliff Sailing. Which is a story in itself. Which is part of Gill’s own story. Or as Oakcliff Sailing would have us know, “Before Oakcliff, there was no clear route from dinghy sailing and college racing to high-level keelboat racing. We train young, promising sailors in every aspect of the game, from seeking sponsorship to offshore navigation. Only at Oakcliff are those sailors taught the skills they need. Elsewhere, they’re just supposed to pick them up, over time.”
As Gill puts it, “The great thing about the Oakcliff program is that it doesn’t target people who know exactly what they want to do. Be a sailmaker, race around the world, run campaigns or whatever. It shows them things. All my life I had been sailing, but it hadn’t occurred to me that working in the industry was a possibility.”
Gill did her childhood sailing on the north shore of Long Island Sound. Later, at the University of Virginia, she was part of an effort that saw the sailing team go from nowheresville to qualifying for the Nationals. Of meeting Dawn Riley, Oakcliff’s executive director, she recalls, “Dawn has this thing she calls a mind map, to focus life goals and sailing goals.” With that focus and then that focus aligned, Gill’s next move after college was to go to Oakcliff, where she was introduced to the skills that are useful for skippering keelboats inshore and offshore. And she was beset with a fever for match racing.
“It’s been around a long time,” Gill says, “but match racing is up and coming in our time, right now. A lot of young people are getting involved, getting tour cards. When I was a junior sailor, the instructors at Cedar Point Yacht Club introduced me to match racing, but it wasn’t until my college years that I really got it, that this game is different from anything else in sailing. Similar, in parts, to team racing, yes, but not the same beast.” As the first woman to graduate from Oakcliff’s development program, Gill is aware that, among those getting seriously into the game of match racing, there are “not so many girls.”
And here she is.
“After graduating Oakcliff,” she says, “Jon Hammond and I proposed to the board that we create our own racing team and represent Oakcliff. As 212 Degree Racing — obviously, we chose the name because it’s the boiling point for water — we are responsible for setting our own course and finding our own sponsorship. To save money, when we travel, we recruit local crew. Fortunately for us, Oakcliff hosts the majority of match race events in the U.S. right now.”
Which brings us back to where we started, the US Women’s Match Race Championship for the Allegra Knapp Mertz Trophy. The competition will be sailed in Oakcliff’s Swedish Match 40s. Gill describes the boat as “a 40-foot keelboat that whips around like a dinghy. I think they’re my favorite boats. I grew up in dinghies, but steering a keelboat is just plain fun. These combine the best of all worlds. And there’s a lot of overhang behind the wheel station, so close crossings can be hairy. The Chicago Match Race Center has Tom 28s, which use tillers, and it’s probably a good thing that the two big match-race centers in the U.S. have boats that are very different from each other.”
Championship racing runs Friday through Sunday, with teams of six. With that many aboard, Gill observed, “The sixth person becomes officially a floater.”
Wisconsin’s Stephanie Roble, currently ranked #1 in the USA and #3 in the world, looks to be the woman to beat. Along with engraving on the Allegra Knapp Mertz Trophy, winning earns a slot at the open US Match Race Championship to be sailed October 3-5 on San Francisco Bay. The 2013 winner, Jennifer Wilson of Chicago, is not competing, but two-time past winner Liz Baylis will be crewing this time for Nicole Breault of San Francisco. Other past winners include names you know: Sally Barkow, Genny Tulloch, Anna Tunnicliffe-Funk, Cory Sertl, Debbie Capozzi, Betsy Allison . . .
The Molly Riley shot below depicts a men’s race, but for the record, this is the look of Swedish Match 40s. By Sunday, I would expect we’ll have plenty of images of women in these boats.
A DOSE OF REALITY
Madeline’s day job for the summer is coaching junior sailing at Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club (“near enough to Manhattan to be convenient, but a world away”), which goes full circle on her kid time at Cedar Point Yacht Club, where six-foot, seven-inch Harrison Gill is the 2014 vice commodore. Sponsorship is just not easy to come by, pending a few high-profile successes. Nor is certainty in life.
At the University of Virginia, Madeline studied environmental sciences—ecology, hydrology, geology, atmospherics—and she could be going back that direction some day. Meanwhile, that background places her smack-dab in line for the sort of conundrum so many of us face in one way or another. She relates, “Dawn set up a community collaboration session about how to tap wind resources for power. That led to discussions about offshore wind farms, and there I’m stuck. The ecologist in me wants to see us using what we have. The sailor in me doesn’t want to have to slalom through a minefield of wind turbines to race around Block Island.”
To quote a certain, late, great CBS anchorman, And that’s the way it is . . .
This article was syndicated from BLUE PLANET TIMES