How a regatta in a corner of New Zealand is empowering women

The Waikawa Women’s Regatta, what a bloody treat.

To be fair, it was always going to be a great weekend. The ladies (plus Möulet – the owner of “Extreme”) and I had some brilliant accommodation booked, some great boats to sail on, and a line-up of humans that would have been grinning ear to ear whether we sailed in sunshine or through a thunderstorm.

The idea all came about 18 months ago when Juliet and Aaron Abbott from Oddies Marine came out for a sail on “Extreme” to watch the America’s Cup racing.

They own “Oldsmobile”, another Young Rocket 30 down in Waikawa.

“Are they our people?” Möulet asked me at the time and I assured him yes, without ever imagining the bromance that was about to unfold.

(For those in need of it, Bromance is the combination of two words, “brother” and “romance”. It describes the unique male bonding found between “brothers from another mother” – Urban Dictionary)

Over a fair few rums and Heinekens, a plan unfolded to all head south for the regatta (just slightly delayed due to last year’s unfortunate Auckland lockdown). Before we knew it, we were bundled on an early morning flight from Auckland to Blenheim and we were greeted by our sheepish cab driver holding up our welcome sign.

Our poor driver didn’t know what to think…!

From here the weekend was a whirlwind! We dropped our bags at our hillside mansion and headed straight for the boats to set up and get familiarised.

Thankfully when I oversold the Waikawa dream, Matt Michel came to the rescue lending Sarah Wiblin and her team of ladies his newly purchased boat “Astruso” a Thompson 870, giving us more room to spread out for the weekend and the opportunity for some tight racing between our two yachts.

Oldsmobile and Astruso – Waikawa Womens Regatta. Karmyn Ingram Photography

The weekend was everything the ladies needed, with two days of racing and a great balance of around the cans and harbour courses that featured the best of Waikawa, sunshine, dolphins, and at least one race up and around the harbour where we seemingly stayed on the wind around the whole course – the joys of sailing the ever so shifty winds of the Queen Charlotte Sounds!

It was a chance for a bundle of our upcoming lady sailors who often only get intermittent opportunities on winches and are almost never allowed near the main sheet, to dig in and do the full race.

For the lady skippers who, like our very own Suellen, are SO capable of helming, yet moments after our first start (which was an incredible run down the line and perfectly timed cross of the start might I add) she whispered to me  and said… “that was my first ever start helming a keelboat.”

After a glambour start we were also first round the top mark ahead of the fast boats!

Now fellas it’s not really your fault a lot of the time – did you know that studies have proven time and time again that in workplaces a woman will statistically understate her capabilities while a male of equal skill level will generally overstate them? It’s inherently in our nature and I see it constantly around the sailing community.

We would rather undersell our abilities and overachieve when we are performing, paired with the fact that we regularly question our skill levels and often doubt ourselves. When questioned, I tend to tell skippers I’m capable of pulling some ropes and not falling off the boat. So, ladies, we are often shooting ourselves in the foot from the get-go.

However, this was a weekend for us to put all that aside, with some practice sails and four solid races over the weekend it really was incredible to see the change in confidence levels of the ladies on the water.

We know how to hoist the big sails too. Waikawa Womens Regatta. Karmyn Ingram Photography

When given room to grow and own their roles without fear of not performing to expectations, or getting yelled at or ridiculed, they all stepped up. Our more skilled ladies and our token men on board were able to help them refine their skills and be more confident in what they are doing, so that hopefully the next time someone asks them if they can trim, helm or do bow, they can take a deep breath and say with some confidence, “yes, I absolutely can.”

While I’m still not a fan of segregated sailing, I must admit we most certainly need events like the Waikawa Women’s Regatta. (Although with an allowance for 30% of the boat to be male, it isn’t far off mixed sailing…). But for now, it allows our ladies a priceless opportunity to step up, refine their skills and grow in our community.

Finishing the weekend with our two teams taking out second “Oldsmobile” and fourth place “Astruso” in Division 1, we most certainly have unfinished business in Waikawa.

With smiles all around, a bit of wind burn, and a hope that we didn’t smell too awful for the plane ride home, we hastily jumped in our shuttle bus back to the airport, promising that next year we will be back, and if we can rally the boats for it, in even more impressive numbers.

Making ourselves comfortable at the airport!

A massive thanks to the Waikawa Boating Club for their wonderful hospitality, to the volunteers on the water for running great races, and to our boat owners, a sincere thanks from the bottom of our hearts. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to shine in the sailing world.