Top female sailors from Bermuda, Sweden, the USA, Denmark and the Netherlands have been training diligently for this year’s debut of the Bermuda International Women’s Match Racing Championship.
Running concurrently with the Bermuda Gold Cup's qualifying round on October 12-15, the women's series hosts eight skipper and teams who - true to the Bermuda Gold Cup match racing tradition - will test their tactical skills against each other in one-on-one round robin competition. The Bermuda Gold Cup women's event will decide who takes what portion of a $15,000 prize pot and secures two berths, reserved for the winner and runner-up, in the headlining Bermuda Gold Cup Championship Rounds (October 16-20) where another $65,000 in prize money will be up for grabs.
This is the first time at a women's sailing event in North America that prize money has been offered to competitors. The amount of $15,000 may seem small compared to other women's sports, like tennis or golf, but women sailors see it as a big step. "It certainly makes the event more attractive,"
says Liz Baylis of San Rafael, Calif., the reigning ISAF Women's World Match Racing Champion. "Not all professional athletes get huge endorsement deals and make large incomes. For a sailing regatta to attract major corporate support and offer this kind of prize money tells the rest of the corporate community that women's sailing is a good investment."
Baylis, ranked third in the world in the ISAF Women's World Match Race Rankings, will have her work cut out. She will compete head-to-head with both the current first and second world-ranked skippers: Marie Bjorling (SWE) and Lotte Meldgaard Pedersen (DEN), respectively. Also one to be watched, Bermuda's own top match racer Paula Lewin will return to her home waters, where she has competed before in the Bermuda Gold Cup among the unseeded skippers, leading her all-woman team through to the qualifying rounds in 1995. Pedersen, Lewin and Klaartje Zuiderbaan, another skipper competing from the Netherlands, are highly recognizable names both from match racing circles and the Olympic arena. Within the past two years, Pedersen and Lewin have undertaken an Yngling campaign in hopes of representing her country in the 2004 Games in Athens.
Zuiderbaan recently completed the Volvo Ocean Race aboard Amer Sports Too, taking a 16-month break from match racing. This is her first North American event and with a new team and no sponsors, the prize money certainly appeals to the skipper, once ranked third in the world. "Basically, we're starting over as a new team and will use any prize money we earn toward our travel costs. Each of us has paid our own way, so the better we do this weekend, the more prize money we potentially earn,"
But it's not all about big names and rankings. Like at the Bermuda Gold Cup main event, up-and-coming match racing skippers are welcome to test the waters at the women's event. This year, USA's Sandy Hayes (Scituate, Mass.), Elizabeth Kratzig (Corpus Christi, Texas) and Deborah Willits (Houston, Texas), all accomplished fleet racing sailors who are cutting their teeth on match racing, have been tapped as the best bets for giving the established stars a run for their money.
Liz Baylis (USA)
Marie Bjorling (SWE)
Sandy Hayes (USA)
Elizabeth Kratzig (USA)
Paula Lewin (BER)
Lotte Meldgaard Pedersen (DEN)
Deborah Willits (USA)
Klaartje Zuiderbaan (NED)