RACE 9 16ft Skiff Nationals – A Victory Lap for Sarah Lee
History-making 16ft skipper Sarah Lee hopes her breakthrough win at the 2024 Australian Skiff Championship will pave the way for an avalanche of female sailors to make their mark on the sport well into the future.
Lee and crew Keagan York and Kurt Warner enjoyed more than a celebratory lap around the course in Saturday’s ninth and final heat of the nationals, piloting Southerly to a third win to put an exclamation point on a near flawless campaign.
Before a big spectator fleet, Lee beat home closest rival and regatta runner-up, Manly’s Imagine Signage (Nathan Wilmot, Brett Davis Jack Hildebrand), with Red Pumps (Tyler Dransfield) third. Belmont’s Skelcon (Henry Makin, Grant Makin, Jordan Makin) finished fifth to claim third overall.
With two drops in place, Southerly’s regatta scoresheet read an impressive: 1, 5, 3, 1, 2, 2, 1. Seven different boats won heats throughout the week, with Southerly heading into the last day with an unassailable lead. It’s the first time in the event’s 102 years a female skipper has lifted the shield and the first time in more than a quarter of a century a St George boat has taken top prize, adding to the celebrations at the host club.
The modest Lee is quick to reject any suggestions she is a pioneer but acknowledged it is a moment in sailing history. She wants to see more women enter the sport, either as skippers or members of mixed gender teams.
“I hope my win inspires young girls to consider going into whatever class of boat they enjoy sailing,” she said. “The number of girls in the 16 class has been increasing and it’s great to see people being more welcoming of females in the class. It’s come a long way since I started in skiffs, that’s for sure. “I think there are plenty of options open for girls to come on as skippers or as part of a crew. There’s so many girls coming through 13s who will be ready for 16s soon enough.”
Southerly is not quite an overnight success but they’re not far off it. Manly-based Lee and the St George duo of York and Warner only came together in November but jelled immediately. They went into the Australian Championships chasing top five placings in each heat and blitzed that goal.
Lee said: “It hasn’t quite hit me that we’ve won. It’s been a big week and I haven’t quite relaxed yet. “It was a tough regatta and there was no race in which we lead start to finish. “We were always fighting to get to the front. I’ll be able to fully comprehend the win when I’m holding the trophy.”
As always, Lee was quick to credit York and Warner for not only their on-water nous but their work on dry land. “Every boat needs a Kurt. He deserves a special mention because he was the one who put the whole thing together,” she said. “He organised the boat, made repairs, made spinnakers, and gave me this opportunity. “He’s so organised and passionate. Keagan is super talented and we were lucky to convince him to commit. He’s got a lot of other sailing that he does. “Both guys are pretty calm on the boat. There was no negative energy between us and we encouraged each other along the way.”
Australian Skiff Association president Nathan Edwards, who competed in the 16s regatta aboard Eric’s Storage, said: “The quality of the fleet is just astounding. For Sarah, Keagan and Kurt to be so consistent in a variety of conditions has been so impressive. “When Sarah started in the skiff fleet, she would have been one of only a few women sailing so to see it progress to where it is, is fantastic. “The culture of the fleet has changed and it’s much more open to women and I hope to see more female skippers and mixed genders crews in the future.”
Words Adam Lucius
IMAGES | SailMedia