Tunnicliffe wins US women's keelboat championship

Anna Tunnicliffe (Plantation, Fla.) and her team of Molly O'Bryan Vandemoer (Redwood City, Calif.), Liz Bower (Rochester, N.Y.) and Debbie Capozzi (Bayport, N.Y.) have won US SAILING's 2009 Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship. The four women topped a 35-team fleet that included many impressive sailors such as Cory Sertl (Rochester, N.Y.), 1985/2001 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, and Carol Cronin (Jamestown, R.I.), a U.S. Olympian, who finished second and third, respectively. One of the world's most prestigious women's sailing regattas, the 13th biennial event was hosted by the Rochester Yacht Club on Lake Ontario, October 7-10, 2009.

“We're very excited,” said Tunnicliffe, Olympic Gold Medalist and a member of the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics, moments after returning the dock. “We wanted to win this event for a while and finally we've done it. We're super psyched!”

The first day of racing, on Oct. 7, was cancelled due to extreme weather conditions, with wind gusting above 45 knots and waves on Lake Ontario reported in the 6- to 11-foot range. Racing got started on day two with three races run by host RYC's Race Committee and Principal Race Officer Hank Stuart. With a 3-6 in the first two races and a win in the day's final race, Tunnicliffe captured the lead and never dropped below the top spot.

“We had three great races with very tricky conditions,” said Tunnicliffe, the 2008 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and a nominee for the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year.

For the crew, it was a test. “It was really stressful,” said Capozzi. “It was a day of being patient and kind of not doing anything that would mess it up, like not making (any) harsh movements. We tried to just chip away at leaders.”

Team Sunrise, skippered by Jennifer Provan (Toronto, Ontario, CAN), a two-time Canadian Olympian and two-time Canadian Sailor of the Year, with crew Laurin Derrick, Katie Abbott and Martha Henderson, collected a 6-3-3 score line for a slim two point margin out of first place after the first day of sailing. “We were really happy with the day,” said Henderson, who competed with Abbott and Provan in the 2008 Olympics in the Yngling class. “We came out of it with really consistent results. It was a crazy, really squirrely day. Someone said it's called 'Left Chester' here for the prevailing left-hand shifts, but there were some big righties that came in. The race committee did a great job.”

For the team from South Africa, skippered by Dominique Provoyeur, the first day of racing was a chance to apply what the team has learned from previous sailing experiences. “It was tricky sailing,” she said of the day. “It was puffy and gusty coming off the land. We had to keep our eyes on the pressure.” The conditions gave the team some trouble. “We didn't have it easy coming off the start in any race. We were over early in the second race and had to go back. But, we kept things positive and our eyes on the other boats. Our best race was probably the third race. We were mid-fleet up the first beat and had nice shift at top mark. That pulled us back in. I'm very pleased with our results. It was our first day racing as a team; our first time sailing together was two days before the start.”

Young sailor Kaitlin Storck (Huntington, N.Y.), who was named the 2008 Quantum Female College Sailor of the Year (Tufts '08), won the day's first race with crew Lyndsey Gibbons-Neff (Rosemont, Penn.), Mary Glackin (Newport, R.I.) and Emily Babbitt (Dartmouth, Mass.). Although it was local sailor Donna Faust (Webster, N.Y.) and her Team Instigator – Emily Augello, Joy Martin and Sarah DePeters – had the honor of leading the fleet to the first weather mark, they couldn't hold on and finished fourth in the race. That was her team's best finish of the regatta; they were 11th overall.

Top local skipper Cory Sertl, a two-time Olympian, won the second race after finishing 13th in the first. “It was a tough day,” she said. “There was a lot going on. You could look very good or very bad. We had to come back with not-so-great starts. In the second race we were able to do well and we won. We lead the race, although when Dominique was going into the second beat, if we had tacked she would have crossed us. So at that point we had to be patient and wait for our shift to come back. We were patient and stayed on the left so we were still ahead.”

As one of the proponents of bringing this regatta to Rochester – a first for the regatta – after Houston Yacht Club passed on hosting due to Hurricane Ike, Sertl had the combined pressure of chairing the regatta's developmental Next Step to Rolex Program. And if that wasn't enough, her daughter Katja competed with skipper Merritt Moran, along with Julia Wiesner, Martha Parker (Newport, R.I.) on bow, and the youngest crew member in the history of the regatta, 10-year-old Bridget Lawless. “I think Amy was checking them out,” she said of her crew Amy Moran, Merritt's mother. Rounding out the team were good friends Jane Mastrandrea and Annemarie Cook.

The third race of the day was won by Tunnicliffe, who said: “None of us have fleet raced for at least two months, and we are all a bit rusty in our fleet race tactics. Once we got a chance to get our heads around the tactics, we got locked in and dialed in, and we did really, really well.”

In a cruel twist of circumstances, the weather on day three was a complete 180 from the first day's severe storms. With less than five knots of wind on Lake Ontario, and even less-stable conditions forecast for the rest of the day, the RYC race committee cautiously sent the fleet out to the race course to have a look. But, after spending time reviewing the situation, the RC made the call to end the waiting at 12:00.

“There wasn't much to do out there other than waiting for something to happen,” said Provoyeur, who was in third place after one day of racing, about the wait on the water. “It didn't look like there would be much breeze. We were looking at the clouds moving in different directions, so there was wind high and wind low, which means the breeze was fighting. We just tried to stay focused and relaxed.”

Like Provoyeur, who represented South Africa at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the Yngling class, approximately half of the teams came from out of town. One team – Jennifer Warnock, Lugene Simeona, Catherine Greenlee and Bridget Shear -flew in from Hawaii, and seven teams traveled from outside the country.

The Dutch team, lead by skipper Marieke Poulie (Maarssen, N.A.), had a stressful situation on the penultimate morning with crew member Petronella de Jong, who suffered from vertigo. “She (Petronella) needs a lot of balance to be on the bow,” said Poulie. “We would have swapped her position in the jibing, but in the end we decided we didn't need to. When we left the dock we were hopeful to get in some racing, and we knew the forecast was light. We are disappointed we didn't get any sailing in, since we flew here from Europe.”

By the final day of racing, Oct. 10, the fleet was anxious to get out onto the Lake Ontario race course. With only one day of racing and three races completed, Tunnicliffe lead the 35-boat fleet with a narrow two-point margin over Jennifer Provan (Toronto, Ontario, CAN). The RYC RC took advantage of the day's spectacular conditions – 15-18 knots of wind – and held three races.

Tunnicliffe won the first two races and with an unbeatable points margin over the fleet, they decided not to participate in the final race. “It's one of those big decisions, do you race or do you not? We felt we wanted to stay out of everyone's way. We knew it was close for second (place), so thought we would stay out of the way and not influence anything.”

The final race, with 10-12 knots of wind, was won by Nicole Breault (Old Lyme, Conn.) with Amanda Taselaar (Scarsdale, N.Y.) in second and Carol Cronin (Jamestown, R.I.) in third. “This was our first time racing J/22s and I didn't expect to do that well,” said Taselaar. Amanda and her younger sister Claudia sailed with Elizabeth Kratzig (Miami, Fla.) and Chafee Emory (Newport, R.I.).

“It was so nice to have good breeze,” said Breault. “The wave action made the shifty-ness really about boat speed, and we finally started to click as a team. It felt really good and the day was great. We wish there were a couple more days of racing, but that's the way it goes.”

Sertl, who counts this regatta as her 11th (including two wins in 1985 and 2001), clearly relished having the regatta on her home waters at her home club. “It was really fun sailing and great to be out there,” said Sertl. Sertl's and Moran's daughters, Katja and Merritt, finished 13th overall. “They did just fine,” said a beaming Sertl. “They were really fast off the starting line and held it for a really long time. Their speed was awesome.”

For Cronin, who won the regatta in 1991 as crew for Pat Connerney (Middletown, R.I.), her overall third place finish was satisfying. According to Cronin, who marks this regatta as her ninth, her results were starting to look like a terrible trend. “I won this event in 1999,” she said. “I was second in 2001, third in '03, fourth in '05, and that was my goal, to break the curse.

“We had a great day,” continued Cronin of her 'Team Spidey,' Kim Couranz, Margaret Podich and Kate Fears. “We worked really well together, and I thought it was challenging sailing because the waves were ahead of the breeze.” Three teams finished the regatta tied on points – Cronin, Provoyeur and Provan. A count back system, detailed in the sailing instructions, was used to break the tie, putting Provoyeur into fourth and Provan in fifth.

“We can't really be too disappointed,” said Provoyeur, who has competed in this regatta four times. “The fourth is our best result yet, but obviously when you are so close you think what could have gone better. I woke up a little anxious for the final day of racing. There was breeze and we were in a position close to first. We tried to take the attitude that we want to go sailboat racing, but the wind was up and the swell was bigger than what we had had. We tried to start well and see what would happen, really one race at a time.” Provoyeur sailed with Louise Meek, Tiffany Baring-Gould and Saskia Butcher.

Rounding out the top 10 teams: Provan in fifth, Poulie (Maarssen, NED) in sixth, Taselaar in seventh, Breault in eighth, JoAnn Fisher (Annapolis, Md.) in ninth and Storck in 10th.

Until this regatta, Tunnicliffe had held the record as the youngest competitor, having set the mark as a 14-year-old skipper in 1997. At that time, she confided that one day she would win the regatta. “I always thought it would be cool to do really well one day,” she said. “This is my fifth time sailing the regatta, my fourth time skippering it. We were getting to the point that we need to get up there sometime soon. I'm happy we sailed really well together and did so well.”

Both Vandemoer and Capozzi also are members of the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics, although none of the women sail together in Olympic class boats. Tunnicliffe sails in the Laser Radial class, while Vandemoer teams up with Molly Carapiet in the 470 class and Capozzi match races with Jackie Schmitz and Emily Hill. Bower is the junior sailing coach at RYC and, along with Tunnicliffe, coached the Next Step to Rolex Program, a junior development program, the weekend before the regatta began.

Remarkably, this is Capozzi's fourth straight Rolex Women's title, having won with US Olympian Sally Barkow in the three previous editions (2003, 2005, 2007). She now ties for the record for most crew wins with Nancy Hood, Kris McClintock, and Karen Neri (all Newport, R.I.). All three were part of the winning teams of skipper Betsy Alison (Newport, R.I.), who has won five titles (1985, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997).

“I have a fabulous crew,” said Tunnicliffe of the three women, who competed as a team for the first time. “Deb, Molly and Liz sailed together a few times, and the chemistry has worked perfectly. It makes my life so easy on the race course and they make me look really good.”

US SAILING's 2011 Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship will be held at the Rochester Yacht Club.

“I am almost sure that I will be back,” said Provoyeur. “I always say this is the best regatta ever. South Africa will be back!”

At the gala Rolex Awards ceremony held at the RYC, Tunnicliffe and her team were awarded US SAILING's perpetual Bengt Julin Trophy and a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Stainless Steel & Gold Datejust presented by Jaimie Carlsen of Rolex Watch U.S.A.

Rolex Watch U.S.A. is the title sponsor with national sponsorship from Atlantis, Dry Creek Vineyard, Kattack and PredictWind. Other sponsors to date include: Shumway Marine, Home Care of Rochester, Trilliant Jewelers, Monroe County Sports Commission, Lake Beverage, West Marine, North Sails, Coca-Cola of Rochester, Jacob Stein Foods, Palmer Foods and Sam's Club. The Rolex IWKC is a US SAILING Championship and hosted by the Rochester Yacht Club.

Full results are online at http://championships.ussailing.org

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