Steering the Course Hosts 10 Days of Women’s Sailing and Racing

Hong Kong’s Inaugural All-Women Regatta

Images by Panda Man / Takumi Images

The inaugural global women’s sailing festival “Steering the Course”, a 10-day series of activities on and off the water, was a resounding success in Hong Kong and made history by being the country’s first all-women sailing festival.

Steering the Course, supported by the IOC Development Fund (Olympic Solidarity Commission), was established to introduce women and girls across the globe to sailing, as well as to encourage those already engaged toward further developing their skills. This inaugural year the event took place in the Northern Hemisphere from 21 to 30 May 2021 and it will take place in the Southern Hemisphere from 1 to 10 October 2021.

Seasoned sailor, Juliet Ashton, galvanised and spearheaded the programme of events in Hong Kong, supported by a group of enthusiastic volunteers from Heve Haven Yacht Club,  Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and Aberdeen Boat Club. HHYC, with Sailability Hong Kong, operated the programme of activities, with The Capital Company and Beaufort Marine sponsoring the festival. The initiative was supported by the Hong Kong Sailing Federation, who attended the opening ceremony along with other dignitaries.


Women on Water

During the festival week, 353 women participated in competitive racing, a fitness-for-sailing programme, taster sessions, social events and inspirational talks.

One popular activity was sailing a 38ft Seawind Catamaran, Moments, around Port Shelter. In total 78 women sailed aboard her. After sailing in Hong Kong for 36 years, skipper Sytske Kimman said, “This is the most positive experience of sailing I have had here. I met a fantastic group of women who deserve to be getting a chance to learn about sailing.”

Sailability Hong Kong took out 176 women, 61 for their first time. This included women from the Disabled Women’s Association, SEN School, Golden Age sailors, ethnic community groups and amputees. Many new volunteers signed up during the festival to support this charity, with Mercedes-Benz and HFW sponsorship covering all costs.


Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club takes Regatta Honours

A highlight of the festival was the first Hong Kong women-only sailing regatta. Nineteen boats were entered into three divisions, with 87 women of all ages and skills participating. Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club entered three J/80 teams, two RS Quest teams and one Hong Kong Performance Number (HKPN) Division team to compete in this interclub three-race challenge. The races were managed by an all-women committee with RO Inge Strompf-Jepsen, DRO Sarah Houghton and ARO Lucy Sutro providing on-the-job training to a team of ladies new to race management.

Notwithstanding missing winch handles, a broken tiller leading to unmanageable steerage, a broken mast, and a broken toe strap sending crew overboard, the display of sailing ability was impressive. With 12-15 knots of wind, the windward/leeward course set in Port Shelter was ably and enthusiastically raced. The final results of the competition saw RHKYC’s J/80 team helmed by Scotia Ryer taking the honours, with second place going to the RHKYC team helmed by Tiffany Koo. The RHKYC team on Arcturus, helmed by Florence Kan, took second place in HKPN Division; and the RHKYC RS Quest team helmed by Gina Chen took second place.

J/80 captain Christina Cully commented, “It was amazing to participate in such a fun regatta where women came together and shared knowledge, capabilities and experience, encouraging us all to become better sailors.”

RS Quest crew Chloe Bischoff and Trinh Hoang signed up for their first-ever race. Chloe said, “In the first race our hiking strap came unhooked and, comically, we both went overboard. Gina successfully avoided capsizing, and, fortuitously, managed to confuse the other boats who wondered if the race had finished. So, despite two out of three of us being flung into the water, and us being in stiches for the remainder of the race, we managed to maintain our leading position to come first in the first race. It was a thrilling adventure.”

Kristen Chatellier was delighted that she was able to helm for the first time in a race. A recently joined member who has been taking sailing lessons through the club’s introductory scheme, she said, “This was an amazing opportunity to get more involved. The confidence to helm was thanks to the great instruction at Middle Island and the incredible support and camaraderie from all the Royal Ladies who took part. I think we swam away with the prize for most capsizes, but I’m so pleased to have done it and can’t wait to do more.”


Well Supported

The festival was well supported by teams of men, some of whom gave their time to coach, lay marks and operate safety boats. They were also well able to assist with the draining of several bottles of post-regatta Prosecco that were waiting for the returning boats, all shared with good grace, gratitude and much merriment. Mark Ashton said, “One of the great things about the sport of sailing is that it is a sport for life, from youth to advanced age. It is also a sport that allows men and women to compete together. Unfortunately, our statistics don’t currently reflect that. The energy, sheer fun and high standard on display at the women’s Regatta sends a clear message that this is a sport for women and we must do more to make it more accessible for them.”

One participant quipped, “I love sailing with the guys I race with, but they usually take charge and it has been a tremendous boost to realise I know more than I think I know and I’m quite a capable sailor even without being told what to do!”

Poignantly, one volunteer told of how she had lost her liveaboard yacht during Typhoon Mangkhut and had sustained a difficult injury during the salvage process. Not venturing onto the water since, friends had encouraged her to participate in the opening J/80 friendly race. She said, “Two weeks after Mangkhut, my home in the UK got flooded and when I was heading to the Isle of Wight the ferry I was supposed to be on ran aground in fog. It was such a stressful time that I became convinced I was jinxed and avoided anything to do with getting on the water. But, surrounded and encouraged by awesome ladies this week, I have found my sea legs again.”

Organiser Juliet Ashton said, “It was an absolutely fantastic 10 days. The festival introduced and reintroduced so many women and girls to sailing. It’s been wonderful to see the enthusiasm from those who had little confidence in their sailing abilities, either because they hadn’t dare try or had an incident that put them off. That’s what has made this festival a success; not just that we pulled this off during complicated times, but, more importantly, that we have women and girls signing up for more.”

The whole event had a spirit of cooperation, camaraderie and possibility. There are not only a good number of highly-skilled women sailors, rowers and other water sport enthusiasts involved in competitive racing in Hong Kong, but a whole host of women who participate in many support activities, or who simply enjoy being skilled enough to take to the water for exercise and leisure. The festival provided inspiration and encouragement to those women who would like to learn and get more involved.

It is an aim of the Club to continue to support the development of women engaged in water sports, at all levels, with inter-class women crew networks being established and further all-women activities being planned. A big thanks to all who participated in this inaugural festival. We now have some tremendous collective enthusiasm from which to further develop the participation of women.