Volvo Ladies Helm

Photos by Guy Nowell / Vivian Ngan

The Volvo Ladies Helm aims to encourage and increase participation of women in sailing. The ladies onboard the 50-strong fleet of boats across nine classes, including Big Boats IRC, Dragons, Etchells, Flying Fifteens, Impalas, J/80s, Pandoras, Ruffians and Sportsboats. This annual race on the waters of Victoria Harbour was held on March 3, to celebrate and recognise women’s achievements worldwide ahead of International Women’s Day. Female sailors of all experience levels took part in the event with no restrictions on the rest of the crew’s gender—the only requirement was that the helm must be female.

Each class raced twice. The first race of the day started in easterly breeze on a cold wintery day. All fleets were sent to sail between Hung Hom and Tai Koo Shing or Shau Kei Wan for the first race and for Race 2, two laps or 1.5 laps between Shau Kei Wan and Hung Hom. Race Officer Barry Truhol said of the racing: “The wind gradually picked up from 6 to 8 knots before the start, to 12 knots at the second start and the wind built up more than that, therefore boats could finish ahead of the target time. It seems like everyone had a good time. There was good breeze and it’s been a good day.”

The star sailor of the day was Lily Xu LiJia, two-time Olympic Medallist and a three-time World Champion in ILCA 6. As Asia’s first and only Olympic gold medalist in sailing, Lily was in town to host an ILCA training clinic for Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club’s Shark squad sailors. Sailing with a crew of Shark sailors on the Cape 31 Capitano, she said “the helm plays a very important role on a sailboat. Apart from controlling the rudder, the most important thing is to feel the boat and respond in a timely manner to wind, current and wave conditions and choose the ideal path to sail, making it the most efficient. It takes time to accumulate experience to become a better skipper.” Lily humbly commented that she is a beginner on the Cape 31, also learning from the young Sharks sailors on board too. “I hope we will see more female sailors in the future.”

Emily Polson and Tiffany Mak, Hong Kong’s top 29er sailors also had the opportunity to sail with Lily on Capitano. Sharing her experience, Emily said the one thing she learnt from Lily was to slow down in order to sail fast. “One thing that I have learnt from her is probably slowing down and just keeping it simple, making sure everything’s right before you go into manoeuvre and just keeping tactics really simple.” Tiffany also praised the thought process adding, “I think it was a very great experience and it’s amazing that we had this opportunity to learn from a world-class sailor.” Lily and her team went on to take 1st place in IRC Big Boat.

Apart from Capitano, additional Shark sailors teamed up to sail on J/80 Sea Biscuit with Sienna Thiry taking the helm and ILCA sailor Zixi Huang, who helmed J/80 Jupiter. Sienna took 1st place in J/80.

Gigi Wong, who has been sailing for only four months, took the helm for the first time in this race on Dragon Arrow. She said although it is more stressful to helm the boat, it’s physically less demanding so she enjoyed her first race as skipper.

Whether it was their first helming experience or if they were regular participants in this race, congratulations go out to all of the female helms taking part in the racing, with particular mention of winners: Lily Xu LiJia / Capitano in IRC Big Boats, Rita Yau / Phyloong II in the Dragon fleet, Elise Kelly / Gunga Din for Etchells, Mun-See Liu / Niffty for the Flying Fifteens, Clarice Yu / Pied Piper on the Impalas, Sienne Thiry / Sea Biscuit in J/80, Joey Ho / Windfall in the Pandoras, Liz Wai / Pawley in Sportsboats and Bonnie Cheng / Victory 9 in Ruffians.

As we continue to empower women in sailing sports through Ladies Helm, we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to our sponsors and partners for their support. Our special thanks go to our new Title Sponsor, Volvo, whose generous support has taken our event to new heights. We are also immensely grateful to our long-term Supporting Sponsor, St James’s Place, for their ongoing loyalty and valued partnership. Additionally, we would like to extend our thanks to our partner, Peroni, for adding to the fun and enjoyment of the event with refreshing after-race drinks.

Many thanks to our volunteers including Race Officer Barry Truhol and his team of Andrea Bouchard, Arthur Yip, Dawn Allen, Garret Shannon, Hugues de Saint Germain, Jonathan Lee and Michael Valihora. On safety team: Eric Jenkins and Johnny Wong.