LaPorte, Texas – The 25 young women sailors gathered at Houston Yacht Club this weekend had one thought in mind: To learn as much about sailing, the sport they love. Through the Next Step to Rolex Program they had the opportunity of a lifetime, spending two days in the classroom and on the water, learning from high-level coaches. The girls, age 14-17, flew into LaPorte, Texas from all parts of the country – representing nine States from as far away as Coronado, Calif. and Rochester, N.Y. – to take part in the core outreach program of US SAILING’s Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championship. Led by Joanne Kolius and her husband John Kolius, an Olympic Silver Medalist, the weekend featured all-day clinics with the focus on making the transition from dinghies to keelboats.
“The goal of this program is to give junior sailors a chance to improve their skills in a different type of boat they would normally sail, and to reach beyond what they know, to set their sights a little higher,” said Joanne Kolius. “We decided as a group that one of these girls will one day win the Rolex Women’s Keelboat.”
Since its creation in 1997, the Next Step to Rolex Program has served as an inspiration for hundreds of young women. Many, like 2007 participant Alexa Cavalieri (Annapolis, Md.), had never sailed on a J/80 keelboat, the boats used for the program. “It was a great learning experience being on a big boat,” said the 14-year-old. “It’s not everyday that girls like me get that kind of chance. It was really fun working on communication and teamwork. It’s nice to get along with everyone.”
The theme of communication and teamwork was threaded through the weekend. “You have to know how to communicate so that everyone knows what you mean,” said Chanel Miller (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), a member of her sailing team at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. “You can’t just say ‘pull that line.’ You have to more specific and talk in details that everyone understands.”
The Kolius gathered a core group of instructors with extensive one-design and big boat sailing experience including Farley Fontenot, Caleb Borchers and Sunfish world champion Eduardo Cordero.
The girls arrived on Friday afternoon and were greeted at the Houston Yacht Club by LaPorte High School’s cheerleaders. That evening, they took part in an asymmetrical spinnaker clinic using J/80 keelboats and taught by John Kolius and Fontenot, and then were treated to guest speakers Ruth Triglia, from Hobie Cat and Martha Parker, a big boat sailor and Rolex IWKC competitor.
The entire day Saturday was spent learning about making the transition from dinghy to keelboat sailing with on-the-water drills. Many had never sailed with more than one other crew, preferring the doublehanded dinghies of youth training. “The only keelboat I have ever been on is a Melges 32,” said Miller. “The local fleet in Florida invites the high school sailors to come sailing with them all the time. I’ve been lucky enough to go.”
The weekend wrapped up Sunday morning with a race where the girls were split into teams on each J/80 and paired up with a coach. After racing, they headed into the HYC where lunch was waiting along with special guest speaker Anna Tunnicliffe (Plantation, Fla.), who recently captured a berth at the 2008 Olympic Games. She recounted that when she first competed in the Rolex IWKC, in 1997 at the age of 14, the Next Step to Rolex was just starting and only a few girls participated, so she crewed with her Mom. “We sailed against Betsy Alison, Jody Swanson and Cory Sertl,” she recalled. “I was in awe of them, seeing them on the racecourse.” She shared her path to Olympic sailing and told the group of her many setbacks along the way first as an Opti sailor and then while at Old Dominion University. “No matter what the outcome,” she said. “The journey is absolutely worth it.”
Mail (will not be published) (required)