Photo: Sophie Brett, Marina Barzaghi, Cam Farrah, Kaleigh Morgan, and Kate Myler
When the dust settled on last weekend’s 39th annual Newport Regatta hosted by Sail Newport, some new ground was broken. The Newport Regatta has a wide range of classes racing from the Historic 12-Meter’s to the modern 2-person keel boats called VX One. One class that stands out as the fastest and most physically demanding are the F18 catamarans. F18’s are high-performance boats sailed with both skipper and crew suspended on wires to offset the drive of their large sails.
The fast F18’s always put on a good show – but what made this edition notable, was the fact the F18 class had more women-led teams than the rest of the classes combined. Not only were 4 of 11 teams skippered by women – at the end of the weekend 2 of 3 teams on the podium were women led – with Cam Farrah’s Payne Capital team in 2nd and Marina Barzaghi’s Fastnet Pub team in 3rd. Farrah is a full-time sailor who sails with Team USA in SailGP and on the Olympic development squad, but Barzaghi is a Nurse at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and a recent convert to the F18.
Many classes are working to increase female participation, so how did the demanding F18 fleet succeed in achieving this breakthrough? The answer can be found at NAASA – not the space agency – the Narragansett Adult Athletic Sailing Association. NAASA is a new sailing club founded four years ago to grow athletic high-performance sailing on Narragansett Bay.
Why NAASA now? “This is a super fast and fun part of the sport of sailing, but it isn’t prevalent on the Bay or anywhere in the US. Americans have moved to the less physical end of the sport and it shows in our international Olympic and America’s Cup results,” reports NAASA President Chris Bulger. “Despite the local decline – there are many local sailors who love this type of sailing – so it was time to found a new club to give those sailors a home on Narragansett Bay.”
How is NAASA attracting female athletes to the F18 class? “NAASA was not founded for women but our mission is to grow high-performance as much as possible. We can’t maximize growth if we ignore 50% of the athlete population,” says NAASA co-founder and Board Member Kate Somers. “To build an organization that is truly open to all NAASA was founded with women at the table and, yes, we did change some of the F18 class rules that actually favored male teams to level the playing field.”
By maximizing participation – the NAASA F18 league seems to be providing a great experience for men and women alike. Sailing superstars like Ravi Parent, Rolex Sailor of the Year, F18 and A-Cat World Champ or Stu McNay, 3-time Olympian and 5o5 World Champion – both join the racing when their schedules allow. The league has also attracted strong sponsors – local businesses like the Fastnet Pub and Surf Club as well as international brands like Ernst & Young.
It is fitting that NAASA saw this breakthrough at the Newport Regatta. “We are working to build a permanent home for high-performance sailors on Narragansett Bay, but NAASA wouldn’t exist without the access provided by Sail Newport,” said Somers. Sail Newport Executive Director Brad Read commented “We are here for all types of sailing, but it’s especially rewarding to see these women coming on and providing leadership at the front of the sport.”