North Sails NEWS

Story Contributors: Hillary Noble


Making Each Experience Count

📸 Chris Howell

The J/24 Worlds was the ultimate test for our team, an all-women’s group of six led by Erica Spencer and sponsored by Sea Bags Maine. We worked hard all season long to prepare for this week long adventure, knowing it would be harder than any other regatta we’ve been to, but also knowing that we’d gain invaluable experience and become better sailors- regardless of the outcome.

Meet the team

The majority of the team is based in Maine, while the rest of us reside in Rhode Island and New York. I’ve been sailing with this team for four years, and I am so proud of all the amazing things we’ve been able to do together.

On the helm is Erica Beck Spencer, who is an educator and also has two amazing kids. Upwind trimmer Katie Drake is a finance professional in her regular life, and enjoys cruising her J/24 on the coast of Maine. Emily Carville, marketing guru for LLBean, is our trimmer/mast and sails with her husband and kids when she’s not racing with us. Joy Martin is a retired teacher and devoted Thistle sailor, and our downwind trimmer. Karen Renzulli Fallon, therapist, super-mom, and talented match racer, commands the bow. Jessica Harris, co-captain, who didn’t race this event, but was with us in sprit. Jess has made our team possible. We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for her.

[left to right]: Hillary Noble, Katie Drake, Emily Carville, Karen Fallon, Erica Spencer, and Joy Martin. Thanks to #Waterlust for creating a product we wanted to test out, leggings made from recycled plastic water bottles to support our commitment to the environment. FYI they are also SPF 50!

Key takeaways from our experience:

  1. Starting at the end of the line with lower density doesn’t always work. There may be less traffic, but starting farther from the favored end will make it hard to catch a break or get to the favored side of the course. Sometimes having a good start and not being able to tack is almost worse than having a 2nd or 3rd row start and being able to tack and duck immediately.
  2. Boat speed upwind has to be good. J/24s all go the same speed, and when everyone is sailing fast, you have to match that or you get left in the dust.  Constant communication with the trimmer and skipper is key to making sure each puff is accounted for.
  3. Should we duck or tack? If you duck, you’ve just let a boat get by. If you tack and lead them back, you might catch them on the next shift. Each crossing situation meant a big decision had to be made, and it all came down to thinking ahead to the next move.
  4. Sometimes the ‘wrong’ gate was the best choice. Less boats to deal with in the rounding, and once you round you will be on the lifted tack and able to get out of there quick.
  5. Cross when you can. In shifty conditions, its important to get ahead of any boats each opportunity.
  6. The edges paid off big- but ideally you were on the correct side! By working one side and staying in phase, you’d probably end up OK at the top mark. The middle was full of bad air and chop that killed your boat speed. Hopefully you’d end up on the favored side though because an 80-boat fleet is unforgiving.
  7. Clear lanes are limited. Don’t pass up any clear lanes, especially one that will take you where you want to go!
  8. Getting to the line too early was costly. A few times, we had to stop inside 30 seconds to avoid being over early. That’s when we needed to be building speed!

One out of two team goals, met.

We were the top finishing all-women’s team, the second time we were crowned as women’s world champions.  But because we did not accomplish our other goal of finishing in the top 30 it’s a bittersweet victory that makes us even hungrier to keep improving. Despite our overall result, the positive energy that radiated from each of my teammates was something I’ll never forget. Although during our worst finishes we were all glad when those races were over, right now I am missing last week and this team, and so excited to sail with them again.

Sea Bags Maine has been incredibly supportive and we look forward to working with them next year. I also want to give a big thanks to North Sails, not only for engineering the best sails for the J/24, but also for their support and expertise both on and off the water. See you in 2020!

📸 Chris Howell
  • #GoBeyond