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Special series puts women at the helm Foxglove gets win in two-race regatta


The women were in charge yesterday in the Women at the Helm sailboat race at the Inner Harbor.

Skipper Pez Skelley and her crew on Foxglove won the two-race regatta despite only a slight wind and humid temperatures. However, winning was not the name of the game; rather, learning and gaining experience was the focus of the women's race.

"Everyone who I got on the boat with had a great attitude because they weren't getting yelled at by men and didn't feel intimidated by men," said Skelley, of Havre de Grace.

"The boats were small enough that the women could handle them, and the best part was that everyone enjoyed themselves while learning about sailing. But, of course, winning doesn't hurt either."

Yesterday was the last of a three-day session completed during the past three Mondays in which women of all ability levels and sailing backgrounds have raced.

Sponsored by Getaway Sailing Inc., the races were designed to get women sailing together to gain experience, said Liz Oktay, organizer of the races.

"The idea was that it be organized and run all by women," Oktay said. "A lot of women race with their husbands and never get a chance to be on a powerful position on the boat. We've gotten women out here teaching women, so it is educational as well as competitive at the same time."

Lilly, skippered by Tara Quinn finished second, followed by Obsession, led by Nance Frank, Dasher, led by Laura Rowell and Poppy, led by Cathy McMahon.

Each skipper was an experienced sailor and had to play the role of a patient instructor to a crew of relatively inexperienced students. Frank, who races all over the world as the skipper of the U.S. Women's Challenge, used her know-how to teach the women.

"Women have much smaller egos and they learn easier then the men," said Frank, who lives in Annapolis and has been racing for 33 years. "There was no negative reinforcement like you get a lot of the time with guys on the boat."

Frank headed up the first team of women to race in the Annapolis-Newport and Newport-Bermuda races, and she organized an international goodwill race between Europeans and Americans.

In addition, Frank is heading an all-women's team to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1993 -- an international 32,000-mile, nine-month race considered one of the most prestigious yacht races in the world.

"I organized a race in 1985 in the Caribbean for women and since then there's been phenomenal growth," said the native of Key West, Fla.

"Women's interest in the sport has grown dramatically in the past years thanks to the economy. Racing and sailboats in the past always cost a lot of money, and women in the past just didn't have it. Now, women have the economic power and economic opportunities to do more.

"A lot of men are very supportive, but a lot of men don't want to share the fun. Any time you have two groups that want the power, there are going to be difficulties."

Skelley said that she enjoyed the challenge and competitiveness of sailing with men.

"I've always liked sailing with men," said Skelley.

"They are physically stronger, they do the job and they aren't timid. Tonight there weren't any men around, so the women weren't timid."

Women may still lack opportunities in sailing, but Frank has an easy answer to the problem.

"Three-fourths of the world is water," she said. "There's a lot of water out there for all of us."

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