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Come Sail Away

by Jim Provenzano
Bay Area Reporter
Nov. 2002

No other more visually showcases the geographic beauty of Sydney than sailing. With Sydney Harbour Bridge and the skyline in the background, a dozen San Franciscans and various other sailors enjoyed watching the first leg of sailing's first time inclusion.

A makeshift crew from New Caledonia includes Terry from Tahiti, Anne from French Brittany, and Scott from Australia, who noted that, "Since we live in separate countries, we haven't had much time to sail together, but we're happy with what we've done so far.

"Sunday, we sail for sure," said Terry. "After, if we get in the top fifty per cent, then we continue racing."

While an abrupt jump-start to some who'd just arrived that day, and were to compete in boats they'd never used, a retinue of three-man and three-woman crews from New York, France, Australia, the UK competed with Úlan. San Francisco boasts the largest contingent, with ten three-person crews. Sailing also boasts a majority of women; 97 to 56 men.

Katharine Holland, a realtor with Caldwell Banker, is one of the founders of the San Francisco Sailing Team, along with Kip Darcy, who decided to provide a social and sport group for GLBT sailing enthusiasts.

With 150 people signed up globally for sailing at Gay Games in Sydney this November, San Francisco has the largest contingent going, with 39 people in 13 teams of three. Among the contenders are sailors from Sydney, the UK, and New York.

With a varied group of members who've sailed as teens, or competed nationally, the group ranges form working class folk, to a few affluent sailors.

The team's edge includes world class sailor Karl Keesling as a coach. He's done treks from here to Tahiti, and sailed around the world a few times. "Karl is helping us focus on the psychology part of the sport," said Holland. "He's working with the team to move toward winning. It's been an amazing evolution."

Their other two coaches, Sallie Lang and Jan Crosbie-Taylor, spent the past year and a half getting them up to racing level.

"We have folks who haven't sailed since they were kids," said Holland. "They know enough to go around the marks. But there are a lot of savvy techniques to learn. We're learning more strategies, and have had seminars on new racing rules. We're moving up to a level on the same playing field, so we can feel comfortable on the boats."

Holland offered a play-by play of the competition as we watched from aboard the Marlee Coo, a boat helmed by native Aussie Max Keane, who offered up close views of the sailing throughout the Games.

Recognizing who was in which boat was difficult, but binoculars aided in spotting the numbered sails. Among the competitors were Kathy Wolfe, owner of the popular gay & lesbian Wolfe Video line.

"We only have forty-five minutes to get familiar with the boats before we compete," said Allen Sowle of San Francisco. Despite the Australian home port advantage, "We have high hopes, but you never know. We consider San Francisco as one of the best places to sail. So feel we have an advantage as well."

As experienced sailors who've collectively traversed most of the world, including the Caribbean, Sowle referred to Sydney's calm waters as "like lake sailing."

Once and Again
Cynthia Beck grew up in the Bay Area, and sailed and raced on Lake Merritt as a kid with her father.

"We used to race on Lido 14's and an El Toro," she said. "We had a blast. It was local division group. We also went to regattas at different California lakes, held by regional sailing clubs."

Twenty years ago, she left San Francisco, and sailing, for work in Washington, DC, where she only got out on Chesapeake Bay a few times.

After returning to the Bay Area, "I had to get back out on it." She found out about the sailing group through a women's email group, and joined as soon as she could.

"It was great to meet some kindred spirits and get involved in the gay community after being away for so long," she said.

Since joining, she's begun searching for a boat of her own, but it hasn't been easy. "You don't get one overnight to find a slip."

In the meantime, preparing for Gay Games has "been a coming back to my own, my roots. There's something about sailors, a laid-back exterior, but underneath, there's a deep responsibility. We have a commonality in the way we look at things."

She isn't daunted by the prospect of using new boats. "I was raised on little boats, so there's a certain affinity of being able to step on one and know where things are. I feel confident ready."

After the Games, Beck chartered a 45-foot boat with some friends and sail up to the Great Barrier for a week of snorkeling and fun.

"It really pulled together people from different communities, it's really a major effort."

"We've gotten a lot of people back into sailing, who haven't since they were kids," said Holland. "We've made it accessible, and gotten them hooked on sailing. That's something we hope to continue post-Sydney."


Three Men in a Boat
Three old friends sailing together, Joe Oskinsky, Jeff Nebenzahl, and Rick Sherman, will compete with San Francisco, although Sherman lives in Florida and sails with a gay-inclusive club there, the Atlantic Coast Dinghy Club (ACDC). They've sailed the Caribbean together, and watched the initial races with fascination while planning strategy.

Among the difficulties of boat racing are landing at the starting line when the starting horn blasts. "Some anchor, some loop, and others try to time a fast approach," Holland explained.

Rounding corners without touching the orange buoys proved touch for a few crews, who then must turn a loop as a time penalty. Releasing the spinnaker, a billowy front sail, often attached by a pole, proves difficult for others, and a few close calls made for some exciting action at sea.

A few tourist helicopters and a huge freighter loomed nearby, but the day's races went off with only a few discrepancies, and, we learned, within view of the harborside home of actress Nicole Kidman.

The first place finishers that day were Australia's Black, Green & Gold, with San Francisco crew led by Dean Daniels placing second, and GUST (Gay UK Sailing Team) narrowly placing third. Sailing continued through Nov. 8.

Since the Games, sailors have formed an international gay and lesbian sailing group to promote and support gay sailors, and to lobby for the inclusion of the event at future Gay Games. (For info on the group, and other links, see above)

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