Women like the Magenta Project alumnus Rebecca Coles are stepping up into major, high-stakes crewing roles in the Cape 31 class
At this year’s St Maarten Heineken Regatta, Flying Jenny was a sight to behold. A portrait of Sandy Askew’s mother filled the namesake Cape 31’s illustrious spinnaker and set the tone: a new generation of sports yachts has arrived, and women are writing the narrative. 2019 Magenta Project alumnus Rebecca Coles has been boat captain and bow for Flying Jenny, traveling across the UK, US and Caribbean with the team.
The sportsboat class is typically dominated by the local Melges fleet in this regatta, which are run by teams from St Maarten’s highly competitive marine industry. This year, the next-generation pocket racer Cape 31 shook up the scene, with Flying Jenny booting regatta regulars off the podium and winning the St Maarten Heineken regatta’s famous Round the Island Race in CSA3.
While Flying Jenny is registered in the USA and Askew hails from US sailing town of Annapolis, the mobility of the Cape 31 allows her to run a truly international team. The Cape 31 arrived in Port St Maarten in its 40ft container, and Coles went to work to transition from a race in Florida to the St Maarten Heineken regatta in only a few weeks.
‘As an aspiring professional sailor and boat captain, the Cape has been a great boat to run so far… while simple, it has many features of big boats like the TP52s such as reelers. Packing the boats into the containers is awesome for travelling round, but it does require skill and planning to ensure we have what we need and are ready to race,’ says Coles.
‘I don’t think it matters what gender you are, at the end of the day a boat is a boat, but I have to say it’s awesome to be able to lift everything easily on the boat and that evens out the playing field; pushing women out of the more traditional roles such as mid-bow and offside trim into more interesting and “high stakes” roles such as bowman, trimmer and navigator,’ she says.
The Cape 31 Class has grown in popularity, from the beginnings in breezy Cape Town to the gravitational shift towards the Solent, where UK owners have enjoyed both the onedesign racing and handicapped performance. The modern sports yacht has received acclaim for its great design, which appears to be suited and accessible for all in all conditions – from heavy to light air.
Accessibility truly begins at the drawing board, and the Mark Mills Cape 31s are designed to achieve high performance with loads that can be managed and enjoyed by crews of up to eight with a weight limit of 595kg. Class rules support the “fun foremost” ethos of the class, which is owner-driven and limits professional crew on board to three. With more space and plenty of roles on the wide-beamed 31-footer, women have found more opportunities in the Cape 31 class.
Tor Tomlinson-Cheney of the Cape 31 Class explains, ‘we are very proud to have so many women racing in the Cape 31 fleet and continuing to promote it. We don't have any specific rules in place to encourage it, which makes the numbers of women competing even more impressive. It's a fun competitive class and we have encouraged inclusivity from the start.’
‘Dave Swete played a big part in this by taking lots of girls sailing in the early days to help them get to know the boat,’ continues Tomlinson-Cheney. ‘We also entered a team in the Women's Open Keelboat Championship for the last two years and came away as overall winners in 2022 after just missing out and coming second in 2021. We're currently working towards expanding the fleet worldwide and hope this continues to provide opportunities for women both professional and amateur.’
In the 2022 Cape 31 UK series, the top three teams all had women on board. While female crew numbers are not a requirement, the natural inclusion of women across Cape 31 teams proves that the boat is well suited for any performance sailor – regardless of gender. Like Rebecca Coles, many alumni from The Magenta Project are involved in the Cape 31 class, with a strong representation of female navigators at Cowes Week in 2022. Across the 17 Cape 31 teams at Cowes Week, 24 women were racing in class, and that number is sure to increase.
Follow The Magenta Project @themagentaproj and Cape 31 @cape31class and @cape31uk to learn more about the future of the sailing industry. Keep an eye out for the new Class Management System this season for crewing opportunities.
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