Boat ownership an 'Etchellente' idea

by Vanessa Twigg

Etchellente owners (l-r) Karen Johns, Kathy De Garis, Helen Morris, Margie Rowe Findlay _photo courtesy John Curnow
Etchellente owners (l-r) Karen Johns, Kathy De Garis, Helen Morris, Margie Rowe Findlay _photo courtesy John Curnow
Etchellente crew Vic State Titles 2017 -Kit Ross, Sue Neales, Karen Johns, Mark Foote
Etchellente crew Vic State Titles 2017 -Kit Ross, Sue Neales, Karen Johns, Mark Foote
Jeanne-Claude Strong at the helm of Yandoo XX_courtesy Alex McKinnon
Jeanne-Claude Strong at the helm of Yandoo XX_courtesy Alex McKinnon

With the BLiSS Regatta coming up for its ninth running this weekend 29-30 April 2017, it is timely to consider the evolution of the ‘Gateway to BLiSS’ program and how it has provided a pathway for women to enter and thrive in the sport of sailing, and develop the confidence to share boat ownership through a syndicate arrangement. Vanessa Twigg, General Committee member at Royal Brighton Yacht club and co-boat owner of Adams 10 Serious Yahoo, reflects on the pathway of a group of Royal Brighton Yacht Club girls who felt the need to step up and take on the responsibility for owning and running their own boat in the challenging competitive fleet of the international one design Etchells class. They are following in the footsteps of other women, like current Etchells champion sailor Jeanne-Claude Strong, who have been equally inspired by the exciting sailing offered by the class.

This one popped up, so away we went

In 2015, a group of five RBYC women sailors decided over a dinner discussion, to get into Etchells sailing. Karen Johns, Kathy De Garis, Sue Neales, Helen Morris and Margaret Rowe-Findlay formed a syndicate and purchased Etchells AUS 1048, formerly known as Frequent Flyer and renamed her Etchellente. Spokesperson Sue Neales commented to John Curnow at the time of purchase in September 2015[1]

" Two or three of us were in between boats and then this one popped up, so away we went. It has a big pedigree, with Dennis Conner and Iain Murray having sailed her at one time, as well as a lot of sails for us to use whilst we train ourselves."

"This is no huge feminist statement, but we thought it would be a good deal of fun and equally, we know it is going to be a big learning curve. We are looking forward to translating our skills from larger boats to this very competitive class." Indeed they have all been part of the Port Phillip Women's Championship Series, which they feel is a great way to start conversations about boat ownership.’

Niesje Hees, also an RBYC General Committee member, long term secretary to the Melbourne Etchells Fleet and sole owner of Mid Gybe Crisis (her second Etchells) has also been enthusiastic about the Etchellente crew joining her as boat owners in the Melbourne fleet.

Amongst the Etchellente crew, all have a common background as former dinghy sailors, with each bringing different sailing skills and experience to their Etchells campaign.

Karen Johns is no stranger to boat ownership and with husband Peter, commands a fleet of boats including Frances, the exquisite and historic 8m classic yacht at Williamstown, their Farr 1104 Farr Fetched at RBYC and now the Etchells! Karen comments on the welcome the girls have received from the Etchells fleet-

Marg and I crewed for Peter Stubbings in the Etchells race on Saturday and won! Don't know who was more excited, us or the guys in the Etchells fleet who cheered when we received our trophy’.

And some excellent advice from Karen – ‘If you really want it and stay focused it comes in the end, but more importantly the view from the front is sublime!’

Kathy De Garis, former owner of Beneteau 35.5s Allegresse, has supported BLiSS and trained, guided and supported many women sailors to make their sailing ‘debut’ aboard Allegresse. Many have gone on to become indispensable crew members on several RBYC keelboats. In fact, Karen, Helen, and Margaret were members of the Allegresse crew when she won the Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta.

Sue Neales has been sailing most of her life, starting in dinghies at Sorrento Sailing Club and then offshore racing, deliveries and cruising around various parts of the world before life and career intervened.   Seven years in Hobart with Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania (RYCT) renewed her love of club and ocean racing which continued on her return to Melbourne in 2012 where she joined RBYC. Most recently she has been sailing inshore aboard Serious Yahoo, before plunging into Etchells helming on Etchellente. She is also the current Women's Skipper Couta Boat Champion at Sorrento Sailing & Couta Boat Club. ‘But I've learnt so much on Etchellente. Etchells are a whole new ballgame to helm and sail and I've still got a lot to learn!’ Sue will be competing in this year’s BLiSS series as mainhand on Serious Yahoo, and I and the rest of my crew are very glad to have her with us.

Sue also competed as a member of an RBYC crew in the 2015 New Zealand Women’s Keelboat Regatta (NZWKR) with sister club member Margaret Rowe.

For ‘Margie’ , nothing stops her from sailing – including broken bones! Margaret started sailing as an adult – ‘I first started sailing in Apollo Bay on an Yngling Sister Mermaid twelve years ago. So you don’t have to have sailed as a kid!’. Etchellente is her second boat, previously owning an Elliott 7 Va Va Voom with Tim Roberts. She helmed Karen and Peter Johns’ Farr Fetched in the 2015 BLiSS regatta and this year is taking the helm on Nothing Too Serious.

Helen Morris was introduced to sailing at an early age, in dinghies at the Wagga Wagga Sailing Club with side trips interstate whenever her father felt the urge to take a boat. Moving to keelboats, she completed a Melbourne to Hobart as her first blue water race on her own Roberts 38 and then sailed the East coast of Australia for a year with a toddler in nappies! After a period in Europe dabbling in recreational sailing she returned to Melbourne joining RBYC. She particularly remembers the warm welcome from Ian Mather (Rampallion) and then David Bingham (Mirrabooka) and then became a regular member of the Allegresse crew. She loves the teamwork and commitment of competitive sailing, and the fun of being on the water, introducing a number of family and friends to 'feel the fun of sailing'. She remembers her first foray in BLiSS, sailing with Alex McKinnon on Just a Minor Hickup – another connection with the Etchells fleet.

Buying a boat together

Karen Johns spoke with John Curnow about the advantages of buying a boat together -

‘It makes it very affordable when you cover it five ways. It just makes good sense for both the original purchase price and then the running costs. We know our budget and we have all gone in to this with a 12-month arrangement, after which we will review and can buy out anyone not convinced of the programme.’

As a boat owner myself, who has owned boats with my partner and his best friend for over 30 years, I would thoroughly endorse Karen’s comments. You get a stake in the boat as well as having to pay your share, and this makes it easier to campaign the boat in your own right in events like the Port Phillip Women’s Championship Series and Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta.

The Victorian State Etchells Championship

The RBYC Etchells fleet have been very encouraging to the Etchellente crew. Sue Neales told John Curnow that ‘The Etchells are great and have been very welcoming, with the local fleet offering all sorts of help. It goes a long way to showing that the class is not all about older males.’

In March 2017, they entered the Victorian State Etchells Championships with helm Sue and crew Karen, Kit Ross and Mark Foote. Sue reports ‘it was an amazing experience to sail in such a competitive fleet and we learned so much’.

The Etchellente crew are the latest group of women to become involved in sailing these highly competitive and exciting boats. Back in 2013, John Curnow spoke to Christine Short about the number of women involved in the NSW State Etchells Championships:

‘One of the most interesting elements to be seen at the 2013 Etchells NSW State Championship is how many women have taken to this premier one design class. Whether helming such as Jeanne-Claude Strong and Vicky Weeks, or crewing like Christine Short and Antonia Fong, they are present on five vessels from the 33-boat fleet.

Christine is a local Cronulla resident and accomplished ocean sailor as well. "Yes it is good to be involved with Etchells and I think it is really great for women too. They're not easy boats to sail, but we're up to it. We have sailed as an all-female crew before, but brought 'Jemima' with us for this one."[2]

Top female helm wins the Victorian State Etchells Championships.

For the first time in 2016, the Etchells Australian Championships featured a trophy for the top female helm. This year the Victorian State Etchells Championships celebrated the win of Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron’s(RSYS) Yandoo XX, helmed by owner Jeanne-Claude Strong with Marcus Burke, Seve Jarvin and Tiana Wittey. Jeanne-Claude was quite open about the secrets of their success-

“We have really been focusing on our consistency…You don’t even have to win a race to win the series, but if you can finish in the top 5 every time you are likely to be on the podium”.

There were four female helms in the event, Jeanne-Claude, Jill Connell on Odyssey (RPAYC/CYCA), Niesje Hees on Mid-Gybe Crisis (RBYC), and Sue and Karen on Etchellente.

Winning helm Jeanne-Claude has been sailing with Marcus Burke and Tiana Wittey, daughter of Neville Wittey, since 2004 and Seve Jarvin joined the crew last year before the team won the 2016 Queensland Championships. Their win in this year’s Victorian States was described as ‘an impressive display of sailing in one of the most unforgiving fleets in the country’.[3] This backed up Jeanne-Claude’s win in the Marinepool 19th Etchells Australasian Championship conducted by Mooloolaba Yacht Cub in June 2015 and her second place in the Etchells Invitational Regatta in Cowes, UK competing for the Royal Thames Yacht Club’s 141-year-old Gertrude Cup in August 2015.

Neville Wittey told Tracey Johnstone in June 2015 how Jeanne-Claude had developed as an Etchells helm:

"She started steering Yandoo for the Tuesday twilights and then Wednesday afternoon races. We then came up with the concept of doing some regattas. It all came about because she really wasn't strong enough to crew it," Wittey said.

"Our campaign [for the 2015 Etchells Australasian Championship] has been no different to anyone else. The thing that has been interesting has been we have someone who doesn't have the strength. Where you might have a man banging the boat around the course, JC has to do it differently.”[4]

Back in Victoria, the RBYC Etchellente syndicate have enjoyed their experience of joining Niesje Hees and the Melbourne Etchells fleet. Melbourne Fleet Captain Peter Coleman, is always happy to see a new boat join the rest of them at RBYC.

The pathway for the Etchellente crew into syndicated boat ownership has been facilitated by the opportunities provided by female focussed regattas which gather like-minded women sailors together and provide them with the opportunity to step up to helming and other lead roles. In Victoria, the Port Phillip Women’s Championship Series, the Brighton Lady Skippers Series and Women In Sailing Challenge regattas provide a training ground for female sailors to build competitive skills to tackle the all female Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta. For further information about all these events go to

1 Curnow, John, Talk is over. Now it's time to enter, Etchells News, 10 September 2015.
2 Curnow, John, Tough women sail Etchells, Etchells News, 2 March 2013
3 Staley, David, Jeanne-Claude Strong and Yandoo XX win the Victorian Etchells Championships, 13 March 2017,
4 Johnstone, Tracey, Deliberate plan has delivered Strong significant win, Etchells News, 25 June 2015.


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