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ON THE WATERFRONT

Wind, Waves Are for Women Only in Ocean Racing Series

October 08, 1988|SHEARLEAN DUKE | Shearlean Duke is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

The winds were light and the seas calm as racing skipper Kathy Pantoskey steered her 30-foot sailboat out of Newport Harbor into the open ocean. Pantoskey, who is two months pregnant and prone to morning sickness, was grateful for the fair weather.

She didn't want to drop out of the race, but she wasn't eager to find out how a churning sea and rolling boat would affect the frequent nausea associated with her pregnancy.

Pregnant skippers like Pantoskey are a fact of life for the Orange County Women's Ocean Racing Series, which is open only to female captains and their crews.

Over the past 10 years, a few hundred women, from San Diego to Marina del Rey, have competed in the races.

The idea for WORS goes back to the summer of 1978, when a group of women sailors began talking among themselves about all the sailing activities for men--and the lack of serious competition for women. From that conversation evolved a plan for a series of offshore races, open to women only.

"There were some women's races back then," recalls Linda Elias, who has raced in all 10 WORS events. "But a lot of it was in small boats like Lido 14s. There wasn't much ocean racing in bigger boats."

Of course, women were always welcome to compete with the men, Elias says, but the women were looking for something of their own. "Most of us also race in mixed competition. Most of the sailing I do is with men and women," says Elias, who crews on yachts as large as 70 feet. "But I enjoy racing in the women-only events. I like it more than racing with men because, for some reason, we get along better. We choose women for compatibility as crew as much as experience."

And the competition among the women is not light, says Elias, who placed third in this year's series. "Our goal is to go out there and do well, but to have fun, too. We have some good women sailors. We have women who have raced against men and trophied who have not trophied racing against other women in WORS."

Cheryl Wiebel, Elias' co-skipper, says: "We all race hard, but genuinely enjoy the camaraderie at meetings and after races. The more experienced racers never seem to mind answering questions or explaining why they made a particular maneuver to the less experienced. There's always an atmosphere of convivial rivalry."

During the next few months WORS will be planning its 1989 series and is actively recruiting new members, according to Shannon Aikman, chairman of the organization. (Anyone interested in joining is invited to call Randi Weirath, WORS secretary, at (714) 643-2835.) Meetings, which sometimes feature guest speakers, and potluck dinners are held throughout the year. Membership fee is $10. The next meeting will be held in early November.

"If women want to crew, we'll find a boat and skipper for them," says Aikman, who encourages non-sailors to begin by taking a community college sailing class.

Linda Elias and Cheryl Wiebel say they are always willing to take on an extra crew member.

"We believe WORS helps fill a void in women's racing," Wiebel says. "Unless a young girl was raised around sailing or was lucky enough to get into it at the college level, chances are (that) by the time she reaches her late 20s or so, the opportunity to learn may have passed her by."

The average WORS participant is in her 30s. The youngest sailor is in her teens and the oldest is around 60. Boat sizes range from 20 feet to 40 feet and larger. Although this year's series drew only eight boats, past events have drawn as many as 20 entries.

"The turnout wasn't as good this year," Wiebel says. "We didn't really get any novices. Next year we hope to do better."

Sue Franta, a self-described novice in the early WORS days, says: "We are trying to encourage more women to go out. The more you go out and the more you do, the more you learn. You learn from your mistakes. You can't just read about it and go do it. You have to get out there. You make mistakes, but that's the only way to learn."

Franta learned to sail by taking lessons on Sabot-class boats more than 12 years ago. Then she began racing with her husband, Steve, on the family's 24-foot sailboat. She remembers working foredeck in a race from Seal Beach to Dana Point while eight months pregnant with her son Christopher, now 7.

During the 1985 WORS, which Franta won, she raced the entire series while pregnant with son Patrick, now 2 1/2. As she glided across the finish line, one of her biggest thrills, Franta says, was hearing Christopher, watching from a spectator boat, yell: "You won, mom!"

Build a Castle--Thousands of spectators are expected to line the beaches at Corona del Mar for the 27th annual sand castle contest Sunday, Oct. 16. The two-hour competition, sponsored by the Commodores Club of the Newport Harbor Chamber of Commerce, begins at noon.

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