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‘Dames at Sea’: Female sailors race in Amazing Grace Cheney Regatta

on November 22, 2019

Seventeen sailboats with female-led crews raced across choppy seas of the San Francisco Bay in the Third Annual Amazing Grace Cheney Cup hosted by the Richmond Yacht Club this month.  

The November 4 race, or regatta as it’s known in sailing, honors Grace Cheney, a club member who passed away in 2016, as a way to help female sailors get together.

Sporting a red cap, life jacket, and black coastal trousers, was Cinde Lou Delmas, a lifelong sailor, who has been a member of Richmond Yacht Club since 2011. Delmas, who sails often throughout the week, said her boat’s name, “Another Girl,” is a reminder of her childhood sailing trips with her father, and her life among all-female siblings.

“So the name came because every time my mom had a baby, the doctor would come out and say: ‘It’s another girl!’ Four times, four daughters, so dad named the boat ‘Another Girl.’” She said her current boat was around the seventh or eighth version of “Another Girl.” A red flag with a printed female paper doll cutout in the center was the logo for the “Another Girl” team. The boat, an Alerion Express 38 model, sported a green finish that Delmas matched with her green lipstick and nail polish.  It took to sea with a crew of five other women, each with decades of sailing experience.  Delmas’ Portuguese Water Dog, Xunaan Ha (which she translated as “Goddess of the Water”), roamed the boat in her own yellow life jacket.

“If you’re a Navy kid, you’ve been sailing your whole life,” said Susie Hodges, friend of Delmas, and member of the Richmond Yacht Club. “My dad, my brothers, and my uncles, they were all Navy. And we could sail from the time we could walk.”

Top row, left to right: Cinde Lou Delmas, Milly Biller, Suzanna Leigh and Susie Hodges.
Seated from left to right: Katherine Faulkner and Vickie Gilmour.

Based in Point Richmond, the Richmond Yacht Club formed in 1932 as a group giving local sailors a chance to spend time together and teach those in the community how to sail. Almost 90 years later, members say the club’s mission still holds the same values. It’s unlike other yacht clubs where “it’s all about money and how rich you are,” said Suzie Koide, a Richmond Yacht Club member who sailed in the sailboat, “Encore,” with her husband for the Grace Cheney Cup. “Here it’s really about sailing and racing, and so that’s what I love about it.”

The Amazing Grace Cheney Cup is open to all sailors who are members or invited guests of the club. The rules of the competition state that those operating the boats must be women.

Photo of Grace Cheney. Courtesy of Richmond Yacht Club.

Sandy Andersen, a member of the nearby Oakland Yacht Club, whom Koide invited to participate, said she appreciates Richmond Yacht Club’s gender inclusiveness. “Richmond Yacht Club has a reputation for supporting women sailors,” she said.

The sport got a boost on the big screen this year from the documentary, “Maiden,” a 2019 film about the first all-female sailing crew to compete in the 1989 Whitbread Around the World Race.  Competitors in the Cheney regatta recommended the film for anyone looking to learn more about sailing, especially for female-led crews.  

Andersen said she hopes that future sailing events will include more people of color, especially children. “I want those children to have the same opportunity that white kids have,” she said. “[Sailing] is a wonderful thing, [and] kids learn how to sail so easily, to harness nature.”  Addressing what the experience does for a child growing up, she added, “Yeah, it’s phenomenal.”

Sailboats racing in Amazing Grace Cheney Cup. Photo by Chan’Cellore Makanjuola.

A horn blasted right at noon, signaling the start of the race. Crews set sail toward the Bay Bridge, passing Alcatraz Island, with a clear blue sky and stunning view of the San Francisco skyline as a backdrop.

Around 1 p.m., the wind slowed and “Another Girl” came to a standstill — with a reporter for Richmond Confidential aboard — swaying every now and then with the waves. Delmas explained the rule in sailing competitions is, no motors or you’re out, unless for emergency reasons. Instead, the women maneuvered ropes, known as sheets, in order to get the sails positioned just right for the wind, and waited patiently until it picked up speed.

For those who suffer from sea sickness, eating something salty or sipping sparkling water may help. The sailors ate sandwiches, cheese, cookies, fruit, drank sparkling water or sipped wine to last the nearly three-hour race out at sea. Crew members gasped as a seal surfaced from the glittering water, with some spotting a small dolphin fin in the distance. Occasionally, larger wildlife appear. Delmas said she has even seen whales while sailing on the bay.

The “Another Girl” boat out at sea. Courtesy of Cinde Lou Delmas.

Delmas exchanged friendly banter with other sailors as her boat drew near, even helping to tow along the boat of Richmond Yacht Club President Simon Winer, known as the Commodore, and another small boat that had issues tacking, or turning the boat in another direction, and getting back to the dock.

“Another Girl” reached the dock a little after 3:30 pm., finishing in 14th place. That didn’t dampen spirits, as Delmas congratulated her teammates on a job well done. She was excited to get back to the Richmond Yacht Club for the after-party, where she and her crew would join other competitors to honor the winners.

Finishing in first place, with a time of 2:06:11, was a sailboat called, “Mansplaining.”

 That spirit seems far from her experiences as a young girl, when Delmas says she and her sister weren’t even allowed to enter certain rooms of a different yacht club, just because they were girls.

“It’s our turn,” she said. “It’s girl power now.”

Featured image: Cinde Lou Delmas steering her sailboat, “Another Girl.” Photo by Chan’Cellore Makanjuola.

This article has been updated to correct details of whale spotting.

1 Comment

  1. Suzanna Leigh on November 22, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Nice article! Thanks!
    Though I came down from the Puget Sound area to sail with Cinde Lou in the Grace Cheney Regatta, and that’s where I’ve had whales, dolphins, and sea lions swim beside my boat for a few minutes. Cinde said she’s seen whales in the San Francisco area–even made eye contact!

    It was great having you on the boat Chan’Cellore! I hope you can make sailing a part of your life.
    Suzanna Leigh

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