Crew of the first all-women America's Cup Team in 1995. Pronunciation: America Cubed. Team members: Jenifer (J.J.) Isler (San Diego, California); Ann Nelson (San Diego, California); Elizabeth (Lisa) Charles (Provincetown, Rhode Island); Hannah Swett (Jamestown, Rhode Island); Joan Lee Touchette (Newport, Rhode Island); Shelley Beattie (Malibu, California); Stephanie Armitage-Johnson (Auburn, Washington); Dawn Riley (Detroit, Michigan); Merritt Carey (Tenants Harbor, Maine); Amy Baltzell (Wellesley, Massachusetts); Courtenay Becker (The Dalles, Oregon); Sarah Bergeron (Middletown, New Jersey); Sarah Cavanagh (Denver, Colorado); Leslie Egnot (born in South Carolina but moved to Auckland, New Zealand); Christie Evans (Marblehead, Massachusetts); Diana Klybert (Annapolis, Maryland); Susanne (Suzy) Leech Nairn (Annapolis, Maryland); Linda Lindquist (Chicago, Illinois); Stephanie Maxwell-Pierson (Somerville, New Jersey); Jane Oetking (Rockwell, Texas); Merritt Palm (Fort Lauderdale,Florida); Katherine (Katie) Pettibone (Coral Gables, Florida); Marci Porter (Oarton, Virginia); Melissa Purdy (Tiburon, California).
The first all-women team to compete in the 144-year history of the America's Cup race was the brain child of millionaire businessman Bill Koch, who in 1992 skippered the winning boat. Hoping to pique the interest of an increasingly blasé American audience, Koch put together his 23-member team (16 would sail the boat during a race) from more than 650 applicants. The women who made it through the rigorous two-week final tryouts included veteran sailors, world-class rowers, and weight lifters. One third were married and a few had small children. Ann Nelson , the team navigator and winner of at least 50 sailing titles, apprised reporters of the additional challenges: "I'll bet none of those men are worrying about the laundry or making sure there's milk in the fridge or Pampers in the cupboards."
Since 1990, two all-female crews have sailed the 33,000-mile Round-the World Whitbread, but only a handful of women have sailed in the America's Cup since it began in 1851. Hope Goddard Iselin sailed in 1895, 1899, and 1903. In 1934, Britain's Phyllis Brodie Gordon Sopwith held the stopwatch for her husband T.O.M. Sopwith. They were defeated that year by Harold S. Vanderbilt, who was also sailing with his wife Gertie Vanderbilt . Since then, women have been relegated to alternates during trial races, but have never actually raced in an America's Cup final series.
The women's team began a rigorous training program six months earlier than the men, under a former San Diego Padres trainer, one of some 90 top-level coaches hired to get the women in shape. Enduring 13-hour days that included a morning aerobic and weight-lifting work-out, intensive tacking and jibing training, and an evening strategy meeting, the women prepared for the Defense Trials, a series of round-robin races running from January to April. (The winning defender then raced the foreign challenger in a best-of-nine series held in May.) The fierce competition came from the two
other U.S. syndicates vying for a chance to defend the Cup: the Stars & Stripes crew headed by world-famous sailor Dennis Conner, who skippered three Cup Champions, and PACT '95, a hotshot team skippered by Olympic sailing gold medalist Kevin Mahaney. The women endured their share of jabs from the opposition, some good-natured, others less so.
In a remarkable first showing in January, the America3 team defeated the highly touted Stars & Stripes, with Conner at the helm, by one minute nine seconds. Although Conner was favored to annihilate America3, the Stars & Stripes made a crucial mistake during the pre-start maneuvering and had to take a penalty turn just off the starting line. Taking advantage of the situation, the women took the lead, which they retained, even with a slight falter in the fourth mark of the six-leg course. The win was a huge confidence builder.
The women stayed in contention until March, when they were beset by a number of problems. Difficulty with the 3-year-old yacht America3 forced her retirement, and, despite the introduction of a new boat, Mighty Mary, the women lost their sixth straight race. By the middle of the month, hoping to ward off elimination in a pending semifinal round, Koch broke his pledge to stay with the all-women team and added a man, David Dellenbaugh, who was the tactician on Koch's 1992 team. Jennifer Isler , the tactician for the women, was devastated by the replacement, although Koch, who was bombarded by incredulous reporters and angry sponsors, made the decision at the request of several women on the team, whose overwhelming desire to win evidently overshadowed their desire to further the cause for women.
Despite Dellenbaugh's best efforts, and a flawless 10th race of the round-robin with Leslie Egnot at the helm, the dream was not to be. The women ultimately lost their opportunity in a final race against Stars & Stripes. The first 15 miles of the determining round looked like an easy victory for the women. At the top of the final leg, however, with a comfortable lead, Mighty Mary suddenly encountered a wind shift that required a sharp move. By the time the two covering jibes had been straightened, Conner had made his move. In the last mile of the round, Mighty Mary simply could not maintain momentum, and Stars & Stripes crossed the finish 52 seconds ahead of the women's team. In the final series held in May, the America's Cup was eventually captured by the New Zealand team, whose boat was skippered by Russell Coutts.
Bill Koch remained confident that the women had what it took to win, telling reporters, "We had a top team that can compete with anyone…. Next time an all-women's team sails in the top of the competition, they can go all the way. That's what this team has meant to the sport."
Chamberlain, Tony. "A Lost Cause Ends in Conner Triumph," in Boston Globe. April 27, 1995.
——. "At End of Rope, Mighty Mary Cries Foul on Conner," in Boston Globe. March 30, 1995.
——. "Controversy Swirls on America," in Boston Globe. March 20, 1995.
——. "Kiwi Effort Brought New Zealand to Cup," in Boston Globe, May 15, 1995.
Hornblower, Margot. "Will They Blow," in Time. January 16, 1995, pp. 66–67.
Lloyd, Barbara. "Women to Conner: Take That!" in The [New London] Day. January 14, 1995.
Starr, Mark. "A New Crew Rocks the Boat," in Newsweek. January 16, 1995, pp. 70–71.
Wilson, Bernie. "All-women Cup crew named," in The [New London] Day. June 2, 1994.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts