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Middle Harbour Yacht Club celebrates International Women’s Day

by Di Pearson / MHYC media 3 Mar 01:35 UTC
2-3 March 2024

One of a number of women who take care of the foredeck in the fleet – 2024 Nautilus Marine Insurance Sydney Harbour Regatta © Andrea Francolini

Halfway through the Nautilus Marine Insurance Sydney Harbour Regatta (NMISHR), Middle Harbour Yacht Club (MHYC) is celebrating International Women’s Day early (it is on Friday 8 March), saluting women at the event, sailing, working in the on and off water race management teams and filling other roles at NSW’s largest keelboat regatta.

Marg Fraser-Martin is a volunteer photographer that plies her trade at this event and others in NSW. As a female sailing photographer, she is a rarity, as the gear is heavy and good balance is necessary, as sailing photographers work from small media boats and seas can be rough and wavy.

“You need to anticipate what the various boats are going to do,” Fraser-Martin shares.

At the NMISHR there are close to 200 boats racing on seven course areas spread the length of the Harbour. Photographers need to be versatile and quick thinking.

Fraser-Martin is a microbiologist who has enjoyed other management careers around the world. When her husband became ill, they moved to Sydney where she took a photography class – and discovered sailing at Manly Yacht Club (MYC).

MHYC’s Sailing Administrator, Catherine Rofe, tipped Fraser-Martin into sailing photography: “Cath used to work at MYC and said they needed a photographer for a regatta, was I available? I thought ‘why not give it a go?’ It’s a good way to meet people and I love the atmosphere of the sport. It’s a passion with me.”

“It’s a hard gig, but I like a sport with people who are juggling everything in their lives so are just out there for the joy of sailing.”

Jenni Birdsall lives in Queensland. She travels to sailing events on the east coast of Australia, fulfilling many roles in on and off the water race management.

Birdsall has the respect of all her colleagues – most of them males. This weekend she is on Echo course helping out with start/finish duties. She was recently appointed Race Director for Airlie Beach Race Week (ABRW) in Queensland, the first woman to fill this role at this major event.

During Covid, the usual Principal Race Officer (PRO), Denis Thompson, could not travel from NSW to Airlie Beach, so he entrusted her with the role and is a vocal supporter of her abilities.

“I started at Georges River Sailing Club. I took my kids to sailing lessons, but I’m not the sort to sit around doing nothing, so I ended up helping on the start boat. Down the track I became Vice Commodore of the Club,” Birdsall recalls.

She was national president of the Cherub Association for 12 years and continues to volunteer for a variety of events, including at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Festival of Sails Geelong, SeaLink Magnetic Island Race Week and the Women’s Regatta at Townsville where she is the PRO.

MHYC Sailing Manager, David Staley says, “Middle Harbour Yacht Club continues to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women in our sport.

“Women, both professionals and volunteers, are the strength behind race management and administration – not just at Middle Harbour but at many clubs. As sailing increases, the number women in leadership positions becomes more inclusive and welcoming, making the sport more enjoyable for everyone.

“Women are prominent in racing too. MHYC’s 2023 Yachtswoman of the Year, Katie O’Mara, is sailing on Khaleesi, current leader of Open Division 1. She has a key role on our Club’s Sailing Committee too, encouraging more women to participate and is leading innovation for MHYC’s Women’s Regatta on 11 May,” Staley says.

Lisa Callaghan is the only female owner/skipper taking part in the Sydney 38 One-Design NSW Championship at the regatta. She co-owns Mondo with Stephen Teudt and in December placed 25th in the Rolex Sydney Hobart. A great result for a little boat in a race where big boats ruled. Callaghan is also Sydney 38 Class Association Treasurer and President of Manly Yacht Club.

Tracy Richardson is the owner/skipper of the Adams 10, Artemis. This morning she leads the class by a whopping six points, having won all three of yesterday’s races in a one-design class where all other skippers are male. Richardson is also a board member at MHYC.

Karyn Gojnich owns and races Jabiru, a J/70. Heading into today’s races, she and her crew are in second place. Gojnich is a triple Olympian and the first female with her then skipper, Nicky Bethwaite, to represent Australia in sailing at the Olympics. She is Rear Commodore of Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron (RSYS) – also a first.

At the RSYS, she runs the Sea Coaching Regatta and races at many women’s events on the east coast of Australia, bringing a young crew of hopefuls with her.

Jean-Claude ‘JC’ Strong is another shining light for women. She came to sailing as a novice some years ago, picked the most difficult class to sail in – the Etchells – organised some coaching for herself and has not looked back.

If you want to go places in sailing, the Etchells, a male dominated class, is where you go. It’s where you will find the who’s who of sailing: Dennis Conner, Iain Murray, John Bertrand, Colin Beashel, Ken Read are some. And then there’s Strong, the lone female skipper, winning skipper of majors such as the Australasian, Queensland and Victorian Championships.

A doctor and a pilot, Strong is a petite woman who packs a punch in whatever she decides to take on.

There are many other inspiring women and girls in various roles at the NMISHR, including on the race course, doing anything from skippering, to navigating, trimming and foredeck. All are enthusiasts doing their bit as we head towards equality in our sport.

All information on the NMISHR at:

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