Every Maine woman must know about Sea Bags—those iconic beachy looking bags made from recycled sails here in Portland. But did you know that Sea Bags sponsors a ladies’ sailing team that made it to the World Championships in Toronto last year?
“That was so cool, racing with boats from all over the world,” says team captain Charlotte Kinkade of Kennebunkport, who, at 28, has already been sailing for two decades. “Our very first race, three years ago, we were dead last. Two years later, we qualified to go to Worlds and were the top all-women’s boat. So, it’s been quite a journey.”
As the crew travels to competitions in Miami, South Carolina, Maryland and New England, they get a lot of questions about Sea Bags—and end up collecting sails from competitors and driving them back to Maine.
“Our products are made from recycled sails, so sailing is at the core of everything we do,” says Melissa Mitchell of Sea Bags. “And, as the Sea Bags Sailing Team travels, they do a great job of telling people about our sail trade program.”
Each sail donor gets a free tote or a donation to SailMaine to fund youth sailing instruction locally. And, Kinkade says, what longtime sailor doesn’t have an old sail gathering dust somewhere?
“It’s great showing up to an event and having that logo on our sails and having that conversation about what a Sea Bag is,” says Katie Drake, a 25-year-old upwind trimmer from Portland who’s been on the water since her parents strapped her infant car seat into a J/24—the same design of boat the Sea Bags team races.
“We do end up taking a lot of sails with us,” Kinkade says. “We end up filling the boat every time. It’s fun to rep a Maine-made product, and every one of us gets a bag every year.”
The team collected 70 sails for Sea Bags over the past year, and the team is grateful for the financial support of the Sea Bags sponsorship.
“It’s a dream come true to be skippering a J/24,” says Erica Beck Spencer, a 45-year-old curriculum writer and mother from Portland who has also been on boats since infancy. In the North American championships in late May in South Carolina, she was one of just three or four female skippers among 33 teams. “We are so lucky to have such a team of powerful women,” Spencer says. “They’re so fierce and so calm and so joyful and fun. It’s a pleasure to sail with them.”
Nearly 20 women have been on the rotating Sea Bags crew, with six onboard each race. The Sea Bags crew rotates to include travel team members—a woman from Connecticut, one from Rhode Island and one from Florida—and local women who stay closer to home. They race on Wednesday nights. J/24 crews are limited to a conglomerate 882 pounds, which means most crews are limited to five or even four sailors. But, with an all-women’s team, the Sea Bag ladies are able to squeeze on a sixth woman—or girl, in the case of 15-year-old Sandy Yale.
Two years ago, Yale was skippering a boat in a regatta with her dad when the Sea Bags Sailing Team recruited her. The Yarmouth High School freshman sails with the Sea Bags crew in Portland Yacht Club races every Wednesday night from mid-May through September.
“She’s tiny and agile and game to do anything,” Kinkade says.
“They’ve taken me in as their own,” says Yale, who has been sailing since she was 7 and is also on the Yarmouth High School team. “It’s a lot of learning for me.”
Because they race only J/24s—one-design races—it’s not so much about the boat as about the crew.
“You get to muscle the boat around the race course, because you all have the same boat,” Kinkade says, adding that it’s also about strategy and collaboration. Before every day on the water, the ladies talk through team and individual goals, and they have a playlist of motivational music that’s heavy on the Taylor Swift.
“The other boats can hear us,” Drake says, “whether we’re giggling or talking about where the wind is coming from.”
But these are also highly competitive women, many of whom have been sailing since childhood.
“I love the opportunity to be on the water, especially locally,” says Kinkade, who manages Chick’s Marina in Kennebunkport. “I’ve sailed all over the world, and sailing in Maine is the best.”
Fresh from North Americans, the Sea Bags crew is training for the District 1 Championship in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, June 1–3; the Marblehead National Offshore One Design (NOOD) Regatta in Massachusetts, July 26–29; the National Championships here in Falmouth, Sept. 7–9; and the East Coast Championships in Annapolis, Maryland, Sept. 7–9. They’re hoping to qualify for the World Championships in Miami, Florida, in 2019 and to improve on their results from last year—when they beat all the other all-female teams.
“A lot of us are very type A,” Drake says. “We know we can do better.”
Being on a travel sailing team to locations like Miami may sound glamorous, but it’s actually a lot of heavy lifting. The ladies trailer the boat and haul it in and out of the water with a crane, power-buff the bottom smooth, step the mast with a gin pole and set up the rig and tune it.
“When we first started, guys looked at us and said, ‘Do you need any help?’” Kinkade says. “You have some huge burly dudes doing the same jobs and it’s really awesome when you beat them. Now they just say, ‘Oh, those are the Sea Bags girls. They’ve got this.’”
For more information about the Sea Bags Sailing Team, go to seabagssailingteam.com
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough who covets a Sea Bag.