The Maiden Factor Blog

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NASA Countdowns – Part 3, My Maiden Journey, by Deb Walter

Deb Walter raced Maiden through the Caribbean waters with Skipper Liz Wardley and the crew during the 40th Annual Heineken Regatta. Over the next coming, we are sharing a series of blogs from Deb as she details her sailing adventure, all the way from watching ‘Maiden’ for the first time and visiting on an Open Day, to crossing the finish line on Maiden herself after ‘racing with a team working in harmony’!

Maidens’ race starts and countdowns were as electrifying as a NASA rocket launch! Liz had the intensity of Gene Kranz at NASA mission control, making multiple rapid-fire decisions. At the beginning of the Heineken Regatta races, skipper Liz would navigate the Maiden into the perfect position with 10-15 other 50′ yachts jockeying for a clean start. My job on the Maiden was offside trimmer, grinder, and helping with sail changes.​​

The grinder position on a sailing yacht has two upside-down handles that look like double bicycle pedals. Grinders on a racing yacht are the human muscle that pulls tension on a series of lines connected between winches, raising sheets, the mainsail, or controlling trim when needed. When the trimmer calls for “grind,” you haul butt as fast as you can until you physically can not turn the grinder, then you quickly reverse directions, which change gears but is a slower haul result. Staying in second gear as long as possible provides an advantage for faster sail trim at the start of a race.

Our trimmer, Erica Lush, was a master sail trimmer. When the skipper is happy with the yacht performance in trimming, everyone scampers to the windward side of the rail (boat’s edge), as a flatboat is a fast boat (maintaining rudder control).

When you see 10-12 crew sitting on the side of a racing yacht – it’s not because they are sun baking! It is vitally essential for weight distribution and speed performance. Our skipper, Liz, would typically keep the Maiden heeled over as much as possible. Our weight placement on the rail helped her drive the sails harder, hence maximizing the Maiden’s speed and control.

On the last day of the 40th Annual Heineken regatta, the Maiden was in the 4th/5th overall position. We needed the best start of our lives to have any chance to beat the Russian boat (Anna) and claim 3rd position (making the podium!). That day everyone on the Maiden crew was silently focused. Liz strategically maneuvered the more massive 58-foot, 40-year-old Maiden like it was a fast and furious sports car. She had a secret plan devised to position us for a stellar start. Listening with a keen ear as Summer called out the countdowns, I stood at my grinding position with Ag (a guest male crew member) staring at the forward arrow on top of the grinder.

There was a lot of action happening, and I needed to avoid being distracted by the other sailing crews yelling out commands in multiple languages. With seven seconds remaining, Liz yelled, “GRIND.” Ag and I went into hyper-drive as Erica and Summer perfectly trimmed the sails as we shot across the start line in 1st position! The entire crew knew we had a fighting chance to compete for a spot on the podium. With a clean start, we did not have to contend with the congestion of all the other boats. Liz was very excited to have good wind and full perfectly trimmed sails to launch us forward. It was up to the Skipper Liz to outmaneuver the much lighter yachts in our division over the next four hours. The little things such as hustle with sail changes, weight distribution, and tactical wind strategy would soon play an important role. Throughout the remainder of the day, all of these things added up to significant gains in time, which kept us close to our main rival, “Anna”, the Russian boat.

After four days of racing, everyone on the crew had their share of bumps and bruises. However, the crew energy was high, as we all knew we had a shot at this race. Everyone on deck remained focused, and on alert for Liz’s instructions. We all leaned our legs out further on the rail than previous days sailing. My buttock was aching from sliding back and forth across the deck. Still, I did not think of anything else except performing my job to the best of my abilities.

They make these fancy padded sailing shorts for a reason, but I didn’t have a chance to pick up a pair! Trust me, bear-crawls on a gym floor have nothing on a rolling and pitching 58′ ocean racing yacht! You could see the bruised legs and arms from all the crew-mates as everyone was giving it their all.

Particular respect gained for two of my lovely crew-mates who were in their 60’s. These warrior ladies endured some rough deck falls, sail packing punches, and physically demanding positions on the Maiden. Never did I hear a whimper or a complaint from these badass ladies. Elaine, your granddaughter should be so proud of you, as she has a real role model of strength and character to aspire in after you.

Everyone on the Maiden had incredible responsibility with numerous positions. When racing with a team working in harmony, it is magical. Assisting with the jib takedowns and deploying the spinnaker required coordinated timing and precision team effort. The first time I went to the foredeck and performed this task was like wing walking on an airplane. The incredibly talented Courtney Koos, (Maiden permanent crew) was swift as a cat, athletic, and agile. I was watching Courtney on the foredeck like a live performance of the Cirque del Sole act, whereas I looked like a befuddling toddler clinging to anything with a handhold. Nevertheless, it took me about 20 times of going forward learning to navigate an obstacle course of lines, deck hardware, pitching, and rolling seas to work out how to quickly get to my position and back with ease.

After a long day of racing, our evenings were filled with stress-releasing antics such as halyard-swinging competitions and concocting humorous antics to rattle other crews. Our favorite was Courtney wearing electrical tape mustaches longer and blacker than the Russians! It was hilarious. Courtney sported a handsome, dashing mouser while directing traffic on the Maiden bow for the start of our races. I found ocean yacht racing to be a combination of a 100m dash and a marathon.

The exhilaration of a fast start to the grind of a three to a six-hour endurance test, filled with a full spectrum of gladiator-style on deck maneuvers, was terrific. This experience gave me an authentic insight into what these unbelievable women do daily. These ladies are all fiercely strong, yet graceful as dancers. They can skillfully move back and forth across a pitching deck while negotiating multiple tripping hazards, all while performing incredibly tricky tasks. Liz and the Maiden crew are the ultimate silent achievers. They are committed to each other as the Musketeers.

It’s important to highlight some of the Maiden’s permanent crew’s incredible individual attributes. Erica Lush, was our East coast trimmer from Rhode Island, NH. She is a skilled strategic chess player who always was contemplating her next four moves. She is a technical trim wizard, sail repair specialist, with immense tactical knowledge. Not to mention, she speaks four languages, including Arabic.

Courtney Koos, our Maiden engineer and is a mechanical troubleshooter extraordinaire. When Courtney was not on the foredeck dancing around with poise and perception changing sails, she was reading electrical schematics and repairing or refitting.

Belinda Henry was like an Eveready battery and our dependable steadfast first mate on the Maiden. She was cool as a cat and a smooth polished operator, never becoming unraveled or tense during the day while showing incredible patience and guidance working with a lot of rookies. No matter how many times I would ask her the same question, she would, in a gentle voice, give me clear directions with confidence.

©Jo Murray

Amalia Infante was our talented onboard reporter/photographer who travels around the world with the Maiden. She shares her gift to the world through her camera lens. She skillfully cemented our treasured moments including the photographs in this blog to be shared widely. Her unique ability to capture moments is a gift from God. Amalia can tell a story of excitement, adrenaline, the beauty of nature, individual effort, and the joy of sailing all in one perfect shot. Not to mention, she dances like a beautiful princess all over the deck juggling a gigantic camera in her hands.​​

My experience on the Maiden catapulted my confidence and skill level to a point where I feel comfortable at the prospect of sailing and chartering larger boats. I plan to join our local yacht club in Santa Barbara and register as an “available crew” for the club’s weekly races.

I now have my personal Maiden memories that will last me a lifetime. So please ask yourself, “why not me?” and go for your dreams.

Thank you, Tracy Edwards, and the entire staff at The Maiden Factor Foundation. You are changing the projection of women’s lives, young and old, through empowerment and education through sailing.

If you enjoyed this blog and reading about my adventures on the Maiden, please consider donating to the Maiden Factor Foundation. 

May the Journey Begin Within You

Deb Walter

 Check out Deb’s blog here: https://www.debwaltertravel.com/

All photos ©The Maiden Factor/Amalia Infante unless stated otherwise