ST. PETERSBURG — When it comes to women's sailing, nations have no borders. "When I heard that the Kiwis were looking for a crew, I signed right up," said Genoa Griffin Fedyszyn, a youth coach at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. "It has been a lot of fun." Before this week, Fedyszyn, who fell short of making the U.S. Olympic sailing team in Laser Radials, had never met the three New Zealanders that she is sailing with at the Rolex Osprey Cup. But after spending Tuesday on the water practicing, the 28-year-old Tampa resident felt like she had met three long-lost sisters. "Women's match racing doesn't get the support that the men's match racing does," she said. "Everybody has had to work really hard to get here."
New Olympic sport
Most competitive sailors race in fleets, where skippers and/or crew do their best to master wind and tides. The sailor or team that gets the most out of a boat wins. But match racing is a duel between two boats, the sailing equivalent of a half-court game of one-on-one basketball.
This week's Osprey Cup (the competition started Wednesday) features 10 of the top teams in the world, including top-ranked skipper Claire Leroy of France, in a round-robin competition.
"Since it was announced that there would be women's match racing in the next Olympics, the sport has been getting a lot of attention," said Samantha Osborne, a 22-year-old college student from Kerikeri, New Zealand. Osborne and teammates Jenna Hansen, 21, and Carla Holgate, 39, paid their own way to St. Petersburg to compete in this International Sailing Federation Grade I event.
"You have to prove yourself before you get the backing," said Osborne, the Silver Sails skipper.
In the spotlight
The Kiwis thought it interesting that they had come to St. Petersburg for an international competition the same week that the local major-league baseball team just happened to be playing in the World Series.
"We know what is going on," said Osborne, who comes from a country where, when it comes to sports, sailing is second only to rugby.
The Kiwis take competitive sailing seriously. New Zealand entries have won the America's Cup twice in the past 20 years. They nearly added a third title in 2007 but lost to the Swiss team led by helmsman Ed Baird of St. Petersburg.
Yacht racing, whether at the local level or on the international stage, is a sport where competitors can go beyond national boundaries.
"There is a joke that there is always at least one Kiwi racing on every boat competing for the America's Cup," Osborne said.
Fedyszyn, whose husband Todd is the head coach of the SPYC's youth team, had no qualms about competing with sailors from another country.
"It has been a challenge," she said. "Even though we speak the same language, they have some pretty heavy accents. At times, I have a hard time understanding what they are saying. It is pretty funny."