First female skipper to win the Queen’s Cup
Newport, RI (August 16, 2016)
In becoming the first female skipper to win the Queen’s Cup, one of the New York Yacht Club’s most prestigious yachting trophies, Heidi Benjamin relied on two distinct sources of inspiration.The first was no surprise to anyone who knows Benjamin and her family’s long association with sailing. “My dad used to tell me how much he wanted to win the Queen’s Cup,” she said. “This one is for him.
”The second was a ladybug that landed on her shirt before the race began Sunday afternoon off the coast of Newport. Whenever she started feeling anxious about filling the shoes of Spookie’s usual skipper, husband Steve, the 1984 Olympic silver medalist and defending U.S. yachtsman of the year, she thought about the tiny beetle calmly resting on her shirt. It helped restore her peace of mind, said Benjamin, who splits her time between Jamestown and South Norwalk, Conn.
The single-race Queen’s Cup is unique. First, it has a starting gun that opens a two-minute window for all boats to cross the starting line, which is taken into account when the elapsed time is calculated. Also, the course is built with a mix of triangle and windward-leeward laps. Taken separately, none of these components are technically complex, but they can present significant challenges when racing in 15- knot southwesterly breezes with 8-foot seas.
“There was a lot of discussion on the boat about starting a little bit late and coming in at the windward end,” said Steve Benjamin, who played the role of on-board coach for the day. “I was really nervous about any kind of a port-tack approach with all those starboard tackers.”
As one of the fastest boats in the fleet, however, the allure of getting out in front and sailing in clean air for the entire race was too much. The 52-foot Spookie crossed the line a single second after the starting gun and led the 15-boat fleet around the 12-mile course.
While the clean course was an advantage for Spookie, it was far from a run-away victory. Interlodge, the 44-footer owned by Austin and Gwen Fragomen, kept pace with Benajmin around the 12-mile racecourse. Once both yachts’ times were corrected based on the handicaps, the winning margin was just 14 seconds — about two boat lengths.
The Benjamins won’t have much time to savor the victory. Spookie will be back on the starting line at 12:30 p.m. Friday off Fort Adams for the Ida Lewis Distance Race. While the Benajmins are two-time defending champions in the IRC class, their previous victories were aboard a Carkeek 40 named Spookie. After last season, they bought a Transpac 52 and retained the name.
Despite the new boat, the team’s success hasn’t changed. Including the Queen’s Cup, the 52-footer has already won competitive regattas on Narragansett Bay and in Key West.
Ida Lewis’ four courses run in length between 107-169 miles with waypoints at Buzzards Bay Tower, Point Judith, Block Island and Montauk, giving sailors a beautifully scenic experience in the overnight sprint.
“For us, this race is just about perfect,” Steve Benjamin said. He will be back at skipper for the race. “We like this race because of the variety of conditions we get, and the strategy required, especially on the leg from Buzzards Bay Tower over to Montauk. Block Island is on the rhumb line, for one thing, so you have to figure out which side of it to go on. Then there are the currents and wind shifts. It’s a good challenge.”