When it comes to sailing, adding unnecessary weight to a boat is poor strategy.

But the Portland-based Sea Bags women’s sailing team made an exception last week at the J/24 world championships in Ontario. Taped to the boat’s transom, a tiny Wonder Woman action figure joined the team in making history as Maine’s first all-women’s crew to compete in the regatta.

Competitors raced on Lake Ontario from Tuesday through Saturday. The team – sponsored by Sea Bags, a Portland company that makes tote bags and other items from old sails – had 11 women ranging in age from 24 to 55. They placed 39th among 63 of the top teams in the world, and first among the three all-women’s crews.

“So we’re technically the female world champions,” said the team’s skipper, Erica Beck Spencer of Portland, who brought the toy super hero on board as a symbol of “female power.” “Everybody on this team just fell hard in love with this sport. When we’re not doing it, we feel like something is missing.”

Something is largely missing from the sport of sailing: women.

Beck Spencer decided to create an all-women’s sailing team three years ago after noticing how few female competitors were at the 2014 J/24 world championships. Of the 78 teams, only a handful had female skippers, and just two had all-women’s crews.

“Where are all the women?” she asked herself. “Part of the reason we put this team together was to inspire women and girls to get involved.”

Jessica Harris of Falmouth immediately got on board with the plan. She purchased a 1981 J 24-foot boat, and the pair began recruiting athletes such as Katie Drake of Portland, the youngest on the squad at 24.

“There are plenty of women out there sailing, just not on all-women’s teams,” Drake said. “The joke is, ‘Every boat needs a good bow girl.’ But you don’t frequently see them driving or trimming.”

Prior to joining the Sea Bags, Hillary Noble of Rhode Island sailed on many teams where she was the only woman on board and was responsible for the bow. She was excited when Beck Spencer asked her to join as a tactician.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never been able to do that,’ ” Noble said. “It’s special to be able to whoop up on the boys and show that girls can be competitive.”

But sailing is time-consuming and expensive. The team races locally every Wednesday and travels six to eight times a year for events. Members balance the sport with their full-time jobs, and some have children.

Noble said one reason behind the male-dominated nature of the sport is the brunt of child-rearing often still falls on women.

“I’m not married, I don’t have any children, so it’s not as hard for somebody like me,” Noble said. “A lot of my male friends who competitively sail, their wives are at home taking care of the kids.”

“We’re away from our kids and that’s hard,” said Beck Spencer, who has two children. “But I come home feeling refreshed as a mother.”

After falling just short of the world title in qualifying events, the Sea Bags submitted their resume to the United States J/24 Class Association, which was offering two berths to all-women’s teams. The organization selected Beck Spencer’s crew and another from Newport, Rhode Island. The other all-women’s team came from Germany.

“One of our missions to help prolong the class is to have more all-women’s teams,” said the U.S. J/24 class president, Chip Till. “The Sea Bags team has really played a crucial role in promoting women’s sailing.”

Beck Spencer said while women are just as qualified to sail as men, there are differences in their style. With a weight limit for boats in the world championships, most co-ed or all-men’s teams sailed with five crewmates. Beck Spencer’s sailed with six.

“Because we’re smaller, we can sail with more women,” Beck Spencer said. “To have six brains and six sets of eyes is a huge advantage. What’s a disadvantage is having six sets of legs.”

Harris said energy is always positive despite tight quarters.

“On a lot of other boats, you step on and you’re told to do this, do that, keep your mouth shut unless called upon,” Harris said. “On ours, it’s more collaborative thinking. Anyone can step on our boat and feel like they’re part of the team.”

Other members of the team are Charlotte Kinkade, Joy Martin and Karen Fallon.

The Sea Bags were one of the four teams representing Maine in the championships. YouRegatta, skippered by Carter White of Portland, placed fifth; Boreas, skippered by Finn Hadlock of Freeport, placed 28th; and Mr. Hankey, skippered by Andrew Carter of Falmouth, placed 31st.

Taylor Vortherms can be contacted at 791-6417 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: TaylorVortherms

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