Jeanne Goussev, Captain of Team Sail Like A Girl, has caught the bug. How could she not? Jeanne and her all-female team, captured the crown of the 2018 Race to Alaska, grabbed the $10,000.00 purse and will forever hold bragging rights to the title of the first all-female team to win the R2AK? She and some members of this winning crew are signed up to do it again and as Jeanne admits – “this race is addicting.”
“This race is addicting.”
Jeanne is a lawyer and lives with her husband and two children on Bainbridge Island. She is also a financial advisor and managing director of Fiduciary Services at Laird Norton Wealth Management. With that resume, she is accustomed to assessing risk – big risk with other people’s money. So, it’s probably safe to assume her decision to gather eight women – three with little to no sailing experience, find a boat and completely retrofit it was not a decision made on a whim.
The year preparing for the race was hectic, to say the least, trying to juggle her career and family with the all-consuming demands of such an undertaking. In January she found a used Melges 32 sailboat in California and set to the task of transporting it north to begin the retrofit. This included attaching a custom pedal-drive system to the propeller. With 20 years of sailing experience, she was comfortable in the water and racing. But the challenge came in putting all the pieces and people together. It’s one thing to find individual women willing to do the race, it’s another to figure out the right formula and rhythm to form to a successful team.
The team sailed together on the Puget Sound for months before the race start. They raced in the Swiftsure International Yacht Race just a few weeks before. Jeanne and her crew studied the boat, it’s systems, the navigation points, and trouble spots. They spoke to R2AK veterans about their successes and errors and did what they could to reduce risk and optimize their chances for a safe journey. But actually winning the race? It had never been done by a group of women. They remotely entertained the thought. Their priority was to finish safely, to have a great adventure and to bring attention to women sailing.
The 2018 R2AK Race
Team Sail Like A Girl sailed into Ketchikan just after midnight after their non-stop 157-hour journey. Their hard earned win was the story of fairytales. For the first time in the race history, the women became the first all-female crew to win, and were the first team to do it on a monohull.
For the first time in race history, the women became the first all-female crew to win and were the first team to do it on a monohull.
The team took advantage of the lack of wind, and their human-powered dual-pedaling stations were vital to keeping them in front of the fleet. When they weren’t sailing, they pedaled, a lot. Nearly nearly half of their journey was under human power. With a large crew, and a rotating schedule that allowed 2 crew members to rest at all times, Sail Like A Girl simply out-strategized and out-lasted the competition.
Number of Crew and the Naysayers
Before the race began, many questioned their decision about the size of the team. They received much criticism for taking eight women, seven of whom would compete in the full-race. It was too much weight, many thought. But Jeanne held firm. “This boat’s so light and sails fastest when it sails flat. The best way for us to sail flat is to have weight on the rails,” she explains. “We were scrutinized a lot last year for our decision to have so many people, but I think this was our secret weapon.” This strategy made sense in both heavy and light weather conditions and having a team of 7 fresh legs was key to their non-stop win.
With a large crew… Team Sail Like A Girl simply out-strategized and outlasted the competition.
Were You Changed By This Experience?
“I found leadership that I suspected that I have. Being on a sailboat with other people and being responsible for their lives, their safety, and wellbeing… that was an incredibly humbling experience, very scary at times. I took crew with little to no sailing experience on the boat – people who learned how to sail just to do the race, sometimes under tough conditions. I was outside of my comfort zone” Jeanne admits. “I work as a fiduciary. I measure risk for a living and do everything to mitigate risk. And here I am on a sailboat, responsible for people’s lives, in a race that is very risky. I definitely grew a lot more than I ever expected to as a leader. It was a very humbling and wonderful experience because of that. “
Winning Brings Responsibility
Having captained her team to the crown, Jeanne felt a sense of responsibility and a sense of obligation to women sailing. The fame and notoriety fueled their momentum and gave them an audience. Members of the team have since partnered with the Northwest Maritime Center (NWMC) to increase intermediate and advanced levels of sailing programs for women. “There are tons of “Learn to Sail” programs for women” Jeanne explains. “But there’s not much else to help them get to the next level. A lot of women end up jumping on race boats to learn more, but these have male skippers, so they may never learn to take the helm. Men, on the other hand, they take these entry-level sailing programs, and then either buy their own boat to get to the next level or are given more leadership positions on boats they decide to join as crew.”
Jeanne, now on the NWMC Board of Directors, is in a position to influence the direction of women opportunities. Through some of the new opportunities she is undertaking, she hopes to help other women and girls obtain the resources and confidence they need to take the lead on sailboats as skippers.
How Will 2019 Be Different?
Jeanne is hoping for a different experience the second time around this June. The start day for the race has been moved up 2 weeks, and she is expecting for a pretty hairy race this year. For this reason, she’s chosen a 6-member crew of all experienced female sailors. “I expect the weather to support all out sailing,” she adds. No matter what the weather brings, the weight on this captain’s shoulders will most certainly be lifted with the addition of Nicki Henderson.
Nicki is the youngest ever skipper to lead a team in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race in 2018. She was just 25 years old. Jeanne had briefly met Nicki in Seattle and thought, “Why not ask her?” She knew it was a long shot, but she also knew what all women sailors know – we need more of them! Given the considerable exposure that the R2AK brings to sailing, this race is an excellent opportunity for even the best women skippers in the world to promote the sport. “She was all over it,” Jeanne says almost in disbelief. “It’s really amazing to have someone of her caliber joining our team.”
Making A Difference
The team’s determination to make a difference highlights the true nature of these women champions. As is true with all winners, the fame and glory of winning are fleeting. What matters more is how eloquently and gracefully one climbs down from the pedestal to make a difference to those at the ground level. Jeanne Goussev and Team Sail Like A Girl are definitely showing us how this is done and no doubt will continue to do so even after the last bell of the 2019 R2AK is rung.
Read more Sistership Stories about The Women of the R2AK.
Sistership uses a portion of our profits from our Sistership Store to support organizations that give women and girls opportunities that ignite their adventurous spirit and age boldly. Check out our new 2019 ENDURE women T-shirts, designed with for the women of the R2AK in mind. Purchase one and make an impact on the NWMC “Give Like A Girl” scholarship program.