At a recent panel discussion of women sailors, I kept cheering and clapping as I listened to amazing women share some of the secrets of their successes. As usual, the secrets apply to a lot more than sailing. Here are my lessons learned.

Cate Muller Terhune talked about her campaign to compete in the J/70 North Americans. The J/70 class allows both professionals and amateurs to sail together, and Cate has been racing against some incredible talent for several years. As she has ratcheted up her campaign, she has worked aggressively to improve her own skills. She has also been cherry-picking the best crew for her team.


Cate’s willingness to put herself on the line, literally on the starting line, racing against professionals, was the first step. So many people self-sabotage and find ways to prevent themselves from growing. When you are brave and courageous enough to take a chance, you at least have the potential to move forward.


Cate has been humble at admitting what she needed to improve. It is hard to get better if you are not willing to admit you are not perfect. Accepting feedback and input is hard and essential to getting better.


Cate has invested in herself and her campaign. She knows what she needs to do to have a serious chance of success, and she has committed time and money to making it happen. You have to care about yourself enough to invest in yourself.

Katja Sertl shared lessons learned from her women’s match racing campaign, which has resulted in two successive US match racing championships. Match racing is done in round robin format with only two boats racing in each round – there is no second place. It’s the most challenging and exciting sailboat racing format.


Katja’s team sails on different types of boats at different regatta venues. This requires flexibility of mind, not just body! They have to be willing to think differently on each different type of boat. They have to learn what they can carry over from boat to boat, and what they need to “unlearn” or think anew. So many of us need to remember to enter new situations willing to be open-minded, and to balance experience and wisdom with curiosity and flexibility.

People Skills

Like Cate, Katja touched on crew dynamics and the importance of not just skill, but chemistry. Both teams have shuffled their makeup to maximize their potential. Sailing can be a small world, whether it is the J/70 fleet or the women’s match racing circuit. When these things are handled tactfully, you can sailors with people in different combinations in the future. Burning bridges is rarely the best option for any of us.


Sophie Podlich talked about her recent team racing win. She credited the practice time the team put in for their results. For both Katja and Cate, their teams have been assembled from around the country, and so regular practice is not possible. Both teams have found that they need a minimum of two days of practice before each regatta to perform at their best.


For all three of these teams, committing to this practice time requires sacrifices from each of the team members. The entire team makes these campaigns a priority – and it shows in their results. When we can get everyone on board (literally or figuratively), we eliminate a lot of the barriers to success.

These women are impressive on boats and off. I love hearing stories of their professional prowess  – winning projects, starting a business, talking their way into a job. Wanting to win works just as well on the water as at work.

What does it take for you to win?