Most people wouldn’t exactly jump at the chance to compete in an international competition in only their second time setting foot on an 18-foot Hobie Cat sailboat. One might even get a little seasick just thinking about it. But for Kailey Jones, it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
The 16-year-old Montesano resident has been sailing since just after she learned to walk, so when the chance to compete in the Hobie 18 Women’s North American Championships in Kelowna, British Columbia, came her way, she wasn’t about to say no. Jones was the crew for skipper Laura Sullivan of Seattle as the two competed on June 27 through June 29 as one of 12 boats with crews from the United States and Canada. For Jones, it was an unforgettable experience of several firsts and a fifth place finish overall.
While Jones has plenty of experience sailing a Hobie, the biggest first for her was that this was her first time on the 18-foot variety of the sailboat.
“Thursday, before the race, was my first time on an 18,” Jones said. “I had been on a 16, a 14 and all different kinds of Hobies, but not an 18, so it was a new experience. It wasn’t that different. There are just a few things that are different on the boat. It is longer, bigger — they have dagger boards.”
A Hobie Cat is a small sailing catamaran (consisting of two hulls). Jones’ father, Alan Jones, purchased one of the boats in the 1980s and began racing, so when Kailey came along 16 years ago, Alan imparted his love for sailing into his daughter. The father-daughter team have competed in a couple of events on the Washington coast in their 16-foot boat.
After Jones received the e-mail inviting her to compete with Sullivan, who is more than 40 years her senior, the plan was to do a few practice sails, but busy schedules did not allow for any practice together before heading to Canada to compete. It was trial by fire for Jones, but she loved almost every second of the competition.
“The first couple days were exhausting because you have to be forward on the boat, but most of what goes on is in the back,” Jones said. “When you are not tacking, you have to be forward. I think I almost fell off once.”
The boats compete for the lowest total number of points over the course of 15 possible races with the winner receiving 1 point and the 12th-place finisher receiving 12 points.
In the first race of the day, Jones and Sullivan were protested and disqualified giving them 13 points, not exactly the start they were looking for, but they placed second in the next race and were back toward the top half of the competitors.
On the second day of competition, there wasn’t much wind, so it was hard to get the boats up to speed before they passed the first mark. If the boats do not get past the first mark in a set amount of time, the race has to be restarted, which happened three times in a row on Saturday.
“On Sunday, the wind really picked up and we got five races in three hours,” Jones said. “I got knocked off the boat that day, but I was still hooked in so I was dragging along, getting hit by waves.”
Although her pride was a little hurt as she was drug behind the boat going by several students from the sailing school, Jones remained undetered and once she got back on the boat she and Sullivan finished in the top four in the final four races to finish in fifth place. The pair was one of only two boats with skippers from Washington and the event was won by Chris Bradshaw, a skipper from Kansas.
“I had a really good experience,” Jones said. “It was really fun.”
Although she has mostly competed as a crew member, Jones said the experience of competing internationally has encouraged her to continue on and try her hand at being the skipper in the future. Jones has been a part of a sailing school on Lake Washington and tried to learn as much as possible from her father over the years, but she may still need a little more practice.
“I hope to be skippering someday,” Jones said. “I actually went out two weeks ago with a friend of mine. We didn’t do too well, but I haven’t skippered much.”
Jones may be skippering her own boat in the future, but in the near future she will be the crew for her father’s boat at the Pacific Northwest Area Championships Aug. 15 through Aug. 17 at Lake Quinault, which is one of only four area championships in the country. For Alan Jones, it is a very proud time to watch his daughter begin to share his love for sailing and compete with the best in the nation.
“I want to see her do it because she wants to,” Alan Jones said. “I’ve drug her to all the races that I go to so she has been around it since she can remember. There are world-class sailors at these events and they are racing with Kailey.”