"A Girl Can't Have Too Many Boats"
by Karen Kloser

Neck and neck at the Rolex Women's International Keelboat Regatta starting line with sailing titan Sally Barkow would make many competitors choke. Not Carol Pine and crew. She and the Hot Flash crew have earned a reputation for sticking it out whether racing on Lake Minnetonka or at this women only semiannual J-22 competition. "It's not about winning," said Pine, whose boat crossed the finish line six minutes behind Barkow, the consecutive two-time Rolex winner. "Life is about showing up."

Still, Pine and her crew are in a class of its own on the water. They flaunt their middle-age years with a blazing spinnaker on Pine's J-22 aptly called, Hot Flash. The Hot Flash crew has become a cause celebre for their tenacity, given their ages, in the often physically demanding sport of sailboat racing.

Proudly bearing their prime of life, the Hot Flash crew races in the J-22 fleet at the Wayzata Yacht Club on Lake Minnetonka.

Pine got introduced to sailing in the early 1970s when a man she was dating invited her to race. The relationship didn't last, but her love for sailing did. Infected with the racing bug, she ended up buying his boat, a Pearson Ensign sloop. Growing up on Turtle Lake in Shoreview, Minn., she spent every waking moment on the water. Her family owned a variety of watercraft, but no sailboat. It wasn't a big leap to sail, but little did she realize the wind would now steer her life's course.

Pine and her crew were the first all women racing team in 1978 at the Wayzata Yacht Club (WYC) on Lake Minnetonka. "We were terrible at racing, but WYC was supportive," she said. The WYC's J-22 fleet is the biggest one in the United States and most competitive. She has a lot of compassion for beginning sailors: competitive racing is not for the weak or timid.

Pine recalled during one WYC race a crewmate's plea, "Can't we just sail for fun?" So they went to Lake Superior. "It's a great training ground," said Pine. "You learn to anticipate and plan by watching the weather and horizon." From Lake Superior, Pine made her way to Cape Cod when two of her sail mates moved to New England. She became enamored with the Eastern seaboard and in 1984 made plans to spend more time there. She lived-aboard and single-handled a friend's 28' Stone Horse in 1985. Over the next eight years. Pine spent 10-14 days at a time living aboard learning navigation and sailboat maintenance. There were some scary moments when she was dangerously overpowered in heavy, 30+ knots of wind - ďa fresh breeze according to New England salts.Ē She learned the locals' penchant for understatement - and to trust herself. Pine's cruising boat, "Joy," a 30' Morris Leigh cutter rig with a full keel, is moored on Cape Cod in Buzzards Bay, Marion, Mass.

Carol Pine on deck of her future home, Rachel Ann, a 42' houseboat.
Photo by Karen Kloser.

Despite sailing all over the world, more challenges awaited Pine. In the mid-'90s, she and several friends attended the Rolex competition to support a group of young women. It was there they noticed only young women (under 30) were competing. The rest is history: One of Pine's friends planted the seed for a group of older women, like themselves, to join the Rolex competition. They went back to Lake Minnetonka with the goal to compete in the Rolex 2001 race. They prepared rigorously for two years by practicing as well as raising cash. They raced four times a week on Lake Minnetonka, hired Olympic sailing coach Gordy Bowers, and bought equipment and sails. They honed their skills against the J-22 fleet at WYC where Pine said there are some extraordinary racers.

The Rolex regatta is a demanding race held in Annapolis, Md on Chesapeake Bay. "It attracts the best of the best," said Pine. Strong winds often prevail at 18-20 knots in the bay. In 2003 it was gusting over 30. The fleet all flew spinnakers. Lasting five, eight-hour days on the water with only a pail and rations, it's a daunting exercise in strength and endurance. Each Hot Flash crewmate is very fit. Pine works out one-to-two hours daily either walking and/or weight training or doing yoga or Pilates. Calling herself a late blooming jock, she recently added rowing to her regimen when she joined the Minnesota Rowing Club with her future neighbor located on Raspberry Island on the Mississippi River in St. Paul. "My body has to keep up with my plans," said Pine, who turned 60 the week before the race.

Hot Flash competes at the Roles International Womenís Keelboat Championship September 2005, Annapolis Yacht Club, Maryland. (L-R) Julie Odermann, Jan Nielsen, Carol Pine and Jan Rupert.

At this year's Rolex, Pine worked the foredeck instead of being skipper. All of her physical training was put to the test utilizing balance, strength and stamina. Stamina was a big part of the 2005 race: They drifted six and half hours waiting for a race start eventually racing in light air. "It's hard to race after roasting," said Pine. "But it's so fun being a part of it." Hot Flash mixes it up with the best of the superwomen at the starting line. "They know us at the race because we're still the only boat with women over age 50 on it."

The unmistakable classic design and teak woodwork on Joy, Carol Pineís 30í Morris Leigh sailing cruiser, stands out among the fleet of fiberglass.

With the average age 28, their Rolex competitors are young enough to be their daughters and granddaughters. "But they tell us how much the Hot Flash crew inspires them," said Pine. She believes a lot of women give it up - whatever "it" is - once they reach middle age. "There's so much left for women to do," she said. She should know. Pine started the Smooth Sailing Program with the Greater Minneapolis Girl Scout Council in 1992 and ran the summer program for five years. Designed for at-risk females, ages 11 - 13, these youths learned to take challenges and discovered their capabilities with a tiller in hand. She recruited other women who owned or skippered boats to help with the program. Occasionally Pine will hear from some of the girls and their successes.

For all her accomplishments, Pine has duly earned recognition and awards. The Hot Flash team received a Special Merit Award from the Minnesota National and Women's Sport Day, and the Minnesota Women's Press named them as one of 10 change makers in 2001. In 2005, Pine won the Exceptional Woman Award in the Pioneer category sponsored by notable Minnesota media and companies. Pine professed no particular advantage in her upbringing that resulted in her drive and independence. She was simply young and idealistic while attending college. She broke off a marriage engagement and started working for a newspaper. After a short stint there, she started her own business - a risky venture at the time - especially for a single woman with a mortgage and no clients. "In those days, fear was a great motivator," reflected Pine. The free-lance writing business grew into a niche communications firm specializing in writing corporate history. Pine & Partners (plus its two previous iterations) is in its 30th year.

Hot Flash, the only age 50 and over crew competing at the Rolex International Womenís Keelboat Championship September 2005, Annapolis Yacht Club, Maryland. (L-R) Carol Pine, Jan Rupert, Julie Odermann and Jan Nielsen. (Odermann, 38, stepped in to replace an injured crewmember. The combined ages of the crew averaged 54 years old.

Following the death of her only sib, a brother in 2002, Pine pondered what was next. Her answer: work less, sail more. Initially she was going to sell her Victorian condo in the stately Crocus Hill neighborhood of St. Paul but decided to keep it. Fate led Pine to Rachel Ann, her fourth boat, a 42' houseboat built in 1955. "A girl can't have too many boats," said Pine. Old and homely at first sight, Pine declared it will be the cutest houseboat when it's restored with a fire-red hull and canary-yellow cabin. When finished in May, she will join her new neighbors as a liveaboard on the Mississippi River at Harriet Island, St. Paul, Minn. When she achieves full liveaboard status given only 26 houseboats in the club, she will be able to live there even in winter...when she's not sailing Joy south, that is.

In the meantime, Pine is reading liveaboard magazines to learn more about this sailing subculture she's about to join. She and "Baby Boat," a 12' Herreshoff replica of classic 1910 vintage design she bought eight years ago will be the houseboat tender. Come summer, Rachel Ann and Baby Boat will join the floating parade of cruisers and classics moored at the St. Paul Yacht Club. Next winter, Pine will spend it on Joy traveling down the Intercoastal Waterway to the Carolinas and Georgia where she won't be shoveling snow off decks.

Karen Kloser is, a freelance writer living in St. Paul, MN.