Skippers Corner: Chris Wolfe 2023 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year - Sailors for the Sea

Skippers Corner: Chris Wolfe 2023 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year

 February 6, 2024  | By: Jennifer Brett

Sailors for the Sea Skipper Chris Wolfe had a busy 2023 sailing season. She and her husband and sailing partner, Justin, who hail from Orcas Island, Washington, sailed more than 2,000 miles doublehanded in some of the most challenging offshore races in Europe and North America – with some impressive results. Their achievements have not gone unnoticed — Chris received the prestigious Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year award, presented at the Savannah Yacht Club on February 1, 2024.

We recently caught up with Chris to find out the highlights of their season, and what’s coming up for 2024.

Justin and Chris Wolfe after the 2023 Rolex Middle Sea Race

Sailors for the Sea: You had quite a 2023 season! What were the major events that you participated in?

Chris Wolfe: For 2023, Justin and I (we have been married for 27 years and racing together for 29) raced our J/111 in the Pacific Northwest, with the key race being a 750-mile race around Vancouver Island, the Van Isle 360. We were the only doublehanded boat, and we finished on the podium (3rd) against fully-crewed boats. We also had our big races in Europe on Red Ruby, a SunFast 3300 – named after the smallest octopus in the Salish Sea, the red ruby octopus.  

The Fastnet is the world’s biggest offshore race, with 455 boats racing this year from Cowes to Ireland (Fastnet Rock) to France, a total of 695 miles. We did very well in our doublehanded fleet (7th out of 106), in our division (4th out of 98), and overall (27th out of 355). I received a trophy for being the first female skipper in IRC. The other major race we did was the Rolex Middle Sea Race that completes a roughly 600-mile course around Sicily, starting and finishing in Malta. We had a fantastic race, almost winning IRC overall, out of 105 boats. We did win the ORC overall (different rating systems). We finished 2nd by 24 seconds after 4.5 days, and we were 2 hours ahead of 3rd place.

SfS: What were some of the highlights for you?

CW: All three of our key races had huge highlights for us. Racing around Vancouver Island allowed us to see a lot of whales and Dall’s porpoise, along with much more rugged coastline on the west side of Vancouver Island. Fastnet ended up being an experience in meteorology, if you will, as we had three major weather systems pass over us during the race – Mother Nature can be fierce, but she can also be incredibly beautiful as she passes and things quiet down!  In the Middle Sea race, we saw volcanoes – including the erupting Stromboli, which was an amazing sight to see. We were so close we could hear the eruptions! The race also encouraged sailors to submit sightings for whales and dolphins, which I very much loved.

SfS: In terms of sustainability, is there anything that you noticed in the European regattas that you don’t see in the US?

CW: For sustainability, in Europe, recycling facilities seem to be much more available; separating of materials is required which, for me, makes me think that materials might have a better chance of actually getting recycled! Plastic water bottles are ubiquitous, though, so there is a lot that needs to be done on that front. On our boat, we don’t use disposable plastic – we have purchased 1-gal and 2-gal heavy-duty water bottles that we reuse for races. We also use Mountain House dehydrated food because they have a recycle program for their packaging with TerraCycle. For offshore races, we are reliant on these types of meals because we only carry a JetBoil stove to heat water. We’ve also chosen tea bags that are compostable and opted to carry instant coffee in a larger silicone bag (rather than single-use packets). I am continuing to help Sailors for the Sea develop a best practices resource for other offshore sailors and cruisers to minimize their impacts.

SfS: What are you excited about for 2024?

CW: For 2024, we have a big trans-Atlantic race, the Cap-Martinique – almost 4,000 miles! – on the calendar in April against more than 70 other shorthanded teams. The race stretches from France to Martinique in the Caribbean. It will be a very competitive race, and we will be racing for Sailors for the Sea, as the race requires participants to race for a cause! Two highlights for Cap-Martinique – disposable plastic bottles are not allowed on the boats, and when we arrive in Martinique we are not allowed to dispose of our trash. Trash must stay onboard, and all of the boats will return to France shortly thereafter by ship.

At the end of the year, if we can sort out the very complicated logistics, we will race the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race doublehanded in Australia.