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Sailor Spotlight on Aya Yamanouchi
Aya joined the St. Francis Yacht Club in 2016 and made a splash quickly as she wasted no time getting involved in racing and Race Committee. In two short years she evolved from being a newbie sailor to owning and skippering her very own J/70.


Why did you join the Club?

I joined in October 2016 for the outstanding racing program, the opportunity to meet fellow sailors, the social activities and the dining facilities. My boat is berthed close by and it’s great for me and my crew to have such a wonderful place to hang out after sailing. Tell us a bit about your journey to San Francisco.
I’m a retired lawyer. I grew up in Chicago and moved to San Francisco for a few years after graduating from law school. I then spent the bulk of my life and career in New York City. I moved back to San Francisco in 2015, a few years after the death of my husband.

When did you start sailing? 
My sailing history is of a recent vintage. My late husband was an ocean sailor, but I thought the ocean was rather foreboding. When I moved to San Francisco I decided to learn to sail, partly as an homage to my husband, and partly to take up a sport that would be physically and mentally challenging but also fun and social. I took lessons at Spinnaker Sailing & OCSC Sailing and obtained my Basic Keelboat and Basic Cruising certifications in early 2016. After that, I decided to buy my own sailboat. I was a newbie woman sailor “of a certain age” with no experience and thought that if I wanted to race, I’d never get invited aboard so I’d better have my own boat! I had my heart set on a J/70 because it was small, relatively inexpensive and the latest thing. More than one person thought I was crazy to choose a J/70­­­­—that it was too much boat for a new sailor. Fortunately, I ignored the naysayers. I called J/Boats dealer Norman Davant; he asked me a ton of questions and finally concluded I was serious I loved my J/70 from the first moment I saw her. It was challenging but super fun to sail. I immediately hired a coach, and Norman continues to be a mentor.

When did you start racing?
My first race as a driver was in the Club’s J/22 Spring Series. Driving in a race was a challenge, but it was a blast! My first J/70 one-design race was J/Fest, racing against some of the top of the class. I came in last but I was elated simply because I did it! That was the turning point when I realized I actually like racing. I don’t consider myself particularly competitive, but I like to do things well and racing clearly improves your skills. I also enjoy the teamwork and camaraderie of racing. We went on to do other races over the season, which led to my recent decision to buy a bigger boat, a J/88. A bigger boat with an inboard motor will enable me to do more races because I can more easily get there and back. I’ll always have a coach aboard and I’m in the process of assembling a core crew for the new boat.

Tell us about a great racing moment.
The November Seaweed Soup race at GGYC was the last race for the J/70 before I sold it. We won our division and also won overall! This was a wonderful way to retire my very first sailboat.

What advice would you give to a new sailor looking to race competitively?
Become as good a sailor as possible by spending lots of time on the water and investing in good instruction. I’m an exemplar of “It’s never too late” and “Anything is possible.”

You’ve been extremely involved in Race Committee from the start, putting in 21 days in 2017. What is your favorite thing to do on Race Committee?
Markset. One of the things I’ve learned about running races is the criticality of setting good marks quickly with as much exactitude as possible.

Any sailing wisdom you live by?
I always think about the importance of having fun. Yes, we’re serious and focused and we want to do well, but when it stops being fun is when I’ll stop sailing.

What are your sailing goals going forward?
To continue to improve my driving skills and our team’s performance. Also, now that I have a bigger boat, I’d like to try some OYRA races as well as a greater variety of inshore races.

When you’re not sailing...
I enjoy flower arranging and I’m mad about gardening. I also like being outdoors hiking, running, biking or being in the gym, spinning or doing Barre. I enjoy exploring new neighborhoods and discovering new restaurants and shops.

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