Beattie and America³'s seven other grinders brought plenty of muscle to the boat—six are rowers and one is a weight-lifter—and silenced those who thought the women's crew would not be physically strong enough to be competitive. When working the coffee-grinder winches, this group grinds enough Java for all of Seattle. In the light winds of what is known as the Coma off Point Loma, America³ regularly beats its rivals in tacking duels.
Though the grinders brought strength, they also arrived with little or no sailing experience. But they quickly learned never to call a rope a rope. (It is a sheet, a halyard or a line.) They learned the difference between port and starboard, windward and leeward. They learned how to build a sail loft and how to operate a forklift. They learned about the electronic gadgets on deck and the secrets of the keel below. They are now sailors.
And somewhere in the Pacific, Beattie fell in love with sailing. "I'm going to continue sailing after this is over," she says. "The best thing about being on a boat is the space, the freedom out there. Every day is different. At practice it's so peaceful at times, and then other times, in the middle of a storm, you know that God is out there. You're watching the swells come in, and you're chopping right through them. You see a ripple way out there and then soon feel the wave go underneath you. You feel the wind...." Beattie goes on and on, this unlikely sailor speaking so eloquently about the sea it's as if she were baptized in saltwater.
"I'm here because I like doing things that people don't think are possible," she says.
The house is rented. The kitchen table bought new. The couch borrowed. The flatware purchased at a Salvation Army store. This is home for Dawn Riley, at least until the defender trials are over. Usually her life is lived out of a duffel bag. A bed is found on a boat or in the back of a van or on a friend's sofa. There is no need to own a car. Everything is purchased on one credit card, and the bills are sent to Mom in Detroit, then paid with money from Dawn's account. Last year Riley saw her fiancé, Barry McKay, a sailor from New Zealand, three months out of the year. They were engaged about a year ago when she was between legs of a race around the world and he was about to sail off in another one. When will they get married? "I hope sometime in the fall—the fall in our hemisphere," she says. This is the life of a professional sailor. This is the life of Riley.
"It might seem a little irresponsible," she says, with a slight smile that spreads into a toothy grin.
Riley is 30 years old, though with her blonde ponytail she looks much younger. She has been sailing for every one of those 30 years. "The first time I was on a boat was the day I was baptized," she says. "I was a month or so old. My mom didn't want me on a boat before that because, well, you know the way Catholics are, just in case."
When she was 12 she missed a year of school because her parents took the family on a trip from the Great Lakes to the Caribbean and back again. (Her parents tutored her using her school's eighth-grade textbooks.) She fell in love with sailing during that trip, somewhere in the Atlantic, and has been playing hooky from what others might deem a responsible life ever since.
Her family didn't belong to the blue-blazer set. She paid her own way through Michigan State, where she was the captain of the sailing team, by working in boatyards and sail lofts. An advertising major, she graduated in 1987, but when she found it difficult to break into the ad business, she decided to try sailing instead.
Since college she has competed on sailing circuits around the world, going from race to race like a migrant farmworker following the crops and the seasons. She has spent a total of nearly two years sailing in the Whitbread, the 32,000-mile, nine-month-long race—aboard Maiden in 1989 and '90, with the first all-women's Whitbread team, and then in 1993 and '94 as the skipper of Heineken, with another all-female crew.