Three years ago Riley worked the pit for America³ in the defender trials and was a rookie on the team—and the only female sailor in the 1992 Cup. Now she is a member of the afterguard, the so-called brain trust of the boat, and the only sailor on America³ with Cup experience. Riley's position is crew boss, which means she is the troubleshooter on board, attending to problems from the bow to the stern. "We need Dawn to help out all over the boat; everyone else has only been doing this for nine months," says Worthington, who was in Koch's afterguard in the last Cup campaign.
If this team didn't exist, Worthington says, Riley would be the only woman sailing in the defender trials. The America's Cup has remained an all-boys' yacht club because women sailors have been held back by this well-worn circularity: You can't race in big boats until you have the experience, and women haven't been able to get experience because they weren't given an opportunity to race in big boats.
Riley's past eight months in San Diego have been the longest period she has lived in one house since...the last America's Cup. Yet she wouldn't trade in her duffel-bag existence for a job on Madison Avenue and a nice house in the suburbs. "Sailing is a way to see the world and meet different people," she says. She can't think of a job that would give her the same rush that winning a race provides. "This is something I did when I was young, something I can do at midlife, something I can do until I'm ready to sail off into the sunset."
"And besides, it's a hell of a lot of fun," she says, as that impish smile stretches across her face.
And so the gap between a woman who started sailing the day she tried out for the team and a woman who started sailing the day she was baptized has narrowed considerably. They have found common ground on the ocean, competing in the most prestigious sailing race in the world, for sports' oldest trophy.
"I'm here to win—god, it felt good to stomp Dennis Conner in that first race," Beattie says, with a loud laugh.
"We can win this," says Riley. "Once we get our new boat, we'll be rocket-fast."
Whether America³ will make it into the Cup finals will come down to how fast the new boat is and to this question: "Can they gain experience as the calendar pages keep flipping over?" says PACT 95's president, John Marshall.
"Yes," says Beattie.
"Yes," says Riley.