One Very Small Woman with Big Skills Helms BVI Spring Regatta for First Time

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When Dr. Laura Schlessinger moved to Santa Barbara many years ago, she decided to get a sailing boat – referencing the sport, she said good humoredly, “It looks stupid, if you want to go from Point A to Point B just point that way and go with a motor, but I had to try the zig zag thing,” she smiled.
It just took one lesson, and she was hooked.

“It was a beautiful day, about 8 knots of breeze, I was on a J/24 and the teacher immediately had me driving with the tiller, playing with the mainsheet, he had me looking at the tell-tales, “see one is red, one is green? Just keep them full flowing back,” she recalled, laughing. “That was it and I fell in love.”

That was some 15-20 years ago and now the diminutive gracious sailor from California is helming a Lombard 46 for her first BVI Spring Regatta; she’s barely tall enough to see over either wheel. She bought her first boat as a form of relaxation and when someone asked what her PHRF rating was, she replied that she had no clue.

“I was only interested in tooling around, yet here I am!”

Schlessinger has owned a number of different boats in Santa Barbara, most famously the J/125 Warrior on which she won the Cabo race in IRC, ORR and PHRF the first time she did an ocean race. She currently owns and races a J/109. There are ten in Schlessinger’s team, her regular crew from Santa Barbara, and they’ve been together eight years, which is rare, she acknowledges.

“I am proud to say is that wherever we are, we pull together as a team and make it happen, I am very impressed with my guys, they are amazing. The big thing that I have learned this week and appreciated is that this team can take on anything. We arrived early, we practiced one day and it’s like we’ve had the boat forever. It’s amazing how everyone adapts and uses their skills from their many combined years of sailing.”

Setting up the charter for BVI Spring Regatta was organized by one of Schlessinger’s crew, Colin Campbell, who used to live in the BVI, and the crew are really having fun with Pata Negra, winning the Scrub Island Invitational race earlier in the week.

“The boat is new to us, it’s a twin rudder so it handles a little differently – the Dr has been an ace at adapting to that, because it does handle differently to a single rudder boat,” Jeffrey Barteet, who performs the mast role, explained. “That’s a little different to the other boats that we sail in the recent past. It has a hard chine on it and needs a certain amount of heel to dig in.”

Barteet added, “Doc used to have a J/125 in some respects the boats are similarly capable but this one is quite bigger and proposes some new challenges for us – the line loads are a little higher than some of the other boats we have sailed on. We haven’t had it up on a good, sustained plane so we’re really hoping that before the end of the series we get a big breeze. But, we’ve been having a really great time; the color of the water here is so beautiful and the texture of the wind and the sky, it’s just so magnificent.”

In her professional life, Schlessinger is an internationally renowned psychotherapist, author, and radio talk show host – her show titled The Dr Laura Program exclusively broadcasts on Siriux XM Radio live five days a week (she noted with a smile that this week is her vacation week), and she often finds that her sailing experiences parlay into her work.

“When I first broached the boat, I was scared to death, and the crew told me I had to learn how to get it standing up again. We practiced it again and again. I was scared, I was crying, I was terrified, I acted like an eight-year-old and wanted to go back to shore. So when I’m on the air and someone is talking about being scared to do something new, I sometimes tell a sailing story like that one, that I cry too!”

Schlessinger enjoys traveling to race and trying out new locations. This is her first time in the BVI and she’s having the time of her life.

“This is just one of the most magnificent things I have experienced,” she enthused. “It’s been a lot of fun; I’ve never raced around lots of small islands before and I love that. It’s hard racing but when we are not racing, we really are chilling. Yesterday we went to the beach and just hung out, it doesn’t get better than this.” – Michelle Slade

Scrub Island Race, BVISR 2023. Copyright Ingrid Abery 2023.