Sailing a lot, with lots of ladies

For me, 2018 is The Year of Lady Sailors. We stretched definitions, made monumental gains on the water and perhaps most importantly, reimagined sailing culture our way. This is the second of three short essays about women in boating. ~ a 6-minute read ~


A good sailor is an experienced sailor. The more time on the water, the more you know, the easier it is to stay two steps ahead and soon enough, you’re nerd-ing out with the rest of them.

Last year, a new friend of mine bought a boat and wanted to learn how to sail. A year went by without connecting, the tiller broke and luckily the boat moved to a marina closer to us. When I finally got onboard Argon, a San Juan 24, this spring it was with a purpose: To teach Sam how to sail her boat, to help her feel comfortable taking others out and have fun along the way.

There was no lesson plan, just a notebook I think we misplaced. I recruited Jeanne, who still teaches sailing, and we taught by doing it, figuring it out. You step on a new boat and it’s unexplored territory. With Argon, we explored together and had a blast.

“What’s this line do? Oh! Spinnaker halyard.”

“Hmm, there should be a cleat here, guess it runs that way…oh yeah, makes sense!”

“What a cozy slip you’re in. I mean, seems possible to back out so let’s try that.”

For several weeks, the three of us regularly took Argon out on Lake Union and hardly saw another boat. We experienced light wind, puffs and breeze from every direction. Some things got labeled, others were memorized and we encouraged Sam to do as much as she could on her own. Soon enough, she was sailing without us!

That would’ve been enough to make this year memorable. See, I believe anyone can learn to sail and do so confidently and safely on the water. What makes a sailor is a perfect storm: enthusiasm, a positive learning environment and enough great experiences you keep going.

I also believe that’s hard to come by, especially for women interested in sailing.

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Even in this ideal scenario, we experienced the sour side of boating. The sexism lurking just beneath the surface which is perpetuated by an older generation who knew a different world and a young generation that should know better.

A man on the dock once joked our departing boat and crew was “unlucky,” we didn’t laugh. Others not-so-subtly watched us from the corners of their eyes, questioning our approach because it was different than their own. Later in the summer, we were prepared to boycott Duck Dodge because the theme felt detached from reality. There are more opportunities for women in boating, but barriers and tasteless traditions still remain.

Long before I bought my boat, I dreamed about using it as a vehicle to teach other women to sail. Nothing formal, but to provide a vessel where more experienced sailors and those who are interested in sailing more could safely set out together. This summer, my dream came true.

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Ladies sailing trip 2018

On Friday, June 15, two sailing vessels (Argon and my boat Capi, a Catalina 34) departed from Shilshole to Poulsbo for the first annual ladies sailing weekend. For three days, nine women across two boats shared everything: space, dreams, food, wine boxes, knowledge, laughter and more than I can capture in this essay.

The weekend was humbling, inspiring, hilarious and, at one point, brought me to tears (the good kind). We navigated, we chatted, we set sails and we had space for our version of sailing. One friend learned at 6 a.m. she’d passed her nursing exam, another caught the sailing bug and another tested out her new kayak by paddling among harbor seals at night.

This weekend, more than six months since that trip, we are all getting together again and the excitement is feverish. When I think back to that June weekend, and every time on the water with these ladies, I know I’ve experienced something special and I can’t wait for more. We’re planning future sailing adventures and hopefully more perfect storms leading to more lady sailors.


I’m beginning a project for Women’s History Month (March 2019) and I need your input: What do female sailors want? Share your thoughts with me at ckuhlcat@gmail.com.

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One thought on “Sailing a lot, with lots of ladies

  1. Pingback: The year I bought a boat – Cara Kuhlman

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