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 first of three short essays about women in boating. ~ a 6-minute read ~
December is almost at an end and more than Christmas, I enjoy the end of each year for the moment of reflection it provides. This year, I’m thinking about the importance of Team Race Like a Girl‘s victory in the 4th annual Race to Alaska (R2AK).
A top talking point in the summer, I don’t want to let this landmark accomplishment slip away with 10 p.m. sunsets. Here are 5 reasons the all-female team’s win is even more than it seems:
1. They didn’t let anyone build a glass ceiling. I’ve researched and written about the youngest solo-circumnavigator Laura Dekker, who happens to be female, the first female solo-circumnavigator (Tania Aebi), and the first woman to have sailed single-handed around the world via Cape Horn (Naomi James). So many of these “firsts” come decades, if not centuries, after male dominance in their respective categories.
R2AK is a modern race inspired by a simple concept: race unsupported to Alaska from Washington. The fresh face of this race made it a ripe opportunity for female sailors before layers of patriarchy or institutional sexism were allowed to dominate.
Team Race Like a Girl’s win took my appreciation of R2AK from novelty to notorious. These women’s victory was a great thing for the race and the region.
2. I don’t know anyone on Team Race Like A Girl. I would never claim to know all the female sailors in Seattle but, I know, or at least recognize, a lot. Over the past seven years here I’ve coached, raced, volunteered, set sail wearing all pink, and covered the annual NW Women in Boating panel at the Seattle Boat Show meeting some amazing sailors along the way.
I don’t know Aimee Fulwell, Jeanne Assael Goussev, Allison Dvaladze, Anna Stevens, Haley King Lhamon, Kate Hearsey McKay, Morgana Buell or Kelly Adamson Danielson and that’s exciting! I do hope to meet them all someday, but seeing more and more women sailing in Seattle and throughout the Pacific Northwest is critical for the longevity of the sailing community. It’s a pleasure to not-know you!
This year’s NW Women in Boating panel will take place during the Seattle Boat Show on January 28 at 6 p.m., you can also hear from Team Race Like A Girl on the same day at 4 p.m. — see you there?
3. Some of them are moms. I mean, holy cow! How proud their families must be! Too often the adventurous sailing woman is depicted otherwise whether young and free or older and wiser. Why can’t you sail and work and compete and do whatever else? You can and it’s important to do so.
Team Captain Jeanne Goussev told the Seattle Times, “we know that we’re strong women, but when you’re running your daily life, you don’t always get to meet her.”
These women trained, prepared and committed to not just transit but race the Inside Passage. They have careers, younger children and are not solely identified by their sailing. Throughout that preparation, they must have faced the challenges we all face at times: last minute snafus, dirty laundry, unexpected traffic, childcare logistics and grown up shit. Kudos to them all.
4. They won as a team. On the R2AK website the Day 7 update captures the energy of not just a victory but of an unspoken upset: “There was something different about tonight; everyone felt it…the moment seven women stepped simultaneous, arm-in-arm…and became the fourth champions of R2AK.”
The eight women of Team Race Like A Girl (one team member did not participate in the second leg) achieved their goal as a team. That level of teamwork requires collaboration, communication, compassion and conviction.
“We would not have succeeded without any one of these women,” said Goussev in the interview with The Seattle Times.
5. They are a different kind of female sailing role model. Who did I look up to when I was learning to sail? Was it that instructor from Ireland who could roll tack her Laser perfectly in short-shorts? Or (pre-nose job) Jennifer Grey in Wind? Or my friend’s mom who organized all the post-race BBQs?
I learned something from all these female figures (roll tacks are about physics, not sheer force; don’t get a nose job; snacks are essential right during and after racing) but I’m excited for young sailors, regardless of gender, to learn about how eight women worked together to win R2AK before we had a chance to wonder “what if?”.
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 email@example.com.
Photo credit: R2AK/Katrina Zoë Norbom