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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I’m still thinking about Team Sail Like a Girl

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 ckuhlcat@gmail.com.

Photo credit: R2AK/Katrina Zoë Norbom

Love Seattle’s Duck Dodge? (Now you don’t have to) Skip it next week.

UPDATE: 

I appreciate the DD Race Committee’s reconsideration and response to the July 17th theme I took issue with, they have decided to remove the theme.
 
Writing to 48° North Sailing Magazine and on my own blog allowed me to reflect and work through my opinion, solidifying my beliefs and ambitions for the Seattle sailing community. I was given the opportunity to express this opinion and drive others to discuss something that clearly struck a chord.
 
I believe more than ever we can hold ourselves to a higher standard, especially in our recreation and have a lot of fun without it being at the expense of others. Thanks to everyone who read, shared and talked about what is best on-and-off the water, you made a difference.

Happy Summer, Seattle Sailors! If you’re like me, you’re love/sun/beer drunk about this time of the year. Late evenings, eager crew and only half the layers. Yes, sailing in Seattle is great, but sailing in Seattle during summer is unrivaled.

There is one blemish on my summer sailing schedule, though. Earlier this year, Duck Dodge Race Committee decided July 17th’s theme would be “Pimps and Ladies of the Night.” I think this theme is absolutely unacceptable and compromises the fun atmosphere of Duck Dudge and a sailing community that is constantly trying to grow and “get more people on the water.”

Not sure what “Duck Dodge” is? Read my summary from 2014 on Fremont Universe.

Initially, my reaction was to shrug it off. Then, I overheard that this title was a revised version. My indignation quickly rose as I thought, “They looked at this theme, reconsidered it and yet they still put it on the schedule with the name only slightly tweaked?!” The F-bombs flowed after this realization.

I was not alone. As friends of both genders and various levels of sailing experience bemoaned the insensitive, offensiveness and “fratiness” of the theme, I wondered “how can we change it?”

Why does this matter? In my mind, it is often too easy to continue with the politically incorrect, simply because “that’s the way it is.” Think I’m too p.c.? Too bad. I believe in behaving the way things should be, not the way “they just are”.

I first approached this situation as a recurring practice that needed to be disrupted. However, after learning about the lack of precedence, I felt dismayed that in 2018, after the record-breaking Women’s Marches, prominence of #MeToo and day-to-day discussion of diversity and inclusion, this is what Seattle’s most popular Race Committee chooses.

In May, I composed my thoughts and emailed the contact on Duck Dodge’s website with the subject “Feedback from a fellow sailor”. A week later, with no response yet from DD Race Committee, I shared my opinion to the editor of 48º North and the following was published in the magazine’s June issue:

48º North June 2018 - Duck Dodge Letter to the Editor

But that’s not the end. Later in May, after the June issue had gone to press, I did receive a response from the Duck Dodge Race Committee.

In summary, they referenced the challenge of pleasing a community of over 2,000 sailors and the fact that the theme has appeared several times in the past. They did say the theme would stay on the 2018 schedule but removed from the greater list of rotating themes that organizers pull from each year.

I was happy to hear the theme would be retired but also disappointed that it could not be changed almost 8 weeks out, especially with the plethora of additional themes at their disposal. My response follows:
Hiya,
Thank you for your response and consideration. I’m happy to hear that the theme will not reappear in the future and will skip Duck Dodge on July 17th in favor of an evening with a theme I’m more on board with. 
With a long list of themes at your disposal, I sincerely hope you’ll keep my input in mind and try to view 2019’s themes from a diverse set of perspectives. It truly is impossible to appease everyone but I believe focusing on themes that uplift our community, such as Pink Boat, is an incredible opportunity and will make Duck Dodge even better for years to come.
– Cara

So now what? Well, there are two parts.

Part 1: I’m calling it a “sail-in”

First, consider skipping Duck Dodge on Tuesday, July 17 this year. I will be at the dock with an amazing crew, discussing what we hope for the future of our sailing community and welcoming landlubbers aboard. A casual “sail-in” if you will, with all the other best parts of Duck Dodges: drinks, laughs and nerdy sailing jokes.

If you do sail next Tuesday, please do me a favor and skip this theme. Look around on the water and think about how lucky we are to be out, on sailboats in Lake Union during the middle of a Seattle boom. How can we share this with more people?

Part 2: DD RC, you can do better

Second, I’d like to take issue with the Duck Dodge Committee’s reference that “Pimps and Ladies of the Night” or similar versions have appeared multiple times at Duck Dodge in the past. While that may be true over Duck Dodge’s 44-year history, it does not appear to be the precedent in the last decade.

Based on my research, the theme “Pimps and Ladies of the Nights” or similar has not appeared in the last 10 years. The closest specter I can find is a “Tart & Vicars” night in 2011 when overall, the themes appear to undergo a revival.

 

My advice to the DD RC is to just stop and think about it. That includes looking around and thinking about the composition of the race committee: Does this group reflect our greater community?

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you on the dock on July 17th.
– Cara

The New Northwest Passage

I could see the towering ice, imagine the unrelenting cold and felt in awe of the Arctic. Yet, the whole time I was sitting at my corner desk, tucked beneath the window and looking out on some of Seattle’s darkest and rainiest days.

For two weeks, while writing The New Northwest Passage: Century-old Challenges and Modern Day Changes in the Arctic, I immersed myself in another incredible tangent of sailing culture. Some (smart, tan, sane) people sail south, others never leave, but an inspirational handful sail north on a journey that can be more challenging than crossing an ocean.

Although it was tricky to track some of these adventurous souls down, I am very grateful to Dario Schwöerer, Harry SternMark Schrader, Michael Johnson and Guirec Soudée took for the time to speak with me. What does this group of various ages, experience-level and nationalities have in common? Crewing aboard one of the 193 vessels to have ever transited the Northwest Passage.

Thank you also to Victor Wejer, recent recipient of the OCC Award of Merit, who helped provide such up-to-date transit data (how many vessels have completed the Northwest Passage, how many were sailboats, which way they transited, etc.) that to my knowledge, it has not been published anywhere else.

So, take a break from this latitude and head north, very far north, in my latest contribution to 48° North on page 30 of the February issue.

Cheers,
Cara

Image: Voyage d’Yvinec/Guirec Soudée

Crossfire’s Close Call

While I have sailed across the Pacific, I can’t imagine racing across it; let alone in a 55-foot high-performance custom race boat like CrossfireLast month, I interviewed navigator Bruce Hedrick and boat manager Nigel Barron about Crossfire‘s 2016 Vic-Maui race and subsequent retirement.

The skills, logistics, and dedication required of both boat and crew to participate in a race such as Vic-Maui are impressive. By all accounts the resulting experience is one-of-a-kind and well worth the effort.

Bruce and Nigel’s extensive experience, natural comradery, and well-honed storytelling skills made this a great interview. Although I found their technical knowledge daunting, the core of this story is about good seamanship, teamwork, and instincts gained from years of sailing. I was also encouraged because, like many other sailors they agree, “there’s always more to learn.”

Read more in my latest contribution from the December issue of 48° North“Failing to Safety: Crossfire and Vic-Maui 2016”

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Lunch with Laura

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit the Portland Yacht Club with 48° North Editor Joe Cline and interview the world’s youngest solo circumnavigator. Most sailors reaction: “Woah, cool.” Most non-sailors reaction: “What does that mean?”

It means the quiet and thoughtful 21-year old woman having lunch across the table from me traveled 36,000 nautical miles, approximately one and half times around the world, on a 4o-foot sailboat by herself. Oh, and she did most of it between the ages of 14 and 16.

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Myself, solo circumnavigator Laura Dekker, and 48 North Editor Joe Cline.

From misunderstanding peers to lawsuits, boat refits to breakdowns, fierce storms to great loneliness, Laura Dekker experienced more in her first sixteen years than many do in a lifetime. Age is an abstract concept when speaking with Laura. I can imagine many describe her as an “old soul.” Knowing what I was like at ages 14, 16, and even 21 makes what she has accomplished even more impressive and thought-provoking.

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Walking the docks with Laura, this was her first visit to Portland, OR.

Regardless of the age of her soul, Laura is an incredibly unique person with a broad horizon of possibilities ahead of her. As she continues to travel, sail and occasionally speak, she shares her unconventional upbringing aboard boats, experiences exploring the world, and perhaps most importantly, her time spent alone with the ocean.

I completed my first long-distance sailing trip last year across the Pacific Ocean (Laura has sailed across twice!) and some days, as I go about my life here in Seattle it’s hard to imagine I did that and experienced such a different way of life. Laura remembers her trip with vivid detail but she is selective in the interviews and presentations she gives because it is her trip, her experience, and only the beginning of an adventurous life.

I sincerely appreciate Laura taking the time to have lunch and a long conversation with myself and Joe. It was entertaining, enlightening, and she’s a damn good sailor. Read my Q&A with Laura Dekker in the November issue of 48° North here, page 22.

For sailors and non-sailors alike check out Maidentrip, a documentary that follows Laura’s journey during her record-breaking solo circumnavigation.

Recently Published – The Wiring Whisperer & The Top 10 Sailing Movies

The new year didn’t truly set in for me until mid-January. I’m a little behind, I guess!

A48-north-january-2016-covert the beginning of January my latest profile for 48° North, Dan Hopkins: The Wiring Whisperer, appeared in the January issue of the print magazine. A retired electrician and experienced liveaboard, Dan is a “guiding light” in his community helping new liveaboards safely update their electrical systems and install heat this winter.

It was such a pleasure speaking with Dan, his wife Irene, and the appreciative neighbors he has helped. I learned so much about marine electrical, boat ownership, and the camaraderie of the boating community.

Read The Wiring Whisperer here.

Mid-January was an especially exciting time; I began a new job! My big present this holiday season was being offered, and enthusiastically accepting, the position of Marketing and Advertising Coordinator with GeekWire, an online tech and business publication based in Seattle.

GeekWire logoMy transition kept me on my toes. I left my previous job one Friday and reported for duty at my new job the next Monday, the time has been flying ever since! In addition to working with members, assisting with events, coordinating advertising and more, I curate two weekly posts, GeekWire Calendar Picks and GeekWork Picks.

GeekWire boasts an amazing editorial team and covers a very diverse range of topics, be sure to check it out!

Lastly, this new year has brought an exciting new phase for a publication I’ve worked closely with for several years now. 48° North launched a new website with even more great content for the NW sailing community. Congratulations to the team at 48° North!

For the occasion, I explored what nautical entertainment had to offer and compiled my Top 10 Sailing Movies, check out Part 1 (10-6) here. A couple of my favorite new features are the Editor’s Picks and #TBT. Now you can enjoy even more of the magazine “By Sailors, For Sailors.” 

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