It’s an exciting day! Today we celebrate the new co-owners of Argon, a 1979 San Juan 24 moored on Lake Union in the heart of Seattle. Like many new boat owners, these four women are at an exciting moment where they have a boat, a willingness to learn and a lot of adventure ahead.
I am always amazed by how many people buy sailboats without knowing how to sail yet. It’s a brave, bold and downright badass move. What determines if they stick with it and enjoy that bold move is what comes next. How they get through the very real challenges of sailing, boat ownership and being on the water.
I’ve owned Capi, a 1994 Catalina 34, for exactly one year. I spent the year before that searching for a boat. I looked at dozens of boats online and checked out more than 15 in person before finding Capi in Oak Harbor, WA. That journey is a whole other story.
Before finding my boat, I hadn’t decided on a name. I figured that if the boat came with a decent name, I’d just leave it.
With Sea Bear or Fairwinds that probably would’ve been the case. However, with Freedom, Thor’s Hammer and the final boat I saw, K-Mak, it was clear I needed a name of my own choosing.
K-Mak was also exceptionally personal, a tribute to the former owner’s partners. I wanted a name that was personal to a point, practical and fun.
Okay – which I frequently mutter as I putter about
F.I.N.E. – Freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional. Thanks, The Italian Job.
Pizza Mac N’ Cheese Nachos – My favorite foods. Didn’t pass the radio test.
And, of course, Capi.
“Capi” was the nickname of Muriel Wylie Blanchet, born in 1891 in Montreal, Quebec. A variation of “captain”, I first came across Capi while reading Blanchet’s memoir, “The Curve of Time.” I’ve written about Capi before and her British Columbia cruising expeditions with her five children, sometimes with a dog in the dinghy, on a 25-foot powerboat, have become lore in the Pacific Northwest’s maritime culture.
I admire Capi, a widow, mother and a pretty practical woman for many reasons, some I reflect on most often are:
She did a lot with a little. Like with tiny homes, bicycles or vans, boats are at their best when everything has a purpose and the combined features are like a well-choreographed opening number. Simplicity has its advantages and leads many of us on a more direct path to happiness.From “The Curve of Time”, first published in 1961:
“Our world then was both wide and narrow — wide in the immensity of sea and mountain; narrow in that the boat was very small, and we lived and camped, explored and swam in a little realm of our own making” (p. 1).
She stepped beyond gender roles. Through her actions, Capi dismissed the perceived limitations that existed in the first part of the twentieth century. Traditionally masculine responsibilities, including engine work, fishing, boating and scaling mountains, were all part of Capi’s experience.
“Engines were invented and reared by men. They are used to being sworn at, and just take advantage or you; if you are polite to them —you get absolutely nowhere”(p. 168).
She was a leader and strong for her small crew. To step forward, seeing that others need strength and to face scary situations with confidence and also humility, is an important type of leader. It is something I also aspire to do and respect all the small choices, not only grand decisions, she takes to be “Capi”.
“I am supposed to look calm and collected at such moments, and my crew watched me furtively to see that all was well. I was busy, furtively arguing with myself”(p. 97).
She did it all with dry humor and character that lives on in her writing style. An aspiring writer myself, I have listened for, read about and am always working to build my “voice.” Capi found hers, it is very matter-of-fact and filled with natural curiosity. She writes of geography, history, anthropology, biology and any other topic that crossed her path. To really know it, you’ll have to read her book.
“Children love booms—but mustn’t be allowed to play on them. The great sections of floating logs look compact and solid, but any one of the logs, if stepped on, might roll over and catch you in between…yet booms have an irresistible attraction for children” (p. 159-160).
She sought a lifestyle that suited her, looking beyond the status quo. How else can we live our lives? Why have we built the life we currently lead? It seems the balance lies in the middle of exploring possibilities yet also recognizing what is right when it arrives.
“To the north-east, the snow-capped mountains of the coast range reached with their jagged peaks for the summer sky. And north, south, east and west, among the maze of islands, winding channels lured and beckoned. That was what we had been doing all day —just letting our little boat carry us where she pleased” (p. 73).
I can’t remember exactly how long ago, but the first time I picked up a copy of “The Curve of Time” was while watching my colleague’s cat and house while they traveled. I didn’t realize until later, but Lisa had purposefully set out that book knowing my love of boats.
Out of this small, thoughtful gesture from another bookworm, I came to learn about Capi and her adventures. It made me think about how wonderful it must be to go cruising. I thought, “I should do that.”
Capi’s memoir made me believe I could do things I haven’t learned yet, especially when it comes to an engine. It made me want to see all the natural beauty tucked into this corner of the world, instead of searching for adventure abroad.
It made me want to pursue a lifestyle that makes me happy in thousands of small ways, but it does take a bit of extra work, especially with boats. In learning about the world of M. Wylie Blanchet, my world expanded.
So, long before the “official” renaming ceremony on June 11, 2018, attended by the esteemed Kuhlcats (my parents Bob and Sandy) who are unfailingly supportive and have now both read “The Curve of Time”; my boat became “Capi” to me.
The first time I ever sailed my boat in December 2017!
Capi’s festive renaming ceremony.
Sweet treats for Capi and me from friends
My gifts to “Capi” in year two:
A fresh bottom! Haul out, paint, the whole nine yards and I have no clue what I’m doing…yet.
A scrubbed bilge. It’s pretty intimate but not too scary, she’ll be clean top to bottom.
A new cooler! Ok, this one is really for Andrew and me.
Sharing sailing with even more friends and family. I’ve spent years telling people I’d take them sailing! Sometimes I’d find a boat and pull it off. Now though, I get to take people out on my own boat whenever I want. Isn’t that something?! All I hope is they have enough fun, they want to go back out.
Happy Anniversary, S/V Capi! Here we go, year two.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For me, 2018 is the year of lady sailors, including myself. We stretched definitions, made monumental gains on the water and perhaps most importantly, reimagined sailing culture our way.
A “lady sailor” is a silly label. When I say it, I imagine my female friends who are passionate about sailing, or being on the water, and sharing that passion with others. I imagine Olympic hopefuls dedicated to their teammates and training. I imagine role models for the girls that learned to sail this past summer. Like many labels, it doesn’t quite say it all.
I’ve struggled to described the women’s movement taking place on the water. It’s not so different from the ones taking place on land. What I see are women taking to the water on their own, pushing the status quo in competition, supporting one another in a traditionally male-dominated pastime and in general, having a blast together.
To end “The Year of Lady Sailors”, I will be publishing three short essays about women in boating; about myself, about my friends and about strangers. This year isn’t the peak, it’s the pivot.
I’m also beginning a project for Women’s History Month (March 2019) and I need your input.
The project is titled: What Female Sailors Want
What do you want? What needs to be different? When it comes to sailing, what is most important to you? Send your thoughts, aspirations and experiences to me at email@example.com.
I have an idea of what I want but can’t wait to hear what you want too. Don’t wait, I’m listening!
This September we enjoyed one of Western Washington’s many festivals that shine a light on the unique culture that has been cultivated here. There’s the Tulip Festival in Burlington, the Lavender Festival in Sequim, Oktoberfest in Leavenworth, Salmon Days in Issaquah and our destination: The Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend.
3 days where boat nerds gather with beer gardens, maritime talks, gussied up boats on display, tall ships gliding by and a wooden boat building competition. It draws people with a deep passion for boats and their friends who didn’t know there were so many kinds of boats but like beer.
Soon after arriving, I saw the pleasing lines of a petite, spruced-up sailboat. Her white hull was partially obscured by scaffolding and signage. Unlike the other vessels, this boat held a place of honor, situated on a trailer in the very center of the festival grounds. Named Felicity Ann, she deserved to take center stage with a future almost as interesting as her past.
Built 68 years ago, Felicity Ann is a 23-foot long wooden sailboat originally named Pied Piper (I think Felicity Ann suits much better). Felicity Ann was Ann Davison’s vessel during her historic solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1953. Think of Ann Davison as sailing’s Amelia Earhart but keep in mind, Earhart’s craft of choice was 25′ longer than Davison’s and never made contact with the water.
Ann Davison b. 1914 Set sail from Plymouth, England on May 18, 1952 Began Atlantic passage from the Canary Islands on November 20, 1952 Arrived in Dominica on January 23, 1953, after 65 days at sea Her journey is detailed in the autobiography My Ship is So Small
Felicity Ann not only represents a milestone for women, it also represents the potential of collaboration. In this case, the collaboration of the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building (NWSWBB) and the Community Boat Project.
Credit is also due to an Alaskan owner who revived the boat from obscurity and began a partial restoration. NWSWBB and the Community Boat Project’s inspiring partnership continued his efforts and brought her to the Wooden Boat Festival for a fitting, post-restoration debut.
But Felicity Ann‘s voyage is not yet done. She will be sailed as an on-the-water training platform focused on empowering women, youth and other members of the community. Pretty damn cool.
My bookshelf houses the accounts of several other pioneering female sailors:
M. Wylie Blanchett, a widow who cruised the rugged British Columbia coast each summer with her children aboard a 25-foot vessel as early as 1927.
Naomi James who in 1977 at age twenty-nine, sailed single-handedly around the world via Cape Horn and did it faster than the original record holder, Sir Francis Chichester.
Tania Aebi who at eighteen, chose a 26′ sailboat over college and learned not only how to sail but who she was, all while becoming the youngest solo-circumnavigator at the time.
Her experience inspired Laura Dekker, who entered the records books in 2010 and remains the youngest person to sail around the world solo. I was exceptionally inspired by her humility and focus after our lunch together. In addition to her book, the documentary about her trip called Maidentrip is a great watch for ladies, and lads, of all ages.
But, Ann Davison was a new name to me. I’m so glad I’ve learned about her story and met Felicity Ann.
See Felicity Ann‘s new website here. She didn’t have that in 1953!
Learn about the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building here.