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

2018: The Year of Lady Sailors

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 ckuhlcat@gmail.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!