Thursday, April 16, 2015

Getting more women to sail

It's an interesting thing that there are more men than women who take up sailing.

To get women to try sailing, the regional sailing authorities make a sailing outing a fund raising event for breast cancer. I don't know about you, but I have my favourite charities and somehow I just don't get how sailing mixes with cancer. Sailing fun. Cancer not fun. My sister died of peritoneal cancer. My mother died of breast cancer. When I go sailing, I don't really want to think about cancer. Nor do I want to be saddled with fundraising for a charity with which I am not familiar. If want to go sailing, then sailing is what I want to do. Period.

When was the last time you heard about men being introduced to sailing by promoting and raising money for prostate cancer?  Never?  Oh right. Men go sailing for sailing's sake. I get it.

Then they try to get women excited about sailing with the Lady Helm series. Every year, once in that year, a woman from the crew of each vessel gets to take the helm during the race. Right. So she's never had a chance to practice in races because the skipper has always been at the helm. She might have handled the vessel heading in to the harbour on occasion, most likely under power while the sails were being stowed. But once a year, she's supposed to be able to negotiate a start line with a high performance vessel moving at great speed with significant momentum against lots of others in the same boat (sic), without running into anyone and anything. Right. Oh, yes, and she needs to win, and not do anything embarrassing or stupid round the course. Right. And that's going to instill a love of sailing?  How about terror, fear, agonizing petrification? Oh yes, and then the guys yell at her, "no not that way" or "come about now"  or "you're letting them pass you".  And of course, when the broach comes, it's her fault, not the guy managing the mainsail who forgot to release because he's never done that job before.

If anything, this is one way to make women hate sailing. I'm not saying all women, but all it takes is one big mistake and sailing is ruined for a whole lot of people. And those mistakes do happen. There will be the women who excel and love the opportunity, which is great. I just think they should have a chance to show their stuff off more than once a year.

A club I belong to  recognized long ago that women learn differently than men.  At that time, they bought a fleet of small keelboats called Ideals and started a women's sail training program. On Thursday afternoons and evenings, women sailed with women, three to a boat, against women in friendly pursuit races and from harbour to harbour for a visit to neighboring clubs. This program was so popular and so successful that they then instituted a women's racing team for the Thursday night big boat club series. It became over subscribed.

Friends of mine do a series of women's weekend cruising courses. They are all well known women sailors on the cruising circuit. They created and deliver a hugely popular weekend seminar on cruising for women, and they have been doing it every year for several years. Cruising Women, with Pam Wall along with Kathy Parsons and Beth Leonard at the Annapolis Spring Sailboat Show from April 24th through the 26th is back by popular demand.

I am a graduate of the women's keelboat training program. I started out as a cruiser's mate. It boosted my self confidence dramatically. I learned by experience how to sail up to a mooring and sail off a dock. I learned to set a spinnaker, and trim the main and jib for speed and control. I learned to steer across a start line and keep a competitor from overtaking me. I learned to tie knots and throw ropes like a pro. I learned all the things I could not learn from a book. Without someone screaming at me the entire time. And that helped me to sail off confidently later on.

I ended up single handing my 41-foot sloop on day sails and skippering without my husband onboard for overnights. We went on to sail across oceans together and I feel I can get us anywhere with what I know.

But I still hate the thought of taking the helm in a race on a boat I have not had the good fortune to helm before. I have done it. But I would have liked to have done it exquisitely well. Without practice that's not likely.

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