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Why More Women Should Learn How to Sail

by Esther Lee

Okay, it’s been about a year since I took my very first sailing lesson, so I wanted to take time to reflect on my evolving relationship with sailing and to make a plea for more women—especially women of color—to try sailing.

REPRESENTATION IN SAILING

For starters, I had wrongly assumed that there would be plenty (or at least several? a few? hello?) folks of color who love sailing in the U.S., but judging from popular Youtube channels and blogs by folks who sail, you wouldn’t necessarily know it (though they’re out there if you do some sleuthing).

Movie excerpt of a guy on a boat commenting that

Check out this funny video, “Do The White Thing: Sailing,” which illuminates this disparity of representation and experience, featuring three lovely people of color going out for a sail.

Women of color in the "Ladies of color sailing in "Do The White Thing: Sailing" video.

Ladies sailing in “Do The White Thing: Sailing” video.

Don’t get me wrong. I love white people (and those who sail too) — my husband especially! And we both love to follow various Youtube channels, podcasts, and blogs by folks as they adventure around the world by sailboat. These folks are usually super generous about sharing their knowledge and tips, and some are also funny as hell.

And while I continue to feel inspired by them, as a woman of color (I’m Korean American), I’m also admittedly wondering where are my peeps? Where can I see more representations of women—especially women of color—at the helm, whether they’re potential newbies like myself or, conversely, extremely experienced at sailing?

This reminds me of when, during that weekend of my first sailing lesson, we’d met a sailing instructor — a white, British guy who loves canning his version of kimchi on his boat. He’s super friendly, very politically conservative, a staunch vegan, and rescuer of dogs (I know, people are so complex!). He enthusiastically described various boat builders and when he mentioned a Japanese one, however, he waved his hand towards me with the you-know-what-I’m-talking-about-because-you’re-Asian gesture.

Pioneering journalist and news anchor, Connie Chung.

Pioneering journalist and news anchor, Connie Chung.

I blinked back. 🙄😣

Not only did I not know what he was talking about, but I’d come to discover over the course of the next several months that, well, sailing is not quite a nexus of racial diversity (yet) and that subtle gestures and comments would remind me of that.

A free guide for women and girls to learn about sailing.

Check out our free guide for women and girls who want to learn about sailing.

OVERCOMING FEARS AND BARRIERS TO SAILING

As someone who didn’t come to sailing during childhood nor did I live near a large body of water, it’s easy for me to feel a bit out of place and self-conscious as I try to remember the different parts of our boat (main halyard or mainsheet?), how to tie certain knots (uh, bowline), or how to trim our sails.

In terms of sailing chops, I definitely have a ways to go. Huge motivators to learn more about sailing is not only being able to confidently take the helm or explore places I’ve been dreaming of visiting for years, but it’s also the thought of my six-year-old niece.

If there’s anything I wish for her, it’s an unshakable trust in her abilities, to feel confident about trying new things, and never letting anyone dictate—especially based on her gender or race—what she can/cannot do.

In order to wish that for her, I need to—as they say—walk the walk. 

Women shrugging from Parks and Recreation show

I’m a woman of color, yes, and I’m learning how to sail. And?

SAILING OFFERS A RARE KIND OF EXPERIENCE

Sailing, however, does not come naturally for me. It involves deep fear and insecurities. Some days, my propensity to imagine worst case scenarios grips me before our boat leaves the dock.

That said, my husband, Michael, recently said something that resonates and reminds me that I am getting out there and learning every time we take our boat out for a sail.

He said that sailing is akin to walking (and this is especially true for our boat, an Island Packet 35, known for its great design and cruising sturdiness, and less so for speed, which is very okay by us).

When I asked him what he meant, he said that sailing, like walking, allow us to experience the immensity of the distance that we’re traveling:

While we can drive 500 miles in a day, that’s far faster than what we’re evolutionary equipped to travel in that time, but when it comes to experiencing and really understanding distance and its immensity, sailing allows you to develop a relationship and have the time to experience everything around you and truly appreciate what a mile is. If you a sail or walk a mile, you understand what that mile means much more.

Sailing also becomes a way of bringing myself closer to unfettered physicality—with nature, the water, our bodies, and the body of the boat carrying us. Sailing requires continual encounters with all of our senses: the smell of the air, the direction of the wind based on how it feels against your skin, sound of the hull moving through the water, and appearance of the sails, clouds, and waves. And all the while, your location and relationship to the world is ever-changing, and you are adapting to it all by paying close attention.

And this brings me to a favorite adage, paraphrased by Grace Hopper (computer scientist and ‘First Lady of Software’):

A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for. - Grace HopperYAAAS! Are you ready to learn more about sailing, or know of a young girl or awesome woman who’s wanting to try?

We’ve done the legwork and gathered a slew of resources in this freebie about kickass women in sailing and where you can start learning that’ll surely inspire you.

So let’s ‘rock the boat’ (sorry, but love me a bad pun) by challenging those old-school perceptions and learning how to sail! 😂Hope to see you out on the water soon!

 

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4 comments
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4 comments

Teja October 21, 2018 - 4:30 am

About to re-connect with my ancestral sailing roots – I’m not an intuitively physical person, but strangely unexpectedly competent in marine sorts of physical skills, despite my race becoming landlubbers for several generations now. So I’ve always been curious whether the intuition extended to actual sailing – about to find out in French Polynesia hopefully!

Reply
Wayfinders Now October 21, 2018 - 8:50 pm

Thank you for reading and for your lovely comment Nuraini! We took a look at your site and love reading about your travels and adventures, more Teja for all please!

If you ever have any questions about sailing and sailing related things, please feel free to reach out to us! French Polynesia would be a wonderful place to test your sailing meddle, it is definitely on our destination list too!

Reply
lynda stephens February 11, 2019 - 9:49 pm

Hello beautiful sailing women of the world! Love this article…many of the challenges you mention align with a vision I have for opening the water to women everywhere.
I am in the process of birthing a new kind of sailing school. With so many women relegated (either by fearful choice or by intimidation from their men sailing partners) to what one of my friends calls “wine and cheese sailors”, Through meditation and connection with my true nature a passion has come forward to help open the door to the pure joy and total connection to conscientiousness through the spiritual practice of sailing. Forgive me if this sounds a bit woo woo, but it’s not me that picked this passion, I truly feel like it was downloaded to me from above! I share this with you just in case you resonate with this idea and want to support the effort by sending positive thoughts and inspirational support as I embark on creating the non-profit. I am a licensed captain and US Sailing Keelboat instructor (as well as a product manager for a large corp–just until everything falls in place). I live and captain in Chicago with two partners in a charter business aboard our Beneteau 393, Vagabond. My card reads: Find women of like mind and develop the skills to command the boat, the mindfulness to focus without fear and the space to let your spirit soar. Wish me luck as I turn a vision into a reality…Helms Alee!

Reply
Wayfinders Now February 20, 2019 - 7:49 am

Hi Lynda, wow, it’s so great to hear from you and learn about your incredible story! Please do keep us posted about your non-profit sailing school! In the meantime, wishing you the best and that 2019 is already treating you well…Esther

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