Women in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) are rocking it this year with five races out of 300 dedicated to women in sailing. (I counted this from the PNW SARC, if I have missed any races or counted incorrectly, please let me know.) I have listed these races and links at the end of this blog. From what I can tell, Bellingham Yacht Club’s Women on the Water (WOW) regatta is the oldest in its 24th year. Way to be progressive Bellingham! Excitingly, two races this year are in Seattle. Spread the word and mark your calendars!
I’ve written before about the need for women’s events and awards and why. In December 2019, The World Sailing Trust put out it’s strategic review of women in sailing. The numbers were validating and grim, all sailors should read it over. It essentially outlines that we have active discrimination and issues around gender bias and exclusion in the sport. I would also love to see some data around black and brown folks on the water and more representation there. I am grateful to have numbers to back up my observations and experiences on the water so far.
If I had my wish, every yacht club would have at least one event a year helping to promote women in sailing. Yacht clubs have an opportunity to lead the way on diversity and inclusivity in this new decade. When clubs show that they are taking steps to help with representation in a sport that has traditionally been mostly white and male it matters. We can switch the message in upcoming years to show the vibrancy of the diverse world we live in, and grow the sport as more millennials and gen z start to get further into the game. I am deeply grateful to live in an area of the world with such a big sailing community and beautiful waters. Thank you to all the clubs and committee boats and many people involved who run these events. It is a lot of work and it is important for folks to give thanks and show up!
I want to talk a little about one of the new events in our area this year I am personally very excited about. Some of you may know already, but Eric has been on the board of the Sloop Tavern Yacht Club (STYC) for 3 years as secretary and has now shifted roles to a club PHRF-NW handicapper. As 2020 was approaching, he had a platform and opportunity and I had an idea. What if they ran a race where women drive? Together, we came up with the Women at the Helm Regatta (WATH) and STYC enthusiastically approved Eric’s pitch as a board member. STYC has always been a grassroots and progressive club in our area, providing many an affordable and inclusive entry point into the sport. I am super excited about my awesome logo (above) and the cool swag to go along with so many badass women on the start lines.
Why WATH? If you count how many women are at the helm on the start lines in the PNW, you will see very few, if any. Why? For many reasons like gender bias, and gender roles, but research shows another issue is income inequality. Women culturally and statistically don’t have money to buy a boat or use their extra income for one. In Seattle, we have a robust racing community and have awesomely built programs with more women than ever participating. Many of the women in our community race on a friend’s boat as crew. These women are badass sailors and frankly don’t get enough time, if any, at the helm.
The name, Women at the Helm, is a well-known slogan, hashtag and movement used in both sailing and business as a statement of women being in charge. It has an empowered and allied global message to it. Please hashtag your social media posts with #womenatthehelm when you have good shots driving. While you are at it, also like and hashtag #womenwhosail because that group and page are doing some amazing things to help the sport out as well. (Side note, I recently joined the admin team of Women Who Sail and am hella excited to be part of this movement for women and non-binary sailors.)
Back to WATH, the race will be coordinated around women driving the boat for a day. This may mean they are running the whole show as skipper or driving with an owner or tactician calling the shots. Teams can be mixed gender and negotiate their own strategies and roles. The goal is to have a start line of all women driving and women’s names included on the roster. It will be run as a buoy race and try for at least two starts depending on conditions.
My hope is that local male boat owners generously hand over the helm for a day, and maybe even get practice time in before the race as a way for women to gain more experience in driving and leadership. This really is an amazing opportunity for the men in our community to be allies and show great support for the women sailors in their lives. Seattle Sailing Club will also be opening their fleet for qualified skippers to charter the race for the day. Of course, I also hope women boat owners like myself get their awesome rides on the start line. Even if you don’t normally race, being a STYC member will get you a club rating for this and other STYC races. Since Eric is a handicapper for the club, he urges you to please start that process as soon as possible. I am excited that many women who own boats but don’t usually race already want to participate. It’s going to be a great day on the water. You will definitely see me there, rainbow sails, unicorns farting on my bow and all!
WATH leads up to another big event for women in Seattle. Two months later, we also have SHE Regatta, where women drive, crew, run and PRO it. This is run by Northwest Yachting. It’s a bit of a play on gender roles as men will run the after party and food. Both races allow for greater representation and promote a template that many women are amazing sailors and give opportunity for leadership roles on boats.
Here is an active challenge for those of you in other areas and yacht clubs around the globe: what events can you dream up for supporting women sailors in 2021? Let’s bump those numbers up in the PNW from 5/300!
We have an amazing community here in the PNW and I look forward to 2020 and all the fun to be had!
May we all sail in peace. (Edit 9/19/20: Please see edits and additions below for an apology on language used in this piece and the discovery of other WATH events.)