Women Sailor Wisdom

Inclusivity and Participation: Marie Rogers on the Future of Yacht Clubs

My blog is about many things. It’s about sailing, both cruising and racing. It is about mental health, particularly learning to thrive and create healthy relationships and lifestyle. It’s a blog to support women and to invite men into advocacy. With all of this, it is strongly interwoven with intersectional feminism. Feminism has gone through many waves since its inception. The latest, comes from black women, who I believe hold the key to true social change. Their vantage point is one that highlights systems of oppression the most. Intersectional feminism is about how many different social ideas or experiences, like gender, race, class, religion, sexual orientation and abilities can impact the way people see themselves and how the world perceives and interacts with them. It’s a compassionate and honest look at bias and systems of power and how to create equity and equality. One issue I see with many of the women’s movements today is that it is lacking black and brown voices. So, I have been looking around for those badass women to interview. My first is with Marie Rogers, and this woman is the real deal. Her determination, enthusiasm, humor and grit were infectious in this 45-minute phone interview.

Marie was the second woman in 118 years, the second black person, and the first black woman to be the commodore of the historic Los Angeles Yacht Club (LAYC). In fact, when she looked in 2019 to see if there were any other black women at the lead of a major club in the US, she found none, certainly not on the west coast. Marie races avidly. She was able to race last year in the 50th Transpacific race. She told me she didn’t see another black person, let alone another black female, in the fleet. Marie also races close to home on her J 29, Rush Street, and does coastal racing on Marie, a Nelson Marek 55, that she shares with Bill, her husband. Besides all this, she loves doing deliveries, cruising, and teaching sailing at LAYC and other yacht clubs.

Like many women I speak with, Marie started sailing after a divorce. She had always been a big adventurer who traveled and did backpacking. She and her ex-husband remained friends after the divorce and he bought a boat. With their son, they started sailing together. She went on to explain, “My son made friends with LAYC members. I got jealous of all the amazing events and boats he was sailing on. He eventually started crewing on a 70’ sled; it belonged to the guy that ran the junior program. Someone was like, ‘Hey, I think Colin’s mom knows how to sail.’ I was finally invited. The guy handed me the wheel, and I was in my happy place for two hours. That guy became my husband a few years later; he was just so happy to find a woman who loved to be on boats. Eventually, I wanted branch off and not just be ‘the yacht club wife’, I wanted to do my own thing. My husband Bill, who is Caucasian, thought he was so advanced and progressive; but he wasn’t into me doing my own thing. We would get into some trouble, like being overpowered on the boat, and he would become unglued and start yelling. So, I realized I needed to be more skilled and in control of the boat no matter what he was going through. I took time away and went to sailing school to learn everything from the ground up. The instructor was really calm; he knew I had experience and basically showed me how to teach. He encouraged me to continue my seamanship studies. Then I got nerdy about weather, navigation, diesels, and I eventually became a sailing instructor. I got my captains license; my husband doesn’t even have that. He is quite proud of me now and tells people what a good sailor I am.”

Through many of my interviews and conversations with women on the water, I have seen how often the entry point for women sailors is through a relationship with a man. This might be a husband, lover, father, uncle, family friend or coach. Some of the stories, like Marie, are ones of support and growth. Others are ones of trauma and fear. In all cases, there is the theme of combating the internalized and external stigma of gender roles and norms in male dominated terrain. In all the stories, I hear a character arch of the women deciding to grab the helm both literally and figuratively. They all decide one day that they want to learn how it all works, they want to be empowered and in charge. These women work their asses off accomplishing and achieving, they are thorough and meticulous about it, leaving no system or sailing topic unaccounted for. This exploration leads to them generously sharing their knowledge and gifts with others. It is truly a heroine’s journey that I hear on the water again and again and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to listen to these amazing sailors and report it to you all.

I asked how Marie came to be commodore of the club, “For women, it’s good if you really know sailing, you have a lot more credibility if you’ve taken the time to know the sport and the history. I saw the need to look to the future and provide the opportunity for more people to come out sailing. There is a big movement to save yacht clubs right now. Traditionally, women want to look cool in bikinis and blazers with white pants, but that’s not what sailing is really about. It’s okay if that’s what people want to do, but I want to promote teamwork and participation. I want to advertise the health, adventure and sport of it. Most clubs start losing members because wealthy people die out and younger people can’t afford a boat. Or, a wife has the boat after her husband passes, and doesn’t know what to do with it. I was like, ‘I’m not going to be that way!’ Even though my husband and I have had a series of awesome race boats, I bought a Cal 25 on eBay, which became the platform for our Community Sailing Program. Eventually, it became the ticket for me to take Women on Water (WoW) participants to Catalina Island. When I came to the club over 20 years ago, WoW was a one-day event where would have a luncheon and a fashion show and tie some knots. Sometimes we tested our PFDs. I wanted to get women sailing on boats. I thought, ‘Even if it’s just my own little boat, we are going to sail to Catalina!’ After some time, I convinced Bill to let me sail Marie there every year with an all women crew. That has become a conduit for new members to come in, and the program keeps growing. Someone noticed what I was doing and was like, ‘Hey, a sailing school is great!’ I went to the board of directors to pitch having a community sailing program. It was to provide diversity and new members. I had a business model, I went prepared. It wasn’t approved the first time, but it did the second time. I had them look at other programs to show how it worked. We came up with a program where regular members and community members could co-mingle in the yacht club. Still, women say, ‘I can’t take the boat out without my husband.’ I tell them they can. We have clinics every month. It’s not safe to not know how to sail if you are out with your husband. What if something happens to him? Eventually, one of the staff called me up to be a flag officer. I accepted it, because I had to do it. I thought, ‘of course you have to do this.’”

I am so glad she did, and kept at it until she became commodore. As we went deeper into our conversation I asked if she had any push back as a woman or for being black. “I’ve had push back my whole life. People think I’m Puerto Rican because I have light skin. They tell me, ‘don’t say you are black.’ I grew up in south central LA, all my life I have had to deal with it. My tag line is: ‘I’m always in places where I don’t belong, and I’m not supposed to be.’ I had to work very hard at everything I ever did. I’m 63 this month, I’m not a youngster. People of color of my generation said if you are going to go anywhere in the world, you have to do better than everybody. I grew up being told, ‘you can’t do just enough, go above and beyond.’ I go to places like Newport Beach, people are snooty and it’s a mess. People would take over sail trim and say, ‘Let me show you how to do this.’ Then when I jump and sail the damn boat without intervention, they are shocked. But I literally have to show them my skills to gain respect. Once, this pretty worldly white guy said, ‘oh, are you here to learn how to sail?’ My friend stepped in and said, ‘Do you know who she is? She’s the commodore of the Los Angeles Yacht Club.’ It’s ridiculous. The man looked at me like there was smoke coming out of his head. He was like, ‘WTF?!’ For the most part though, people have been welcoming and I have had fun. LAYC has traditionally been a guy’s club, they are down to earth, true sailors that respect the skills. Once people knew I could sail, I got respect. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s other women who have a hard time accepting the fact that someone who did not grow up sailing could be more skilled.”

This is another theme I hear often, women coming down on women in the community. It especially happens for women who step into leadership roles. The gossip, the passive aggressive shade, the competition, and the exclusion. As I’ve written before, this really stems from internalized oppression and gender norms. Some women become threatened if others step out of the traditional roles we are told to adhere to. There is a scarcity mentality that comes with misogyny that leads women to try to side with whoever has the most power, which is either white men or their white identity, or both. Part of siding with white men is adhering to traditional gender norms and judging anyone who doesn’t. The part of siding with whitness is why feminism can be so damn racist. Besides blatant and explicit disregard or bias for people of color, there can be blindspot issues with more progressive women. White women become more absorbed in their own struggles, interests and power rather than looking around and seeing the privilege they do have and trying to share. Internalized opression and misogyny encourages women to turn on one another instead of placing blame and fighting the systems that keep us all down. These systems of oppression create divides and discourage women from coming together in community, sharing resources and shifting culture. One big part of creating a more inclusive and healthy world is women supporting women. Marie is an amazing example of a woman who worked hard and is creating opportunities for inclusion, empowerment and leadership for women. This is what intersectional feminism is about.

I had to ask directly about racism in the sport and how to grow more diversity in sailing, which is woefully white. Marie was on point and righteous in her answer, “There is so much money out there with people of color, but they are not invited in. If it’s going to be stuffy, or they have to deal with racist bullshit, then they are not going to want to be there. It is about perception. ‘Am I gonna have to put up with a lot of racist assholes?’ At the LA boat show, I had three different news outlets that interviewed me. Soon, a man shows up at the boat show and says, ‘I want lessons with you!’ He signed up for the full ASA series, just because he saw me. He saw that people of color sail. When you think of boating, you think power boats and speed boats for black folks, and pond boats and fishing boats for Latinos. Sailing has always been white. These are super educated people who are not poor, they want to be on the water. Lots of black people around the world sail. Tourists are surprised in BVI and other spots in the Caribbean when they see that local racing is majority black people. There is a black sailors page on Facebook. There are yacht clubs in the Great Lakes and back east that are all black, the history being they were not allowed to join white clubs. We need to connect non-white sailors around the world. Representation is so important. In sailing, we need to send the message to people of color that there is a place for you here. I have respect for the origins of yacht clubs and sailing, even if there were racist backgrounds. In their way, in their time, they were in love with the sea and sport. The old school guys would have loved it if their wives were more involved, they would love it if the sport grew. We need to have more accessibility, so everyone gets to experience a job on a boat and a chance to drive. My message to all women and people of color is: LEARN. Learn the basics, learn how to sail, don’t get onto a boat without knowledge. Read, there are so many free resources. Take classes, have some control of the boat in your head before you get on. Don’t show up just wanting to sit on the boat. It all starts with knowledge. I tell my students, be open, do what people say, impress the hell out of them. It takes time and repetition to get it, ask questions. Sailing keeps people active and healthy. Sailing is lovely because it’s sharing, it’s a group, it’s relying on one another. It is about team building and being open minded. Sailing is an amazing metaphor of how to get along.”

I’m going to just place a big dramatic mic-drop right here. Thank you, Marie. 🎤💥🔥

May we all sail in peace.

10 thoughts on “Inclusivity and Participation: Marie Rogers on the Future of Yacht Clubs”

  1. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Los Angeles Yacht Club for an event. She’s doing great things! Thanks for the in depth and thought provoking blog, Jenn.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Just one of the many reasons I was so proud to accept an honorary membership from Jackson Park Yacht Club the week before last. A club full of super people doing great things!

        Like

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