The Sailing Women in my Life

I’ve had the pleasure of sailing with some great people, many of whom are women. In this month’s ‘Corner’, Coop writes about The Magenta Project’s mission of exposing more women to top-level sailing and increasing the number of women sailing professionally. There are several females sailing out of my homeport of Black Rock Harbor in Bridgeport, Connecticut – none of them professional, but all of them great. I’m certain that Coop also knows many outstanding female sailors, and he and I concur that the most talented and ambitious – particularly here in the USA – deserve more abundant opportunities to become pros. Many of the sailing women I know could, given the chance, compete at the highest levels of the sport.

My two favorite female sailors are my wife Holly and my mother Nancy, neither of whom race. Both are fine sailors, and I am comfortable with either of them at the helm under any circumstances. I have a great picture of my mother at the helm of our boat. We had recently exited the Cape Cod Canal on our way to Scituate Harbor. The breeze was up, yet a thick, cold fog had rolled in unexpectedly, and neither my father nor I were properly clothed. Up came Mom ready to rock, all geared up. She grabbed the helm and got to it so the two boys could get below and throw on a jacket. No words needed, just to the task like a pro. We took a long time to come back on deck getting coffee, snacks and checking the radar, but when we did, Mom was there at the helm, hood up, glasses on and soaked with dew. No words needed, task complete. Such is the same for all the women sailors in my life including Holly, who is a natural. She’d never gone sailing before meeting me and because I liked her so much, I was really nervous that she would hate the boat, suffer from seasickness, or simply not understand why sailing is so special. I am lucky to have women in my family so at ease on the boat, no matter the conditions or the job needing attention. On deck or below, it’s always no worries.

Mary Ellen Tortorello is another favorite sailor of mine. Mar races. I’ve never sailed with anyone more committed to being out there. Mar has talent, but more importantly she has attitude, humor and enthusiasm in her sail bag. Anyone that has been aboard a boat with Mar during a race knows she adds much to the success of the team and has a blast doing so. Her boat, a J/111 with which she and her husband Dave have enjoyed many victories, is aptly named Partnership.

Sue Kiely races with me on Wednesday nights. I am thankful she is out there every week to add balance to our crew.  A very capable sailor, she trims the mainsail. She is one female sailor among nearly a dozen men. I very rarely have to worry about whether the main is trimmed properly and the guidance Sue imparts to our non-sailing crew is always spot-on and valuable. Sue also daysails with her husband Bob, and Sue is the Skipper. T

here is one other woman sailor in my life. She is one of the most accomplished nonprofessional sailors (forget the man or woman distinction) with whom I’ve set out. WindCheck’s Publisher Anne Hannan, through 15 years of putting women and their accomplishments on the pages of this magazine, identifying available opportunities, and leading by example, has done more to get women into – and staying with – sailing than anyone I know. Cheers to you, Anne.

I am indeed lucky to have several great female sailors around me, but Coop’s right – we need more women in sailing and we need more pathways for those who wish to commit to a career of sailing. I’m sure there’s more to the 3% demographic that Coop cites illustrating the ratio of male recreational sailors to male professionals and female recreational sailors to pros. The obvious imbalance is that there are considerably more men than women in sailing, and the number of professional women sailors in comparison to their recreational sisters is an order of magnitude lower. It’s heartening to see The Magenta Project doing such a wonderful job to lessen this disparity.

See you – and hopefully many more women sailors – on the water.

Chris Gill

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