By Joe Coyne
During her life, Shirley Hall was an avid and competitive sailor for over 25 years, the first female Commodore of Duck Island Yacht Club in Westbrook, CT, and a strong advocate for women’s sailing. Her success in and support for the sport created a strong tradition of women’s sailing at Duck Island Yacht Club. Today, the club remembers and honors that tradition by running the Shirley Hall Series, a weekly series that takes place on Tuesday nights throughout the summer. Bobbie Fischer, who has sailed in the series since the early 2000s and now sails on Kathy & Dave Nauber’s Frers 33 Wolverine, said, “This series is a fantastic tribute to a woman who was a Commodore of a yacht club. I cannot imagine how tough it must have been for her in a time when it really was a man’s sport.”
Beyond honoring a great sailing role model, the goal of the Shirley Hall Series is to simply offer female sailors more opportunities to sail. Each boat participating is required to have a female skipper and at least 50% of the crew must be female. This allows both experienced and new sailors to try new positions and develop their skills and love for the sport. Laura Dempsey, a sailor on Carol & Mark Salerno’s Tripp 37 Fusion, said, “The friendships I have made are lasting, the knowledge and skills learned I have carried with me to be able to crew confidently on Wednesday nights and in the Eastern Connecticut Sailing Association regattas.”
Despite the importance of the series, participation has waned in recent years. This past year, there were only two boats, Fusion and Wolverine. The two boats raced each other each week just to keep the series alive in hopes that it would come back with more boats this summer and in the future. According to Ms. Nauber the series at its height used to have eight or nine boats on the line each week. “It was nice because some of the women had daughters who might not race on a regular basis but would come out and race during the series,” she said. “It was great for those girls to come out racing and see women racing.”
Even with the shortage of boats, the community the series creates is still very strong. “The series is just a different atmosphere,” said Ms. Nauber. “After racing we all get together, and it becomes more of a social event at the club. We all know each other, whether we race on the same boat or not, because it’s kind of a small community of women who race.” Laura Dempsey, who sails on Wolverine, added, “It is just special to be out there with a group of women with a shared passion for racing. Even though numbers on Tuesday night have dwindled, it hasn’t lessened the love of being out there, the spirit of competition or the camaraderie of team dinners.”
While the series may be low on boats for now, the sailors that remain know the importance of marketing the sport of sailing to more women. Amy Salerno, a sailor on Fusion, said she constantly looks up to great female sailors like Dee Caffari, and Samantha Davies and her all-female crew on Team SCA in the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 who are changing the perception of women in sailing as well as the sport itself. Ms. Salerno highlighted the commitment of the sailors in the Shirley Hall Series to continue “promoting the sport to women, as well as expanding and growing the sport of sailing in our area.”
The dates for this year’s Shirley Hall Series (tentative in these crazy times) are June 2, June 16, July 7, July 21, August 18, and September 1. Any boats in the area that would like to join the Shirley Hall Series can find information and details about registration at diyc.com. ■
Joe Coyne is an 18-year-old from Madison, CT. He started sailing at age 8 at the Yale Corinthian Yacht Club in Branford, CT, joining the race team there for many years before becoming an instructor. Coyne also sails Lasers out of Duck Island Yacht Club in their Thursday night one-design series and in a Wednesday night series in Branford. A member of the Choate Rosemary Hall Varsity Sailing Team for four years, he was captain in his junior and senior years. Coyne just finished his freshman year at Georgetown University, where he is a member of the sailing team.