You won’t find a stronger advocate in women’s sailing than Joan Thayer, a passionate one-design racer from Marblehead, Massachusetts.
“I grew up in Marblehead and started sailing in the fourth grade,” says Joan. “My father, Dick Thayer, was a competitive sailor. He co-owned an International One Design, Pompano, and my mother Elli, my two sisters and I were part of the crew.
Joan Thayer (left) pictured with an enthusiastic AdventureSail® skipper
My sisters and I spent a lot of summers at the Pleon Yacht Club, the oldest independent junior yacht club in the United States. Pleon sits on the Eastern Yacht Club property, but the juniors, who are members until age 18, run everything. My elder sister and I were club officers. Members in my era included Dave Curtis, Jud Smith and Robbie Doyle, and I sailed with Robbie when he won the Sears Cup in 1964. I got my first boat, a 110, in high school. I named it Spinner, which was my History teacher’s nickname.”
Joan’s mentor was Marblehead racer Emmy Magoon. “I owe a lot to Emmy as a skipper and as an advocate of women in sailing,” she says. “I followed in Emmy’s footsteps in women’s racing from the day I started crewing with her in the elimination series for the Adams Cup, the US Sailing Women’s Championships. Emmy became Chairman of the Adams Cup Committee, and suggested that I run a quarterfinal or semi-final event. I did, and eventually became the Adams Cup Chairman. In 1996, the event was sailed in Sonars. Emmy had a Rhodes 19 and I had a Shields, and we were interested in a different boat. She said, ‘Why don’t we go in together?’ We bought a Sonar which we named Follow Me, and always sailed with all-women crews.”
“I like to do well on the racecourse, but don’t consider myself a hardcore skipper. My enjoyment comes from having the boat and crew prepared so that when we cross the finish line we all can say we did our best. I enjoy helping women be more confident on the boat. If I can teach them an easier way to do something or explain it in a way that makes sense to them, then I have had a great day. Emmy taught me that. She was a very positive person, and was very involved with junior racing and judging – having them see the fairness and fun in the sport.”
Joan is actively involved with AdventureSail®, a mentoring program for at-risk girls. “In 1991, I received a flyer about putting on an AdventureSail® event. My roommate, Sue Corl, said, ‘This looks like fun!’ We did a program and met the AdventureSail® founder, Doris Colgate, who had founded the National Women’s Sailing Association (NWSA) in 1990. The NWSA’s mission is to enhance the lives of women and girls through education and access to the sport of sailing. Sue and I joined and became board members.”
“We currently have AdventureSail® programs at Courageous Sailing Center in Boston; Racine, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; Nevada City, California; Sag Harbor, New York; and our newest one at Annapolis Community Boating in Maryland. Each is unique because of the location, the types of boats and skippers available, but the same sense of ‘you matter’ and ‘you can do this, girl’ applies. We run the Courageous Sailing program with the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, and the girls take the helm and trim the sails. It’s wonderful to see the change in them. They’ve never been on the water and they’re timid when they arrive, but by the end of the day they’re beaming. Many of them hug us and say, ‘Thank you!’”
In 2001, Joan (pictured above with an enthusiastic AdventureSail® skipper) and Sue Corl organized and co-chaired the first NWSA Take the Helm® Women’s Sailing Conference. “A woman named Gail Hine joined the NWSA board. Gail had organized the Women’s Sailing Convention in California. Sue and I attended and said, ‘This is fabulous. We need one on the East Coast!’ We took the idea – modeled after Gail’s event – to the NWSA board. The Corinthian Yacht Club agreed to host it and we’ve been doing it ever since. Sue, who passed away in 2007, was a sparkplug of capability and creativity…and nobody could pack a spinnaker better!”
“The Women’s Sailing Conference, now co-chaired by Scottie Robinson, offers something for all levels of sailing. There are no male egos to get in the way of learning and sharing experiences. We offer several workshops including diesel engine maintenance, hands-on charting, docking, anchoring, electronics, on-the-water crew overboard rescue instruction, and one for novices called Welcome Aboard that covers terminology, parts of the boat, what to wear, and knots. This year we’re adding winch maintenance and liveaboard workshops and a race committee primer, for a total of 21 workshops. This year’s Conference, at Corinthian on Saturday, June 6, is all about giving women confidence in themselves and permission to get on that ladder to their dreams.”
A member of the Corinthian YC Race Committee, Mass Bay Sailing and the Beverly-Marblehead Sail & Power Squadron, Joan chaired the Centennial Marblehead Race Week in 1989 and received the Massachusetts Bay Distinguished Service to Sailing Award that year. “I do a lot of volunteering in sailing,” she says. “That comes from both my parents. They were very community-minded people. Sailing was of course very high on their list and they enjoyed it for many years. I just followed in their footsteps.”
Inducted into the Marblehead Yacht Racing Hall of Fame last summer, Joan joins her father and Emmy Magoon, who were inducted in 1989, and her mother (1996). “I am delighted when I read or hear of new sailing programs for women or girls only,” she enthuses. “Women sailors are not just along for the ride any longer. We are at the helm. We are on the ownership papers. We are sought-after crews. For me, the best part of sailing is seeing the crew work together, whether rounding a mark or beating the other guy at the finish line. Everybody can smile and say, ‘I participated in that, I had a great time, and I’m looking forward to doing it again!’”