I first met Katie when she worked at Sail Newport and I was on the board, in the early 2000s. We spoke on the deck at Ida Lewis Yacht Club.

© JoeCooperSailing.com

Coop: Katie, thanks for coming out.

KB: Hi Coop, thanks for asking me.

Coop: Are you a Newport native?

KB: I grew up in Narragansett, so not a native Newporter but Rhode Island born and raised. I went to Florida for college, at Rollins College. After that I returned to Rhode Island and started work at Sail Newport in 2006.

Coop: Can you remember your first sailing experience, or does Barker Family Lore include “the first day we took Katie sailing”?

KB: It was too early for me to remember. My dad owned a number of S boats before I came along, and the year I was born he bought our first J/24, Nighthawk. She remained in the family for until a few years ago when we donated her to Sail Newport.

Sailing was always a family thing, though I did a bit more youth sailing than my sister, who did a lot of crewing on boats. She’s seven years older than me and was crewing with dad on a few Swans at that time. I did youth sailing at Sail Newport when I was little, then I sailed out of Point Judith Yacht Club, on the salt pond.

Coop: Did you sail in college?

KB: No, I was concentrating on my academics. I was on an academic scholarship so I had to stay focused.

Coop: Were you “aiming” at working at Sail Newport? Seems like the Barkers had a history there…Serendipity?

KB: Well, a bit of both. I was on a serious job search path after college. Sail Newport had a job posted but I was not quite the right fit for that one, so they brought me in under another role. I evolved within the organization over time, for the next thirteen years.

Coop: Sail Newport is one of the great examples of its type in the world. Thirteen years there must’ve been a blast, except maybe when it was stressful during The Ocean Race/VOR stopovers, world championships and all their other fantastic regattas every year.

KB: I credit Brad Read for seeing potential in me, pushing me in different ways and various roles to take on. What you can learn working at a small not for profit is invaluable. You know, doing the job of several people…It was just a fantastic experience, especially being there through some pretty big growth years. The first two Volvo Ocean Races, The Capital program for the new building, constructing the building; all of that was just great to be a part of. Both personally and for the local community, too.

Coop: If I have the sequence right, you then moved to the Seaman’s Church Institute…

KB: Yes, right. Then I took a job at The Sailing Museum in March of 2020. I was there for the creation of the space, the renovation of the Armory building, the build-out of the Museum space, the actual Museum aspects of the interior, inside the building and the opening of the business. My role was Director of Finance and Business Operations. I had a pretty big role in the early days, and it was very similar to Sail Newport: capital campaign, finance, bookkeeping, accounting, budgeting, and getting the operation up and running for the opening in May of 2022.

Coop: Was your university training in Finance?

KB: No, I was a Psychology major. Any of the money skills I have I have learned on the job. I left The Sailing Museum at the end of June this year, and took a career turn into the private sector. I am now at Corrigan Financial in Middletown doing wealth management, investments and financial planning, so it’s taking a lot of what I have learned and applying it the private sector.

Coop: Tell me a bit about your sailing these days. I see you and your dad out at all the regattas in the Evelyn 32, which he tells me you are all pretty successful at. Were you able to take up your old seat on the rail, or did you have to try out all over again?

KB: When I arrived back in town after college Dad still had the J/24, but he was not so keen on the one-design sailing so he put some new sails on the boat and we sailed her in PHRF. The Jamestown Yacht Club Tuesday night racing has been a family tradition for close to fifty years, and Dad has been doing it longer than that. He purchased our first Evelyn 32 in 2015.

Coop: First?

KB: Yes, we’re now on our second. The first one was destroyed in a flood, but we found another that was all done up and it all turned out great.

Coop: Barker Family Sailing is onto the second Evelyn 32. When did you get that one?

KB: We got that one in 2020. It’s actually an older model than the first one but it had been completely rebuilt so it is in great shape.

Coop: Cool. They are great little boats.

KB: They are similar to J/24 sailing too. The way they are laid out, the mechanics of how you sail them.

Coop: Equally weight-centric, sensitive too.

KB: (laughs) Yeah, maybe even more so. We sail with eight or nine people, which everyone finds a bit crazy, but you do need that much weight, especially on a windy day.

Coop: When I was talking with your dad looking for your contact info, he remarked that half the crew are women. Is that by design?

KB: I think it is fairly intentional. Dad has two daughters and now a granddaughter that sails. That is just how he has always done it. It is a very Family and Friends program, and we have developed a pretty regular crew roster over the years. I think that translates into the results we get.

Coop: Yes, your dad gave me a sports card statistic about Hawk’s win/loss record and it was very strong in the win column.

KB: That’s attributable to consistent crew. Getting everyone really comfortable with their positions on the boat is key and has been great.

Coop: What is your role?

KB: I do all the crew organizing. Logistics, navigating, getting us to the racecourse, checked in, on the radio. All the behind-the-scenes stuff. Then I am just an extra set of hands. If we are down a person I can sail in any position on the boat: mast, bow, pit, trim…

Coop: Have you ever been in a sailing situation where the fact you are a woman has generated some kind of friction?

KB: Yes, but I don’t think there is a woman in competitive sailboat racing who has not been in such position.

Coop: Yup, and that is a very common response to that question. How did you manage that situation?

KB: Sticking up for myself…and having Dad right there is a helpful thing, too. He doesn’t take any guff from anyone.

Coop: Do you have any ideas of breaking out and getting your own boat? Katie’s boat, not Dad’s boat?

KB: Not right now. It’s been such a thing that Dad and I do together. I think we will just keep doing this for as long as he wants. I am on his schedule right now.

Coop: Does your mum sail?

KB: She did sail, but she passed away a handful of years ago. She and my dad actually met at the Rhode Island Yacht Club.

Coop: Oh boy, she did not have hope once that happened.

KB: Yes! She was not a big competitive sailor, but she spent her fair share of time on sailboats.

Coop: What might you suggest to your high school self about sailing, aimed at a contemporary high school girl sailor?

KB: Oh, that is a good one. Well, my situation sailing with my family is a bit out of the run of normal today. A lot of kids sailing now do not come from sailing families, but I would say do as much sailing as you can. Take every opportunity to go sailing. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Walk the docks, ask for the ride, and don’t be afraid to mingle. And I would say sail in college, even though I did not. All my friends who did loved it. I kind of wish I had because it adds a different layer to the college experience. And have fun with it. It is supposed to be fun.

Coop: Well Katie Barker, thanks for the time and stories. Much appreciated.

KB: Thanks, Coop. ■

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