MY PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON WOMEN IN SAILING
Some years ago, I was interviewed by a prominent female sailor who was writing a book about women in sailing. She chose to do this by providing me a questionnaire which, when completed, would provide her the information she was seeking. She called me a while later and told me her book wasn’t going to be published. Realizing that after all the time and energy (and effort to recall!) I had spent, I’d ended up with some interesting insight as to my involvement in sailing. Having kept a copy of the questions and answers, I filed them away in case family or friends might someday be interested in reading about my journey in sailing. Then a few years back when I retired from sailing, teaching and other related involvements, a number of people familiar with my lifetime of sailing insisted, “You REALLY ought to write a book!”
And so I did.
And here it is.
Jo Mogle Punta Gorda, FL 2015
When did you first start to sail?
In 1960, my husband Dale was on active duty, stationed at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, when we got very involved in water skiing. The harbormaster at Hickam Harbor felt that as one of the “water rats” who hung around the harbor, I should take an upcoming all women’s American Red Cross Basic Sailing Course that he was going to conduct with the help of two GI. assistants who taught sailing at the Harbor. Sailing had no real appeal to me … it was pretty much a “man-thing” in those years, and, frankly, it looked pretty boring to me as a competitive and show water skier — but I thought What the heck. So I took the basic sailing course with twenty-two other women. We were “taught” by the two assisting “instructors” — the Harbormaster did some of the chalktalks, but none of the three got in the boats with the students. Their idea of teaching was to shove us off from the dock then stand on the end of it and yell at us — and come get us in a powerboat if we got in trouble.
Hickam Harbor 1960: My life before sailing.
What do you remember about that experience?
Fright. A feeling of total incompetence. A wish to simply survive the course so I wouldn’t embarrass myself. I really had very little idea of what I was doing. I hung onto the tiller and mainsheet with the typical white knuckles of a frightened beginner, figuring that if the boat was upright, I must be doing something right, so my hands and arms literally froze in position. I remember at one time during a horrendous knockdown, thinking, “Please, God, just let me get through this and I’ll never step foot in a sailboat again!”
Was it alone or with parents, siblings, group of friends?
It was with a group of military wives whose husbands were stationed in Hawaii. (Military wives rarely worked back then; they did, however, do a great deal of volunteer work. In any event, we all had time on our hands to participate in any number of military base activities. Golf was the other favorite leisure sport for military wives in Hawaii at the time, with tennis close behind. And of course a lot of beach-going!)
How old were you?
I was 29.
What was your biggest motivation for learning to sail?
The invitation to join in the class by the Harbormaster — he was also sort of the leader of the water ski team our family were members of, and he made taking a women’s sailing class sound like something I ought to do.
Was it your idea or someone else’s?
It was the Harbormaster’s idea — and my husband encouraged me to give it a try. I was game for pretty much anything back in those days — the water in Hawaii was warm and beautiful, and I was comfortable being in and on it, and I didn’t think taking lessons was any big deal.
What type of boat did you first learn on? What was your reaction to that boat?
The basic boat the Harbor used at that time was a wood lapstrake Olympic-class 13′ “Class A Dinghy” gaff-rigged with sprit – which (I later realized) carried too much sail area for beginners for Hawaii’s winds of 15 to 25. In retrospect, having survived the course in spite of the fact that the boat was virtually overpowered all the time, this class of dinghy was a poor choice. Boats the Harbor purchased later (Widgeons, then Holder 14s then Catalina 14s) were infinitely better suited. But at the time, there were no other boats on which instruction was taught. There were only about eight larger sailboats in the harbor, six of which were privately-owned. The other two belonged to the Harbor, and were converted-to-sail 26-ft. wooden “drop boats” which were carried by B-17s to be dropped during rescues at sea. The Harbormaster had them converted to sailboats while he was stationed in Japan and brought them to Hawaii in 1957 when he was transferred there.
13 – ft. wood lapstrake Olympic Class A Dinghy
Did it have a head? What did you do when you needed to “go”?
No, dinghies don’t have heads! (We used a 2-gallon plastic bucket on the 19’ keelboats.)
What were your most pressing thoughts the first day out?
“What in the hell have I gotten myself into?” and “What on earth made me think this was a good idea?” And a strong desire to just survive the next twelve weeks. (The course was thirteen weeks long, and included Red Cross CPR.) The lessons were held Wednesday mornings, and I remember many times I had to brainwash myself to get up and go down to the harbor. It was only the camaraderie of the other women in the class that kept me going — along with a fierce determination to see it through at any cost. It was a help knowing most of the other gals in the course were as apprehensive as I was. (Except few of us would let on–I learned all this later!)
Did you have confidence in your ability to learn, and in the abilities of those you sailed with, to keep you out of trouble?
I had very little confidence in my own ability — but being in a boat with two other women at the same learning level helped — I just automatically assumed they were catching on quicker than I was. Not capsizing was the order of the day — when we were able to get back to the dock without going in the drink we considered it a success. (The Class A dinghies, when they capsized and filled with water, could not be righted and sailed. They had to be towed back to the dock and de-watered. Very mortifying.)
If you went to a sailing school, what was the course called?
It was the standard American Red Cross Basic Sailing Class. I later learned that the two “instructors” had received no formal training in teaching sailing — they were just experienced sailors who were “appointed” by the Harbormaster, who was ARC-certified.
How did you prepare for the course mentally and physically?
No preparation at all. I was a competitive and show water skier at the time, was in excellent physical shape — and mentally, sailing appeared to be a snap, compared with water skiing. So no — no mental preparation. Besides, why would anyone need to prepare for something so unexciting and uncomplicated? (!)
If you took the course with someone you knew, did the school or instructor assign you to separate boats or session?
I didn’t know any of the other women in the course when it started. We were assigned boats arbitrarily, in pairs.
Did you have a male or female instructor?
The group had three — the middle-aged male harbormaster, a middle-aged male sergeant and a young enlisted man.
What do you remember most about the way that person taught? How did it affect your ability to learn and gain confidence from that person?
I remember the sergeant was likable, patient and knowledgeable; I don’t remember much about the younger instructor; I do remember the two of them standing on the end of the dock yelling instructions. I remember being very proud of my personal notebook, which I still have. It is filled with little artistic, hand-drawn diagrams and printed notes. It became obvious to me, years later, that I had no idea how any of what I was entering in the notebook related to much of anything on the water — I just remember I was very proud that I had such a neat notebook!
Did the instructor administer tests? How did you react? How did you do?
There was a two-page written (mimeographed!) test which was in essay form; it wasn’t too difficult; most of us passed. (They used that same test for years and it never got revised until I re-wrote it myself when I became the Instructor Trainer years later.)
Did the school offer certification?
Yes, we received Red Cross Basic Sailing Cards, Parts I and II (which were never explained to us, so I didn’t understand that until years later). We also received a “check-out” card from the Harbor, which meant that we could rent the sailboats on our own. In those days, everyone received these cards no matter how they did in the course.
Did you have classroom instruction as well as onboard?
Yes, we had a classroom chalktalk before we went out on the water. But there was no way those male instructors were going to get in a dinghy with us!
What was your greatest apprehension or fear when you started the course?
Embarrassing myself. I was considered a “star” water skier in those days, and the last thing I wanted was to blow my image. I also had a great fear of capsizing.
Did you overcome this during the course? What/who helped you in achieving this?
No, I never really overcame the fear of embarrassment or capsizing. I was so relieved when the course was over and I didn’t have to go back out in those boats again. We students put on a great “graduation” party, though, which was to become the highlight of these women’s courses in subsequent years (and a key reason many of us enjoyed teaching the classes!)
What techniques and/or tasks did you find hardest to learn? Why? Do you think this was or is different from what men find learning to sail?
I found everything hard to learn. I never did understand how wind makes a boat go until years later, when I read books and discovered it on my own. Looking back, and knowing what I know now, I realize whichever instructor it was who gave the aerodynamics chalktalk did a pretty inadequate job. I later found out that none of the other women in the course understood it either. I also never understood the effect of too much sail area in heavy air, and it took me a l-o-n-g time to learn that if I just sheeted out, the boat would quit heeling. I think the men who sailed there had a much easier time of understanding the theory of aerodynamics because so many of them were in flying-related jobs. I still think men have an easier time of understanding the theoretical part of sailing than women — we tend to look at it differently, which affects the way we learn.
What techniques and/or tasks did you find easiest to learn? Why? Do you think this was or is different from what men find when learning to sail?
I found everything easy that didn’t involve actually sailing the boat! I was too apprehensive to master or enjoy that aspect. I loved the classroom part, taking notes, drawing diagrams, the camaraderie, and the coffee and snacks we had at break. (We took turns bringing home-baked goodies, which in itself became an exercise in one-upmanship.) My apprehension would start when it became obvious the weather conditions were favorable enough that we were going to have to go out on the water. (As opposed to staying in the classroom if it was blowing too hard.)
Looking back, explain any “baggage” you carried to that learning experience that got in your way in the learning process.
Sailing back then was heavily male-dominated, which I think contributed to the intimidation factor. I didn’t view learning how to sail as a real “need-to-do” thing for me. I had no goals other than getting the course over with so I could get back to water skiing and other family activities in which I felt a much greater sense fulfillment and reward.
Have you taken any courses since? Which ones, where? Why?
Not really. I went on to become one of the instructors myself (no formal training — just trial and error within the women’s sailing group I had helped organize.) Even when I became Hawaii’s Red Cross Basic Sailing Instructor Trainer, I received no formal training — I had been teaching for several years by then, so I was just appointed by the Red Cross. Over the years, I came up with new curriculum, policies and procedures, not only for Hickam Harbor, but for many of the other sailing instruction programs in Hawaii. The only formal training or sailing instruction course I ever took was the first US SAILING (then USYRU) Instructor Trainer Course with England’s Royal Yachting Association’s head Yachtmaster Trainer, Bob Bond at Stanford University in 1984. (My husband and I were selected to attend representing the Hawaii Yacht Racing Assn. because we were leaders in local sailing education at that time.)
Did you find you approached later courses differently than the first? More or less inhibitions? More or less confidence? Why?
It was the camaraderie of the women’s sailing group (The Wet Hens, which I helped found in 1961) which laid the foundation for continuing participation in sailing, teaching and racing. We grew strength from each other as we went, and it was they who helped me get over my fears and apprehensions. As the Wet Hens (as Red Cross volunteers) took over teaching the women’s sailing courses at the Harbor, we grew in knowledge, experience and confidence. We began racing the dinghies and got pretty good, eventually beating most of the other men and women who raced. We really worked hard at improving, and, as we know, racing can dramatically improve boathandling skills. When our group had the opportunity to restore a converted 22 ft. Star and race it ourselves, we began a steep learning curve. Our confidence also grew a great deal with each class we taught. We all took turns giving the various chalktalks, and as someone would come up with a particularly effective presentation and/or a neat new visual aid, we incorporated it into our courses. Each year the subjects were taught with increasing polish.
Do you think women learn differently from men?
Yes, I have always thought so, and recent studies bear this out. Our brains function differently, we process information differently, and we form thoughts and attitudes differently, based on genetic difference and the way we are raised.
Do you think women prepare for learning to sail differently from men?
I think women give learning how to sail more study, thought and planning. Most men, having been conditioned over the years to feel it comes naturally to them, generally go into sailing with less thought, planning and preparation. I think they think they have an inherent feel for it, which causes them to feel they can “wing” much of it. (After all, men have been conquering the seas since the dawn of time — it’s an inherited trait!)
Do you think during the learning process, women on sailboats tend to become less assertive, less confident than they are in their lives ashore? Why?
I’m not sure being at sea has as much to do with it as their comfort zone in anything in which they participate. I, for instance, have no intention of getting “assertive” in anything involving cars — or assembling a new bicycle — or building a storage shed — or any other kinds of things that are mechanically challenging for me. I don’t think women — or men, for that matter — should be assertive about anything unless they are truly qualified to be. Assertiveness should only come with confidence and knowledge borne of education and practice. My son, for one, prefers women crew when he races, because they don’t challenge his decisions as skipper. But when I am on a boat with him, he listens to my input because he respects the knowledge and experience I have gained over the years. I rarely feel the need to be assertive on a sailboat because my level of skill is usually acknowledged. (I have also reached a point in life that I am very comfortable sitting back and letting others take on the responsibilities of command!)
What do you think are the benefits for women learning in women-only courses?
Benefits: Infinitely less intimidation. Greater comfort level. More willingness to take a risk. More comfortable in saying or doing something that might appear stupid. Camaraderie. Can laugh at themselves. Collective thinking with others of same general background, upbringing and life experience. Opinions accepted more openly. The natural herding instinct, i.e., enjoyment of being with other women. Even if a woman does get laughed at by other women, it’s a lot easier for most women to take than having a man/men laugh at her. There are no “gender” games or “competition” for male attention or respect. Men aboard can be intimidating, even when it’s not intentional. They can wither with a glance or a word, without even knowing it. (Not that women can’t also, but it’s just somehow different coming from a woman.) Men can have a way of ”taking over” a task a woman’s engaged in, sometimes because they just want to be helpful, but oftentimes because they see themselves as being able to do it better or quicker. Women are less inclined to do this. I personally enjoy sailing with both men and women — and I also like sailing with couples. Except I’ve noted over the years that when there are couples aboard, the women often have a tendency to “clump together” — choosing each other’s company over that of the men. The women will often gather and chat about the weather or the food (or the men) while the men gather in another area and talk about the boat, their next boat, their previous boat, or someone else’s boat — or equipment — or sea-going adventures. So what you often have is a small group of women sailors on the same boat as a small group of men sailors. And there’s nothing really wrong with that. I have also found that both genders “gain strength in numbers” — i.e., what one man won’t say to a woman one-on-one, they will say if they know there are other men to agree with them and/or back them up. Very often, if there’s disagreement, men and women will often take their gender’s side — sort of a “bonding” thing. In general, it’s the same behavior you find in many other settings. I see the same types of “gender clumping” in RV groups, other clubs and organizations, and in gatherings with family or friends.
Negatives: You won’t have the advantage of a strong back or pair of hands when you need them. If you’re with all women, and something breaks or needs “manhandling,” you often need quick brute strength. It’s simply a fact of life that men are generally stronger than women, and I, for one, have been appreciative of having had a man aboard when I really needed one. (Men are so much better at horsing anchors around, for instance.) Additionally, when you sail with all women, you don’t get the chance to enjoy sailing with other couples, which I personally enjoy. I also find that men’s conversations can often be more interesting and stimulating than a lot of women’s — I like talking about current world events and politics, and can usually hold my own in those types of conversations. And, of course, a major negative for some single women in an all-women’s group is that there are no eligible men aboard!
Do you believe, when it comes to sailing, women are more kinesthetic, visual or auditory learners?
I think they’re all three, or at least the first two, although some studies don’t appear to bear that out. I think a lot of women are hesitant or intimidated by a sport that has been historically male-dominated, and are therefore apt to spend more time studying about it and trying to learn what they can before starting their course of instruction — and as it progresses as well.
“The Command, ‘Jibe Ho!’ should be made BEFORE the boom swings over.”
Do you believe, when it comes to sailing, men are more kinesthetic, visual or auditory learners?
My sense is that men are more kinesthetic, although I’m not really sure why, and I’m not sure studies will bear that out, either — it’s just a feeling I’ve gotten over years of teaching both men and women. I think much of my thinking as to where men are coming from is based on the theory I expressed in a previous answer — having a history of their ancestors conquering the seas, many men feel that boating of any kind should come more natural to them, and it could bother some of them to have to admit that it is difficult for them to grasp. They would rather plunge in and hope that they’ll “get it” without having to depend on “book learning” or having someone [of possible lesser status or intelligence] show them how.
How much sailing do you do now? With whom? What type of boat? Where?
Mostly cruising, and whatever is called for if I’m teaching or doing instructor training. I’ve sailed everything from 8-ft. prams and 14-ft. dinghies to 120-ft. schooners. I have sailed (and/or taught) in Hawaii, California, Washington, Arizona, Texas, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, Florida, Mexico, the Bahamas, and throughout the Caribbean.
Do you consider yourself fit, strong, etc.
I feel fairly fit for my age, but given my age, I’m unquestionably no longer as strong and agile, and thus am not equal to many of the tasks men can perform. The way I compensate for that is to concentrate on what I’m good at, and leave the “grunt” work to those who are younger and/or more fit, regardless of gender. I can see what needs to be done and know how to delegate tasks, so that’s what I do. I am a skilled helmsman and tactician, and am good at calling sail trim and course changes. Most of the people with whom I sail are aware of my background of decades of onboard sailing instruction, which helps.
Do you truly enjoy sailing? What is it about sailing you enjoy the most?
I absolutely LOVE it. (Especially after I got over being seasick in heavy seas!) I love the beauty, the grace, the quiet (there’s no sweeter sound than hearing the engine turn off!) — the “back to nature” feeling — just me [and my husband], God, the sea, the sky. When I’ve been away from the ocean for a while, I find myself yearning for it (any body of water on which you can see to the opposite shore doesn’t count!) and have to make an effort to head to it for what Dale calls my “ocean fix.” I think the fact that I learned how to sail in Hawaii, then spent thirty-five years at it there had a profound impact. It is, truly, paradise, and, being able to sail there and elsewhere with all the great friends we’ve made through this wonderful sport, have made sailing, for us, almost a divine gift.
If crew or passenger, do you have the opportunity to be skipper? Do you take advantage of it? How do you feel when you’re at the helm?
I am practically always offered the chance to steer, as my reputation has usually preceded me. Unless I am unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the boat or just not in the mood, it’s my favorite position, and I practically always take the helm when it’s offered. How do I feel? Usually very comfortable — although I much prefer a tiller to a wheel, because for me, the control is more positive, and with a tiller, I feel more “in touch” with the boat.
Do you now primarily sail with your family, spouse, coed groups, all women?
I’ve touched on this somewhat already — it’s usually Dale and I together, with friends or family.. When I visit the Wet Hens back in Hawaii, I thoroughly enjoy being on a boat with that special all-female gang again. When we have the chance to get out on the water with any of our sons, all of whom learned to sail in Hawaii, it’s an extra special treat.
What does sailing do for you?
Sailing gives me a such a sense of peace, contentment, an “at-oneness.” It refreshes my soul, helps me get my head on straight, lets me put the world aside for awhile, and helps me gain perspective and a better sense of priorities. Teaching is its own reward — knowing that over the years I have helped introduce many hundreds into this beautiful lifetime sport is mind-boggling. And it’s done so much for our family. Our sons learned to sail in a junior program Dale and I started at Hickam Harbor, and they were all so much richer for it — it helped mold their lives. Two of them went into marine professions because of their sailing: One son got a scholarship to attend a course in celestial navigation at the Pacific Maritime Academy in Honolulu because of his sailing, and as result, he got so turned on to celestial navigation that he joined the Coast Guard, where he rose to become one of its youngest chiefs. And when he got out, he was able to made a living delivering racing yachts to and from Hawaii, California and Mexico. Our youngest, due primarily to his sailing accomplishments, was able to obtain a congressional appointment to the US Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point, Long Island), where he was on the varsity sailing team all four years, and became an Honorary All-American the year the team was ranked the #1 college team in the country. That led to a career in the maritime industry. All four of our sons still enjoy sailing when they get a chance. With our youngest grandson having started sailing, there are now three generations of Mogles involved in the sport.
Sailing also satisfied my competitive urges when I was in my mid-thirties — I won many races, in dinghies and keelboats, with both female and male crew. I became the Hawaii State Women’s Sailing Champion, and went on to participate in the national women’s championship (the only one at the time), the Adams Cup. We have owned a large keelboat with two other couples, and did a great deal of interisland racing and cruising in Hawaii. We have also cruised with friends in the San Juan Islands in Washington State and in the Caribbean. We have made so many friends in sailing over the years — they live all over the United States, and it is such fun to visit them in our travels in our motorhome, and go sailing with them. Or just sit around and “talk story” — which talk usually centers around the great times we’ve had sailing, and what it has meant in our lives and that of our friends and families.
What are your goals in sailing?
Happily, I’ve been able to accomplish just about all of them. I have sailed and/or taught on boats of every size and description all over the country. I have been able to introduce so many people into the sport (my own family included.) Becoming an Instructor Trainer, first for the American Red Cross and then for US SAILING, has enabled me to pass on the love of the sport of sailing to so many others. I have written sailing articles and features for newspapers and magazines. I authored US SAILING’s Instructor Trainer Handbook, and was a contributor to most of US SAILING’s textbooks, manuals and tests. I have been able to represent US SAILING at many boating conferences. I have been able to sail all over the country. I’ve lectured and given presentations at countless seminars, symposiums and conferences. I’ve raced and won more than my share of hardware, and I’ve taught a good many others who have gone on to win their share as well. I’ve helped organize sailing, racing, social and charitable groups and events that have benefited sailing and sailors, men and women, young and old. I’ve been involved in race management at every level, and headed up committees for the TransPacific Yacht Race and Kenwood Cup events. I’ve been selected as both Hawaii Yachtsman of the Year and later, Yachtswoman of the Year. My husband and I received US SAILING’s Prosser Award, for Excellence in Sailing Instruction. Recently, I was honored to receive US SAILING’s prestigious Larr Award, for Lifelong Contribution Toward the Advancement of Sailor Education, Training and Safety. I have achieved every goal I dreamed of, a few by striving for them, but mostly by simply their coming to me as a consequence of participating and contributing. My plans are to continue with US SAILING’s Training Program and National Faculty, help train instructors and Instructor Trainers, and to continue to represent US SAILING, as my husband says, “as long as it’s fun.”
Do you have to juggle home life, a career, being a wife and mother, with sailing?
Give us some advice as to how women can do this.
I no longer have to juggle, but there was a time I had to work at balancing everything. It helps when you’re lucky enough to have a husband and children who all love sailing, too. When our sons were young, we had them first water-skiing, then sailing, and they took to it like ducks. We started a junior sailing program ourselves, so there’d be a pathway for them to learn more and stay involved. (When you skipper on an all-women’s team against your husband and sons racing another boat in the same class, you have some interesting dinner table conversations!) Sailing and racing really did totally dominate our entire family’s lives at one point. My only “career” at that time was doing volunteer instruction (beginning, advanced, racing and cruising) to other women. Because our sons all loved to sail also, they were usually at the harbor right along with my husband and me. I do admit the youngest one took some persuading when he started sailing; not starting him out in the right boat at the beginning was an education in itself — and encouraging people to pick the right boat for beginners became one of my causes. Tip: Juggling is easier if the whole family’s involved!
Does care for your skin and hair affect your desire to sail? How? What do you do to protect your skin, hair and nails while sailing?
I got over worrying about that a long time ago. I have always kept my hair and nails short. I have sailed with women who were more concerned about their hair and nails than they were about sailing, which was a pain in the neck. The majority of the women I’ve sailed with are much more concerned with sailing well, not their appearance. I see to it that the women I sail with keep their long hair up, back, and secured (I’ve seen chunks of hair pulled out when caught in a block) and I ask them to wear no jewelry other than a wedding band. And no earrings unless they’re studs (I’ve seen hoop earrings get caught and rip out an earlobe). I wear sun block faithfully, as well as a hat or visor.
How do you dress for sailing now? What do you find most comfortable? Least comfortable? What do you wish was out there on the market to make you more comfortable while sailing?
I dress for warmth when it’s cold, and for cool when it’s hot. I layer. Having learned how being cold affects performance, I have been known to go through extraordinary efforts to keep warm. Cold can not only be debilitating, but it can so consume your thinking you can’t do your job efficiently. Over the years I’ve accumulated every imaginable nautical outfit, so I have a good assortment to choose from. But I also admit I adore nautical blouses, jackets, sweaters and jewelry, and if they’re affordably priced, I’ll add to my collection whether I need it or not. I’m at a point in my life where comfort counts much more than appearance. For instance, I much prefer slacks or shorts with all elastic waistbands and no buttons or zippers– much quicker when you’re standing on your head in the head! I prefer jackets or sweatshirts which fasten up the front as opposed to those that go on over the head. Clothing with Velcro closure is great, too. When it’s really cold, I like Patagonia-type underwear — and the Patagonia helmets are great, too, for really keeping water from going down your neck. I designed some women’s sailing wear some time back, and made some of it, too. I also helped design some women’s sailing gloves several years ago — the fingers in most sailing gloves weren’t designed well for women’s hands. I think there are some great clothes and accessories on the market now, but for the most part, they’re too overpriced — especially the “status symbol” sailing gear. I encourage my friends to substitute equally-adequate generic sportswear; I’d rather see them spending their money on other expenses involved with sailing than on acquiring a “yachty” look.
Did you grow up in a family with all brothers, brothers and sisters, or all sisters?
I had one brother, three years older than me. We took him sailing once when he came to visit us in Hawaii. He was gracious, feigned enjoyment and tried to get into it — but he never went sailing again!
Did your mother sail? Was she interested in other sports? Was she positive about sailing? When were you aware of sailing as a child or adult?
My mother engaged in no sports of any kind. She was, as were most women of her day, a homemaker–active in her church and literary club, and a devoted wife to my dad — a banker –which required her to spend a lot of time playing hostess to his employees and business acquaintances. I knew nothing whatever about sailing as a child, or as a young wife and mother. It wasn’t until the Air Force transferred my husband to Hawaii that I really became aware of sailing.
Tell us about tricks you learned from instructors, those you sail with or taught yourself to remember how to describe or do certain tasks aboard a boat.
A great number of the tricks and techniques I’ve learned over the years have (happily) found their way into US SAILING’s learn-to-sail books and Instructor and Instructor Trainer manuals. I wrote the original US SAILING Instructor Trainer Handbook, into which I poured many of my ideas, most of which are now contained in the Instructor Manual and the Instructor Trainer Manual, as well as parts of the basic sailing texts and tests, and the books in the Keelboat Certification System.
Tell us about any techniques in handling a boat, its equipment and sails you’ve learned or developed over the years that would help other women learning to sail.
For one, I’ve developed mixed feelings about what kind of boat a woman should learn on. If she’s so inclined, and can handle learning on a dinghy, I think it gives any beginner a real sense of independence and confidence in their ability, and there’s nothing like single-handing a small boat to instill a sense of pride and accomplishment. It also gives them a great base from which to build — most people who learn in dinghies can move up easily to handle bigger boats — but that’s not usually the case when it’s the other way around; learning to handle a keelboat is poor preparation for single-handing a dinghy. But I have found that the majority of women would be more comfortable learning to sail on a boat that is unlikely to capsize. They’re more stable and comfortable, and if a woman is apprehensive, unhappy or ill at ease, it’s easy for her to be fearful or dislike sailing — and that’s really unnecessary. I’ve been able to take the most apprehensive of women and get them comfortable on a dinghy — it’s all in the way the instructor handles that first sail. One thing that took me too long to learn is that in medium to heavy air, reducing the amount of sail area can be a great help — either using a smaller sail, reef, or roller furl — or just leave the jib off. I also don’t force beginning students to use a tiller extension at first if they’re having real difficulty with it. I am a believer in trying to discover what it is specifically that makes a student uncomfortable, and making every effort to adjust to it. Reassuring students that practically everyone’s apprehensive at first, and that it’s not unique to them, can be a great help. I heard recently from a student I had many years ago that it was my sharing with her my personal story about my own fears and feelings of inadequacy that convinced her to stick with it. She went on to become one of the best instructors I knew.
What would you like to see in books to help women enjoy sailing more?
Show pictures of women laughing and having a good time — at work, at play, lounging on the foredeck with a cool drink in their hand, nuzzling a good looking guy, eating great food–preferably a fish they’ve caught themselves under sail and cooked by their husband on the boat’s grill! Show them racing, cruising, with kids, with other women–even with their dog. Have some photos and descriptions illustrating shortcuts, like using lines with extra purchase, bigger winches, etc. It would be helpful to have some info and/or photos on overboard retrieval and rescues (a woman retrieving a man–especially the last step (bringing him back aboard). It can be a tough subject that few women want to even think about — but it’s one that all women who sail need to learn about early-on.
Tell us about a bad experience you had sailing and how you overcame it.
A couple come to mind. After I graduated from my first basic sailing course, and being heady with both my new certification card and bolstered by the bravado (however foolish) and what I thought I knew (and not knowing what I didn’t know) I decided to show off my new prowess (however ill-founded) by taking my family sailing. Back then, the basic boats the Harbor had were 13-ft. wooden lapstrake cat-rigged Olympic Class A dinghies, which carried considerably more sail than was really appropriate for beginners in Hawaii’s comparatively heavy air — the boats could be a real handful even for the experienced. It was therefore probably not the wisest decision for me to load up the dinghy with myself, my husband and our three sons (ages 9, 8 and 6) and take off in 15 to 20 knots of wind. Casting off, I backed the boat away from the dock and pointed it on to a course as we’d been taught in class. Everything was going fairly well until it was time to head back toward the dock. As I sheeted out and headed downwind, the boat, already overladen, slowly but surely began to take on water over the bow. (No one had explained during class that when dinghies sail downwind and the weight isn’t well aft, they have a tendency to “submarine.”) And with all three boys sitting in the bow, submarine we did. Water just kept coming in until I literally sailed the boat under water. My husband and sons, who had not yet learned to sail, had no idea what was happening or what to do about it — all they knew was that they were sitting knee-deep in water in a boat sunk up to its gunwales, its loose floorboards floating up and away — along with miscellaneous pieces of gear, including all three boys’ rubber sandals. My husband and sons, being excellent swimmers and water skiers and being used to being in the water, handled it with humor and aplomb. The boys laughed gleefully and took off swimming after the various pieces of flotsam, while my husband, in his usual low-key manner and wry sense of humor, wondered aloud if this was typical of the fun one has when taking up sailing. I, of course, was mortified — especially when the Harbor safety boat had to come out to rescue us and tow our boat ignominiously back to the dock, still full of water. It was a major setback in my newly-budding sailing career. It’s a “My First Sail” story my husband and sons still take great pleasure in telling
The second incident was our first interisland trip from the island of Oahu to the island of Molokai — a distance, from our harbor to the main harbor on that island, of about 55 miles. My husband had learned to sail by then, and had sailed one of the Harbor’s converted-to-sail 26 foot B-17 airplane “drop boats” a few times. He was challenged at the yacht club bar one evening by a sailing buddy to race the two drop boats to Molokai. It didn’t seem like all that big a deal, so we piled all three of our sons (ages about 10, 9 and 7) aboard with another couple who had about as much experience as we’d had; the other boat had two couples aboard. By the time we got about three miles off Diamond Head, we all knew we were in over our heads. I and all three sons became violently seasick, as did one of the husbands on the other boat — so much so that when he tried to jump overboard and swim to shore rather than endure the misery any longer, and he had to be forcibly restrained below. Anyway, we pressed on, ignorant in our determination to win the race. The night was long, cold, dark and extremely frightening, especially for our young sons, who were retching all night long, begging us to bring their misery to an end. As is prone to happen (unbeknownst to us at the time) the seas started to build as the sun came up the next morning, and our progress up the infamous “slot” between Molokai and Lanai ground to a crawl. We had lost sight of the other boat in the night, and at morning’s light they were nowhere to be seen. As conditions worsened (seas running about ten feet and winds of up to about forty-five knots) we realized that with the headway we were making (actually, not making) we would not only be unable to make it to the harbor still well up the coast, but would be unable to find safe harbor anywhere nearby. We made the decision to just try to beach the boat as best we could. We fell off onto a reach and headed for shore. As fate would have it, as we approached the shoreline we saw what appeared to be a small protected bay and headed for it. As we entered, we saw, at the far end of the bay, a bulkhead. Although we didn’t know it at the time, we had sailed into a small, little known commercial harbor that was used for loading sand onto barges. We were able to make it to the bulkhead and tie up, and we crawled off the boat and dropped onto the ground exhausted. We literally passed out, sleeping right where we dropped for several hours. A frightening experience, and one which taught everyone involved the foolishness of setting out on a trip no novice could possibly be prepared for. Realizing the jeopardy into which we placed our family and friends was sobering. Needless to say, it was quite a while before we attempted an interisland trip again–and when we did go again, we made sure we were prepared—in both experience, knowledge, and crew capabilities–and with a proper boat and equipment.
Tell us about a funny incident that occurred while you were learning or sailing with women or in a coed group — one that resulted in not only good laughs but had a productive ending.
I was racing with a group of the Wet Hens on the big Labor Day race from Lahaina, Maui to Honolulu on a 28-ft. boat that belonged to one of the Hens. It was the first time an all-women crew had ever competed in the classic race, which was the premiere event of the racing season, and there was quite a bit of publicity about us in the local paper. About mid-way through the race, we were sailing neck and neck alongside one of our competitors (all men) when one of the gals got the idea to take our racing uniform shirts off. (This was back in the early 70s, and you just didn’t DO that sort of thing.) The guys on the other boat got pretty distracted and starting paying more attention to us sitting there in our bras than to either their course or their sail-set, and it wasn’t long before we passed them–and another nearby boat of all-men as well’ We ended up taking a trophy for the race, to everyone’s surprise–especially since in the middle of the race our tiller broke, and I spent quite a while sitting on the sole, lashing it back together using a screwdriver and large file as splints–I and the gal who owned the boat really had our hands full trying to steer and lash a tiller at the same time. Lessons learned from that trip: 1) How to successfully distract male competitors, and 2) The wisdom of carrying the equipment needed to repair a broken tiller.
Tell us about the best experience you had sailing — one that gave you great satisfaction and helped boost your confidence level.
Two come to mind, the first being when I finally got good enough to enter a team in the Hawaii State Adams Cup runoffs, and ended up beating the teams of other women from the four major yacht clubs who were thought at the time to be infinitely more skilled and experienced than ours. Getting to go to Seattle for the area finals with the support of our club and our yacht racing association was very heady stuff. Articles and pictures in the paper — all that jazz.
The second one is of one of the many 10-day interisland trips we made with friends on the boat we owned together. Everything was so perfect–gentle tradewinds, crystal-clear turquoise waters, vividly bright blue skies with puffy, pure white clouds, a great boat we were all very proud to own together, the greatest of friends–all good sailors and such fun to be with, great food and drink, picturesque anchorages, great raft-up parties, Hawaiian music playing on our stereo and coming from other boats, singing harmonies on into the night—and then to do well in the race back home to Honolulu. It just doesn’t get any better than that!
If you had your biggest wish when you first learned to sail, what would it have been?
To be able to afford a nice yacht, and sail throughout the Hawaiian Islands. (Been there, done that, happily!)
If you had your biggest wish now in sailing, what would it be?
To be able to afford a nice BIG yacht — and a paid crew to maintain it! And take a long, leisurely trip throughout the Caribbean with family and friends.
Any final thoughts?
I can’t end without emphasizing how big a part the Wet Hens have played in my life.. Were it not for that group of gals, I wouldn’t have stuck with sailing at all. I can’t say enough about how the camaraderie, love, support, generosity and caring of the Hens over the years has been one of life’s greatest gifts — not just while we were in Hawaii, but ever since. Many of the friendships I made have lasted for decades, and all these many years later, I still count a number of them as BFFs (Best Friends Forever.) As I return to the Wet Hen reunions every five years and see the current “flock,” it’s so meaningful to me how the legacy lives on. Over the years we’ve heard so many great stories of how being a Wet Hen has changed so many women’s lives — and that of their families and friends. Many years ago, when I was interviewed by a reporter for a Honolulu newspaper, I summed up the Wet Hen experience by explaining to him that “it’s a Lifetime Thing.” And indeed it is….and has been — for those lucky enough to have been a part of it.
To all who read this: Thank you for having been part of the fabric of my life. May the wind be always at your back, your seas calm and favorable, and your life filled with green flashes!