My name is Gwen. But onboard our boat Tackless II I’m known as “The Admiral.” Although not bestowed on me by the US Coast Guard, the Navy, or any other military authority, my admiralty is a rank I share proudly with hundreds if not thousands of other women in the cruising fleet. Being an Admiral is not merely a pseudonym for wife, cruising companion, or female-along-for-the-ride, although it is sometimes used that way. Nor is it merely a token title bestowed on “his better half” by the often self-appointed Captain, although it is sometimes used THAT way. No, to me, an Admiral is a woman who has gotten into IT.
What is IT? I asked a bunch of women cruisers, a circle of women I think of as my Admirals’ Club, what they thought “IT” was. Although each described it a little differently, it all added up to a lifestyle definition and a state of mind to go with it: one where your boat is home, your community is the world, time and initiative are your own, nature — its beauty and its force — is fundamental, and responsibilities can be placed nowhere but in your own lap.
Some Admirals have extensive sailing backgrounds. Others may have started out feeling like they were yanked from their lives ashore by a press gang. The question is, how do you get from being an uncertain — if not actually unwilling — crew to Admiral status? Like everything in life, the more you know about the lifestyle, the more secure you will feel. The more secure you feel, the more proactive you will be on board, and that’s the key to being an Admiral. It will not happen overnight, and there are stages to master.
Therefore, unlike most of the stuff you read in magazines, the goal of this column will be less to whet your appetite for far off places than to address the questions and anxieties that can complicate the getting-there both for women already on their way and the “wannabees” back on the dock. Some of the questions will have to do with practical considerations and others with emotional ones. The goal is to share advice and examples, to reveal that there is no one way to do things, and to show you that, far from being alone out there, you are in fact becoming members of a community like none other.
So who, you might ask, am I to be writing this column? The most important thing you need to know about me is that I didn’t grow up sailing: No salty figures in my childhood, no youth racing programs. I did take a sailing class one summer with my sister in Mallett’s Bay, Vermont, but I didn’t catch the bug. That didn’t happen until my 30s when I went along on a bareboat trip to the Virgin Islands. Talk about a change-your-life experience! Instantly, it seemed, I fell in love with the islands, life of the water, and, after my first reef dive, scuba-diving. Five years later, I left behind a “normal” life in New York City and, armed with a scuba instructor’s ticket, found myself a job on a live-aboard dive boat.
That was the real beginning. I lucked into a terrific mentor and an opportunity to learn very quickly a lot of stuff I’d never given a thought: general seamanship, navigation, mechanics! Some two years later I went on my way with a captain’s license, and that “way” led to a CSY 44 cutter named Whisper. Whisper was the boat broker’s perfect answer to my request for “a boat I could charter (but afford not to charter), that could teach me to be a good sailor but could someday take me around the world.” She was everything I’d asked for, and together she and I and various crew ran some 250 dive/sail charters over the next eight years.
It sounds so smooth and calculated, squeezed into black and white, but in fact there were momentous turning points, giant leaps of nerve all along the way. What cheek it seemed to go for my scuba instructor’s certification in the first place, to go from neophyte to teacher! How bold to call myself Captain and let people pay me to take them on vacation! And the stuff I learned to do! From fixing heads to engine work to preparing three gourmet meals a day! Finally, seven years ago, I closed that successful business, sold my boat and joined forces with a fellow charter captain — a handsome guy with a sister-ship to Whisper — to sail away from the Virgins, my home for twelve years, on an open-ended cruise to the world…Wow, lots of gambles in one package!
Mine is not the typical resume of a cruising Admiral. But then again, I don’t think there is a typical resume. Every Admiral I know has a different story. In the next months, as I address subjects that concern women cruisers, I will include input from other Admirals whose views will sometimes be the same and sometimes different. In this way, you’ll be sure to collect lots of helpful information to smooth your way ….and at the same time, (and maybe even better yet) you’ll get to know a lot of the neat cruising women out there who make up our Admirals Club!
This article was published in the October 2006 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes