|Lisa in her bright pink dress surrounded by her crewmates
in their Bermuda shorts and high socks
At first, being the only woman on a boat is no fun. You have to change in a teeny head or cabin, hide certain bathroom products from sneaky boys, and deal with a larger hygienic adjustment than most men. However, being the only woman on a boat happens more often than not nowadays. There has been an improvement, for sure, but the fact remains that women are the minority in sailing, and even more of the minority in offshore racing. What I learned last summer is that there is absolutely no reason for this to be the case.
I’m not a racing nut. I have no plans to compete in the Volvo around the world race or to single hand the TransPac. This is why the Marion Bermuda race was a perfect fit for me- the race is a competition between cruising boats, not racing sleds, and most of the folks who enter the race are your average sailors looking to do something a little more interesting with their summer. Additionally, my father was entering his own Hinckley Sou’wester 50’ in the race, so I had the chance to sail on a boat I knew with the man who taught me how to sail.
|I had the chance to sail on a boat I knew with the man
who taught me how to sail.
The rest of the crew was assembled by my dad; the navigator was an engineer from MIT, two seasoned sailors as watch captains, a six-time race veteran as a tactician, the skipper was my father, and then me.
|The race wasn’t easy,
but in hindsight it was fun
The race wasn’t easy, but in hindsight it was fun. We battled gale-force winds at the start, dead calm in the Gulf Stream, seasickness for days, heat, cold, and boredom. Equipment broke, fingers bled, and none of us were getting enough sleep. One guy even unintentionally overdosed on scopolamine and spent a lot of time singing to himself in a corner of the cockpit (he was fine, and still was a great contributor to the crew despite his loopiness). At first glance, it was miserable.
|S/V Lyra – Hinckley Sou’wester 50’|
But, what I took away from this race was a sense of accomplishment, confidence in myself as a sailor particularly when paralleled with men sailing twice as long as I had been alive, and the loss of my attitude about gender roles in sailing.
My mother is a sailor, but nowhere near the level of my father. He taught her in her 20’s, and though she understands the parts and the ideas, she still does not measure up to my dad.
Instead, on the Marion Bermuda race I saw not only could I steer the boat as well as the next man, but I could also trim sails, navigate, and even wrestle the elements just as well. The 2011 race even featured an all-woman boat that, despite a number of equipment failures and issues, had a strong finish in the fleet.
At one point in the Gulf Stream, our spinnaker halyard spontaneously gave way, and without thinking I, the smallest on the boat, scampered up to the foredeck to grab the foot of the sail. At almost 9 knots, a 50’ cruising boat does not like to slow down, and as the spinnaker snuffer filled with water I was left wallowing and flailing on deck with a sail in my hands. Even so, with a little team work, we brought the sail back aboard that without my sharp eyes and quick movements, we would have had to cut lose from the rigging as it slowed us down.
|My mother and the wives of the crew were waiting on the dock for us|
When I arrived in Bermuda, my mother and the wives of the crew were waiting on the dock for us. All of the support land crew were women, all of the racers the men. Except for me.
Later that week at the awards banquet, as I stood in my bright pink dress surrounded by my crewmates in their Bermuda shorts and high socks, I definitely stood out. I’m okay with that for now, but I hope in the future more women have the chance to show the sailing world that anything they can do, we can do just as well.
About Lisa Gabrielson
Lisa Gabrielson is a 22 year old college student in Washington DC. She spends the summers sailing with her family and friends in the Boston area, and is currently an editorial intern for Sail Magazine. She is also the outgoing president/commodore of the American University Sailing Team, and plans to continue her near shore and off shore racing career well after college. Her Marion-Bermuda race experience is documented on her blog, http://lyrabermuda.wordpress.com/
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