16th Women’s Sailing Conference

June 3, 2017
Corinthian Yacht Club, Marblehead MA

Women Sailors United

16th annual Women’s Sailing Conference held at Corinthian
By Laurie Fullerton
[email protected]
Thursday, June 8, 2017

The 16th annual Women’s Sailing Conference this past Saturday at the Corinthian Yacht Club offered women from around the country the opportunity to both sharpen their sailing skills and gain confidence in their own abilities while meeting and learning from some of the top women sailors in the sport today.

With over 70 participants taking part in a day of workshops with titles like “Suddenly Singlehanded,” “Moving about in the Fog,” and “To Reef or Not to Reef,” the women’s sailing conference has become notable both for its returnees each year and for the caliber of instructors and speakers who travel to Marblehead for the day to encourage women to be bolder with their sailing goals.

“I was a sailor 15 years ago before I became a parent and I decided that this year I wanted to get back on the helm,” said Pam Barker of Marblehead who joined the conference for the first time this year. “I can tell you, it was a blast. It was great to be on the water and at the helm of a boat today. I can say I want to keep doing more of this!” Marbleheader Kelly Braun, who joined the conference for her fourth year in a row, added that, “I realize that this is not a one and done kind of conference. The workshops are so valuable and I feel I learn something new each year.” Braun who is married to J.B. Braun, an America’s Cup boat designer for Team Oracle, said she had never really helmed a boat herself until she joined the Town Class in Marblehead with her own boat. Not only has Braun progressed as a competitor and helmsman in the Town Class, she has encouraged other women to join the fleet as skippers and crew.

Although many of the participants were first timers or returning, a number of older, married women with blue water sailing experience said they liked the conference because although they had long ago realized that there were “pink” jobs and “blue” jobs on boats for women and men they “don’t expect to take on all of the “blue” jobs, but would like to be a lot more aware of how I might tackle a blue job better when the need arises,” said one participant.

For instructor Captain Bonnie Schaffer, who by trade is a diesel mechanic and rigger at a number of yacht yards in New England, she said she knows a thing or two about the blue jobs. “I have had varied reactions to being a rigger or diesel mechanic in my career andI think what is toughest is people just assume that I can’t do a job that I am fully capable of doing. I never went at it to prove a point as a woman. I did want to prove to myself that I can do this kind of work. My only regret is that I seem to have to prove myself over and over again and some men, in particular, still aren’t quite ready to accept that I can do the job.”

When it comes to doing a job that was traditionally for men, the 1995 America’s Cup featured the iconic Rosie the Riveter as the slogan for the first ever all women’ America’s Cup challenge. Linda Lindquist-Bishop who was a member of the first and only all women team was honored at the conference for her contribution to women in the sport. She was awarded the 2017 BoatUS/NWSA Leadership in Women’s Sailing Award. The award is given to an individual who has a record of achievement in inspiring, educating and enriching the lives of women through sailing.

“The “Mighty Mary” team really broke the glass ceiling in the sport at a time when women’s sports were making a lot of strides. The team and the feedback we got from women all over the world was a very important part of the trajectory for women and put a line in the sand. However, we are forever fighting image issues where strong men are considered iconic, but strong women are sometimes held up as a negative. For women in sports and business, if we don’t keep our foot on the pedal, we go backwards.”

For Volvo -Ocean racer, Olympian, world class match racer and Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and key note speaker Sally Barkow, 37, is among a handful of women competing at the highest level of the sport. “We have had an all-womens Volvo Ocean Race team, and now there is a big effort in the next race to get more women on a number of teams, with Dongfeng Racing of China recently unveiled that their squad will include Carolijn Brouwer and Marie Riou, making them the first team to announce a mixed crew.

“This conference is unique in that each year we witness more and more women wanting to reach way beyond their current confidence level,” said conference chairwoman Joan Thayer of Marblehead. “We see more women doing boat deliveries, racing in the Bermuda races, buying and maintaining their own boats. We are always grateful to our sponsors Boat/US and Black Rock Sailing School together with the Corinthian Yacht Club who help us bring all these great women to town each year.”