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sail like a girl

sail like a gil
It’s not hard to see evidence of sexism in sailing.  From a dearth of women at the highest levels of the sport to the sexual objectification of women in SCOTW posts (which, to be fair, are less frequent than it used to be)—our sport is often the worst kind of boys’ club.  As a high school coach, it’s not hard to see where it begins, either.  Female skippers are relatively rare, especially at higher-level team races.  Bullying, which is a natural consequence of team racing + high schoolers + no umpires, tends to flow in only one direction.  Sexist slurs on the water are not unheard-of.  Sure, smaller people make better crews, but that differential does not begin to explain the male/female imbalance, and this is long before these kids have entered the wider world of sailing.
This weekend Wellesley High School hosted the second annual Linda Juliano Women’s Team Race, which we believe is the only women’s team racing event for high-schoolers in the United States.  Nine teams competed in last year’s inaugural event, prompting an expansion this year to a two-day clinegatta format.  On Saturday, three guest coaches worked with four teams—roughly 30 young women—on boat handling, match racing and team racing tactics, despite fluky and confusing winds.  Guest coaches always draw closer attention, but these three were particularly special: a huge thank-you to Amanda Donahue, Madelyn Kanter, and Madeline Gill for donating their time and incredible energy to the event.
Six teams arrived for race day on a cold April morning.  With two competing breezes and a narrow lake, racing was slow to get going.  Eventually the breeze settled just south of east, 6-10 kts with the usual crazy puffs and shifts of lake sailing, and we were able to get in a full round-robin, lunch, semifinals, a quick thunderstorm and, just under the wire, finals and petits-finals.
Locals Wayland High School won the event, with Noble & Greenough School in second and Lincoln-Sudbury in third.  From my perspective, it is remarkable how confidently the girls sail when there are no boys pretending they know better, or claiming to know the rules better, or simply being louder.  I saw far more penalty turns taken, and a whole lot of clean, elegant team racing.
Thank you to the Wellesley parents, the other coaches who support their women’s teams, the boys of WHS sailing for their support work, and Helly Hansen for donating prizes to this great event.
Sometimes, when I hear the old guard chatting, I despair for the future of sailing.  Nothing new is good, and women mere ornaments.  Days like the LJT reverse that feeling.  There is so much young talent that doesn’t remotely give a shit what the old guard thinks.  I do not think the young women of today are asking for anything but a fair shot, equal pay for equal work, equal respect for equal knowledge.  There’s plenty to be done, for sure, but let’s start by making sailing just a little more welcoming.
– Jacon Mayer
Asst. Coach, WHS Sailing