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Women at Helm of New Sailing Program in Sag Harbor

Thu, 04/07/2022 - 11:37
A new initiative coming to the Breakwater Sailing Center this summer will offer classes and courses for female sailors of all levels, with the goal of getting more women into sailboats.
Gary Senft

The Breakwater Sailing Center, a.k.a. the Breakwater Yacht Club, in Sag Harbor, will host an open house on Tuesday to introduce a women's sailing initiative and new programs for the summer.

"Historically, women are pretty much underrepresented as adult sailors," explained Joan Butler, a sailor, nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, and a Breakwater member.

Her fellow sailor Sara Nightingale, who owns the eponymous art gallery in Sag Harbor, wholeheartedly agreed. "When women get on boats with the men, they just don't give us credit. It's like life — women have to be twice as good to get the respect," she said.

Sarah Alford, a software designer and writer, and an experienced sailor, explained further. "There's this expectation that boats require more brute force. But boats are physics, and physics is brain activity. So, yes, there are limits to the human body, but in terms of understanding the workings of a boat, men and women are equally capable of knowing how to handle it," said Ms. Alford, who has sailed from Maine to Mexico, around Greece, Monaco, and the Caribbean. "It's a wonderful way to travel," she said.

But it was yet another friend and sailor — Darr Reilly — who sparked the idea of introducing a dedicated, women-friendly sailing program at Breakwater. Plus, she thought it would be a great way to "have outdoor fun on the water with lively, adventurous women, young and old, skilled and newbies, while sailing on our local waters within the community of our local public yacht club, Breakwater," she wrote in an email. 

Ms. Reilly said the response to her idea was overwhelming so she then ran it by Ms. Nightingale, who in turn, took the idea back to her clan of sailing women. No one needed convincing.

"Sara, Joan, and Sarah worked their magic," wrote Ms. Reilly, who is in her 70s and a co-founder of the Carbon Crew Project and Drawdown East End, both climate change organizations. "And the rest is history. Or, really, her-story!" 

According to a recent article in Sailing World magazine, adult female sailors are perpetually overlooked when part of a crew, rarely expected to contribute more than simply providing the right weight for human ballast, and have limited opportunities to develop the skills for other jobs on a sailboat. That, the article said, has resulted in reinforcing "the misguided perception of women's limited roles in the boat."

Ms. Alford hopes that this initiative will attract more women to Breakwater and get them sailing, be it on a team to race, or simply to cruise around the harbor. All the women agreed that this will provide a great opportunity for women to connect and enjoy kinship and camaraderie in a supportive environment.

"It's really a chance for women to sail with other women. To come together as a group and not have the men mansplaining," explained Ms. Nightingale, before adding, "And we also want to support Breakwater. It's a nonprofit and a really great organization. The goal really is to make this sport that's always been about super rich white men doing it, accessible and affordable," she said.

Tuesday's information session, which is free, will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Sailors of all levels can meet and learn about the initiative, which is intended to build skills and esprit de corps among women sailors. Beginner and intermediate clinics for women will start in June, with other programs slated for the summer. Breakwater membership is not required to sign up for the program.


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