Epic Day at the Women’s Sailing Conference

Women's Sailing Conference 2018 | 12° West

Epic Day at the Women’s Sailing Conference

When an event is in its 17th year, you know it’s got a good thing going. So I wasn’t surprised when the 17th annual Women’s Sailing Conference drew over 100 women, new and experienced sailors alike, to the Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead, MA. Presented by the National Women’s Sailing Association, the full-day event featured workshops and on-the-water instruction where women learn from other women.

That element – women learning from and with other women – is what makes this event so special. It’s a supportive, collaborative environment where there are no dumb questions, and no one looks down on your skills or experience. And no yelling! It turns out that when you make sailing (and learning about sailing) accessible and fun, everyone comes away a winner.

Women's Sailing Conference 2018 | 12° West

Susannah Winder (2nd from left) leads a workshop on splicing at the 2018 Women’s Sailing Conference. Photo: Pam Foley/NWSA

According to Nick Hayes of Saving Sailing, adult women are the fastest growing demographic in sailing. Whether they come to the sport through friends or a partner, they are eager to learn and gain confidence on the water. The Women’s Sailing Conference recognizes the social aspect of sailing for women, creating valuable opportunities to connect with other women sailors. At the same time, the event offers practical workshops for everyone from newbies to old salts.

This year’s conference attracted women from all over the US and across all age groups. I met many Marblehead and Boston locals, but also sailors from Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Louisiana, Texas, Washington. There were even some Canadians for good measure. Instructors also hailed from home ports across the country. The roster of speakers and workshop leaders included some of the most accomplished racers, offshore sailors, marine engineers, and circumnavigators in the sailing world. And all were women!

Women's Sailing Conference 2018 | 12° West

Attendees enjoy the view of Marblehead Harbor between sessions at the Women’s Sailing Conference. Photo: 12° West

On-the-water workshops helped participants came away with new skills and more confidence in their abilities. New sailors had an opportunity to “Take the Helm” in a 3 hour hands-on sailing lesson covering sail trim, points of sail, and sailing on and off of a mooring. A more advanced session addressed reefing; why, when and how to reef for safer, smoother sailing.

One of my favorite workshops was Night Navigation, led by Capt. Nancy Earley. Capt. Earley has conducted two all-women world circumnavigations, and operates Tethy’s Offshore, her sailing school for women in Port Townsend, WA. In the session she covered setting up a watch system, interpreting lights on other boats, and understanding aids to navigation.

Nancy is not only a great teacher – she’s also a great storyteller. Her description of the peace she feels during a night watch, marveling at the night sky, and the wonders of bioluminescence made me long for a night passage.

Women's Sailing Conference 2018 | 12° West

Linda Codega outlines the ideal scenario for a successful racing start. Photo: 12° West

In a totally different vein, Linda Codega led an engaging discussion on racing strategy and tactics. She quickly zeroed in on the area the group wanted help with: starts!  Linda walked us through exactly how to set up for a successful start. She also gave some critical advice: “If you’re in a bad position, at the start, don’t be afraid to bail out. Clear air is your priority.”

Although she’s only 27, Linda has been racing since age 6 and possesses an in-depth understanding of the racing rules. And more importantly, she has the ability to explain them to a layperson. The group had a lively discussion about proper course, barging, and when you have to give room at the mark.

Women's Sailing Conference 2018 | 12° West

Mary Goff of Narragansett Sailing teaching the Advanced Docking Seminar. Photo: 12° West.

Mary Goff, owner of Narragansett Sailing, used some fun DIY tools to illustrate the principles of advanced docking. With popsicle sticks, push pins and toy boats she showed how the different forces of wind and current work for or against you when docking. She reviewed how prop wash and prop walk affect the movement of a boat under power. Lastly, she showed how to use different line configurations to get into or out of tight docking situations. It was a fun and interactive way to think about all the forces that come into play when docking.

Women's Sailing Conference 2018 | 12° West

DIY tools for the Advanced Docking seminar at the Women’s Sailing Conference. Photo: 12° West

Women's Sailing Conference 2018 | 12° West

Sheila McCurdy, recipient of the 2018 Leadership In Women’s Sailing Award. Photo: Phil Sherman

One of the highlights of the annual event is the presentation of the NWSA & BoatU.SLeadership in Women’s Sailing Award. This year’s honoree was Sheila McCurdy. Sheila has sailed more than 100,000 offshore miles and participated in the Newport Bermuda Race 17 times – skippering to second place in class and fourth overall in 2016. She’s served on the boards of multiple sailing organizations including US Sailing, and was the first woman commodore of the Cruising Club of America.

“Sheila McCurdy exemplifies a leader in the sailing world by serving as a mentor, teacher and role model for women entering the sport and also for those expanding their sailing skills” said NWSA President Linda Newland. Sheila is a real pioneer who has broken down many barriers for women in sailing, and a deserving recipient of the award.

Over an excellent meal in the CYC dining room, Sheila’s dinner talk focused on sailing as a metaphor for life. She used quotes about sailing to illustrate how it can be a lens for understanding and interpreting life. One of my favorite quotes is this one from Henry David Thoreau: “The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet so full of life, so noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective.” Every sailor can relate to that, on so many levels.

Sheila struck another chord with me when she talked about how sailing is a study in opposites. Often, we find ourselves suspended between two opposing things: the sky and the sea, time and distance, past and future, exhilaration and fear, order and chaos – and ultimately, between what you need and what you can do without. For me, that really distills the essence of sailing, and of life.

Women's Sailing Conference 2018 | 12° West

NWSA board members honor Joan Thayer, 2nd from right, for her service & 17 years of organizing the conference. Photo: 12° West

Overall, it was a great day of learning and fellowship with other women sailors. Talking to so many experienced sailors reminded me: I too, can accomplish what I want in sailing. That’s probably the most important take-away of the event. No matter what level of skill or experience you come in with, we can always learn.

Many thanks to the Women’s Sailing Conference committee, the NWSA leadership, Corinthian Yacht Club, speakers, instructors, and sponsors for once again empowering women to be more knowledgeable and confident sailors. See you next year!

Women's Sailing Conference 2018 | 12° West

Sunset from the deck of the Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead, MA. Photo: 12° West

Mark your calendar for next year’s Women’s Sailing Conference, to be held June 1, 2019 in Marblehead. Conference details will be posted here: National Women’s Sailing Association. And if you haven’t already joined the NWSA, now’s a good time! It’s a great investment in your growth as a sailor and the advancement of women’s sailing.

You can read our recap from the 2017 Women’s Sailing Conference here: Taking the Helm – Women’s Sailing Conference

If you’re not following us on Instagram, you’re missing out! Check out our Instagram Stories archive for a behind-the-scenes peek at the conference and a tour around charming Marblehead. See it here: 12° West.