MY ENGLISH FRIEND Dylan Winter is in trouble with women sailors. He has been shot down in flames by angry women readers of Small Craft Advisor magazine. He roused their ire by writing a humorous article in which he tried to figure out what male boat owners should do to make their wives and girl friends more interested in sailing. Sailing with men, that is.
Perhaps he didn’t deserve all the flak that came his way. He is a gentle, educated soul who sails small boats quite peaceably with his wife, Jill, and his family. And he produces some of the most artistically meritorious sailing videos I have ever seen as he wends his way slowly around Great Britain in a small sailboat.*
All the same, he should have known better. I, for one, could have told him that American women sailors are very sensitive to being treated with condescension or superciliousness by men, even in jest. They know their pintles from their gudgeons, and they demand respect. I must say I’m all for it. Respect is good.
Nevertheless, we need to face the facts. And the real question is, do women like sailing?
I voiced my views on this subject several years ago in a column on this blog, and it might help to repeat it here now. Of course, there’s also a chance it might not help after all; but what the heck. Faint heart ne’er won fair lady, so here goes:
DELICATE SUBJECT THIS: Do women really like sailing? It’s a question that occurred to me during a recent meeting of a little committee whose members write and edit articles for our local yacht club’s newsletter.
The editor wanted to know: Are we having enough articles of interest to women members? Recipes, for instance. Or: Where can they get nice nautical fabric for settee cushions? Or: What’s the best detergent for washing up in salt water?
Then it occurred to me that these questions are condescending. Women sailors are no different from men sailors, except they smell better and seem to stay cleaner longer. Sailors are sailors, and if women are interested in sailing they’ll be learning all the same stuff that men learn.
The truth is that most people don’t like sailing. It’s a minority sport. But those who do sail aren’t divided into categories by gender. We all know women who have sailed around the world singlehanded and non-stop. Perhaps they weren’t the first to do it, but there’s no reason now to think women aren’t the equal of men as sailors.
What may be confusing is that there are probably fewer women than men whose ambition is to sail a boat. And that’s probably very wise of them, considering that sailing a small boat is the slowest, most uncomfortable, and most expensive method of travel known to mankind and womankind.
However, the fact that there are still special sailing schools run by women, only for women, seems to me to smack of discrimination. I don’t know of any sailing schools for men only. I think the women-only schools sprang up because of a nasty rumor that men are prone to shout at women who can’t perform a simple action on a boat after being shown how to do it a hundred times, for goodness’ sake.
Women don’t shout at other women, apparently. I presume that whatever needs to be done, the teacher just does it for the pupil and keeps the peace. But what worries me is that when they have graduated, those women will have to sail with men again, so they might as well have got shouted at in the first place and have it all over and done with. (If it’s true about men shouting, of course, which I’ve never seen proven.)
But, anyway, to presume that women sailors want special articles in the club newsletter about how to butter parsnips at anchor, or sauté mangel-wurzels under way, seems demeaning. Women who like sailing want to know how to tell the difference between variation and deviation and where the deepest chord of the mainsail should lie in heavy weather. And if nice nautical fabric is needed for new cushions, why shouldn’t it be a man who searches for it, rather than a woman? Come to think of it, maybe it’s time for a woman editor for the club newsletter. Then the questions wouldn’t even be asked.
Today’s Thought If men are always more or less deceived on the subject of women, it is because they forget that they and women do not speak altogether the same language.
—Amiel, Journal, 26 Dec 1868
Tailpiece “Did you visit that spiritualist last night?”
“Was she a good one?”
“Not really, just a medium.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)