by Deborah Medenbach, KSC Cruise Committee chair and RWSC chair
The first Riverport Women’s Sailing Conference slated for March 25 at the Riverport Wooden Boat School is almost at capacity! It will be a full day of women-teaching-women sailing classes and workshops, just as tarps are coming off boats for spring prep. It’s an exciting time for skill building and a strong beginning to our season. I want to express special thanks to my co-chair Jody Sterling and our fellow board members in the Kingston Sailing Club for their support, guidance and abundant help. Heartfelt thanks to the Hudson River Maritime Museum, whose staff were supportive in practical ways throughout the planning process. Sarah Wassberg was particularly helpful in meshing our class signup form with the museum’s registration system so that we could monitor the number of students and prepare materials for each class.
Dale Wolfield designed our logo, which will be seen on a conference banner in front of the boat school for the event. Look for her design on the women’s t-shirts as well.
The Ulster County Tourism Office, headed up by Rick Remsnyder and his staff, supported us with mentions on the Ulster County Alive! website, helped us get special hotel rates for incoming conference attendees at the Best Western Plus on Washington Avenue, as well as providing swag for our welcome bags.
It’s going to be great! There are a couple of spots left, so go to hrmm.org to sign up if you haven’t already.
Some have asked “Why is it important to have a women-only sailing conference?”
Women need to gain confidence and skills to take the helm of their boats, not only as a step of personal growth, but as a correctly trained and valuable crew member. Some women have already mastered this ability very well, but others, like myself, are shy about it, deferential, allowing the skills of those aboard to be compartmentalized into particular individuals rather than building the skills of all.
The first time I toured the Newport Yacht Club’s exhibit of sailors who’d gone around the world, I noticed that beneath each photo was a description of the skipper’s journey. Only a few were women, and those stories usually began “We started out on a quest to sail the world together and then, somewhere halfway around, my husband (insert dire event here) and, without any training, and learning as I went, I kept on going…”
It made me wonder why it is that some women beef up their skills out of spontaneous necessity rather than out of good sailing practice. It seemed kind of sad that solo circumnavigations were usually because of some misfortune with their partner. It wasn’t the excitement of a personal quest that made them leave familiar harbors with the skills to succeed.
I certainly fell into that category. I’m good at sail trim, but I had no helpful engine knowledge. I could just kick over the starter or bring a requested tool when asked. When it came time for spring boat prep, my only usefulness was polishing the hull for racing season or putting another coat on the bright work. Why was that? Would I even know what needed to be done to button up the boat for winter or get it in the water in spring? Nope.
So it came as a wonderful surprise a few years ago when my sister Gina, also a sailor and one of this year’s instructors, first invited me to attend the National Women’s Sailing Association’s annual conference in Marblehead, Mass. All of the classes were taught by women, often a little older than myself, who had an encouraging cheer and grace about teaching the next generation of women sailors. Some had careers that involved boats. Some had spent years living aboard with their families. With patience and advanced knowledge, they gave us an idea of how they managed their boats, or simple systems overviews that were a boon to women who’d never gotten closer to a diesel engine than gazing over the shoulder of someone else up to their elbows in it. Not a single instructor raised an eyebrow or scoffed if a student lacked knowledge of basic systems. It was a safe place to learn important and basic information.
I wanted to be able to bring that confidence level back home, for myself and other reticent sailors. Fortunately, the Kingston Sailing Club has a wealth of knowledgeable, experienced women who could help others gain the confidence to take the helm of their own boats. We’ve been able to tap some of them as instructors for this first conference. We also reached out to women marine entrepreneurs and those the tugboat industry. The Rondout has a very long history with tug families, and we were very grateful that some of the women tugboat captains were willing to join us as instructors. A cooperative relationship between sailors and the tug operators who share the Hudson River begins with a just such a class.
The response to this first conference has been solidly positive and the whole sailing community benefits when we build our skills.