The Gifts of Sailing Solo
Now crewing and exploring with her partner on a shared boat, a former singlehander reflects on what going it alone taught her. "Point of View" from our February 2012 issue.
The notion that women sailors aren’t as capable as male sailors represents backward thinking, but it still exists. With only one exception, every solo sailor I’d ever met was a man. With a few exceptions, every sailing couple I’d ever met was chasing a dream that had been first seeded by the male. It doesn’t surprise me that people assumed the same for Ben and me. They assumed that we sail together on one boat, that the boat is his, and that he knows more than I do.
Last year, Ben and I sailed our two pocket cruisers to the Bahamas for the winter. Once anchored, we often met our neighbors in passing for a potluck dinner or a drink. It was a matter of course that the men would chat about ground tackle or engine maintenance or performance under sail, and I was left out of the conversation.
I felt like I was branded with a scarlet “L” for lubberly, and I was frustrated that my clout as a sailor was diminished because I lacked hair on my chest and have tiny arms and hands. Noticing this, Ben would often say something like “On Teresa’s boat, she prefers to . . . ,” his way of subtly inviting me into the fraternal conversation.
As soon as he spoke, three things would happen: First, the men’s eyes would widen and they’d say, “You’re sailing your own boat—alone?” Second, they’d ask, “Why?” Finally, I’d be included in the conversation as a full-blooded sailor capable of doing what most women could do if they chose to. In only a moment, I grew hair on my chest and muscles in my arms.
But you don’t need large muscles to sail a boat solo; you need a large spirit. Sailing solo was like having a V.I.P. pass that automatically earned me respect and a stronger identity within the sailing community.
During the first year that I sailed solo, a blog reader wrote to me for advice. She knew that heeling on a monohull was a natural result of closehauled sailing, but even so, she panicked every time it happened, and her husband took the helm to soothe her nerves. “How do I overcome this fear, so I can sail the boat myself?” she asked me.
I suggested that she go sailing with another woman or head out alone on a calm day. “As long as your husband is available to help you,” I told her, “you’ll rely on him when you’re scared and fear that you or the boat is in danger.”
Even those couples who break the barriers of gender convention and share equally in the responsibilities aboard will never stretch themselves quite as much as the solo sailor. Never have I been tested in sailing as I have been while solo sailing.
It’s the moments when I worked hard to take care of Daphne, when all the elements of the ocean were testing me, and when all the strength of my body was gone that I found resources in myself that would’ve remained undiscovered and still buried today had I not sailed solo.
These three gifts have made me a stronger, more independent, and more confidant person. I’ll always think of my time sailing solo as a rite of passage in sailing and in life.
Teresa Carey and Ben Eriksen speak about their quest to find icebergs together and on the same boat at the Mystic Seaport on March 15, 2012.
For details, visit the seaport website.
Follow Teresa's blog.