Extending Your Range

The annual Women’s Sailing Conference attracts an energetic and diverse group eager to explore more.

NWSA- chart

Participants practice the basics of chart plotting to determine the course to their chosen destination.Elaine Lembo

One woman said she had a fear of sailing through the night aboard her cold-molded sloop. Another lived aboard a Catalina 36 with her husband, and hoped one day to run it as a floating B&B. Yet another had sold her home in New York state, and was about to head to sea aboard a 52-foot Nauticat with her two kids and her other half.

If you think the only thing these women have in common is sailboats, you're wrong. What they and more than 60 other women spent the day discovering at the 12th women's sailing conference hosted by the National Women's Sailing Association is that sailboats are an invigorating entry point into a lifetime of networking, commiserating, and learning across a vast spectrum of disciplines and experiences.

The spacious, elegant Corinthian Yacht Club, situated on the waterfront of Marblehead, Massachusetts, was the host setting for the June 1 gathering, a mix of hands-on workshops and panel discussions followed by question and answer periods. Participants, some of them repeats, hailed primarily from New England and the U.S. East Coast. The NWSA holds similar conferences in other U.S. locations, as well.

Presenters, panelists, and session leaders included an extensive group of volunteers who are also experienced racers, circumnavigators, licensed captains, and liveaboard cruising sailors. BoatU.S., the national boating advocacy group, sponsored the event, which carried the Extending Your Range theme.

The program moderator was veteran circumnavigator Beth A. Leonard, BoatU.S. director of technical services and technical editor for all of its publications.
"Sailing lets us go out and make mistakes, learn from them, and know that life will go on," Leonard told the group. "You build skills one step at a time, which will extend your range. And ultimately, it's about much more than getting on a boat. It's about who we want to be."

When they weren’t tying knots or practicing crew overboard drills dockside, the women pored over charts and plotted courses. At the beach they heaved lines, in a darkened conference room they downloaded gridded binary (GRIB) files and tried their hand at weather forecasting. Diesel engine maintenance rounded out session topics.

And when they weren’t learning, they engaged in lively chat sessions, which energized them further into a crescendo of exploration.

“What if he goes overboard?”

“I don’t know enough about all the boat’s systems.”

“We went from a tiller to a wheel and it was very hard for me.”

“I need to gain more skills to be a better first mate.”

“When sailing as a couple, how do you not kill each other?”

Panelists urged participants to become equal partners in boat ownership with husbands and boyfriends by gaining the critical onboard skills. "If you really want to do this, it's your responsibility to learn the skills," said Captain Sharon Renk-Greenlaw, who runs Women Under Sail, a liveaboard sailing school for women in Maine.

“If you’re fairly new, learn to do something better than he can so he looks to you for that skill,” advised passagemaker and author Betsy Morris.