By Gloria Kevlicuite
My experience in the sailing world has been a short lived one compared to most. I didn’t start sailing until my Freshman year of high school in Chicago. Growing up in an immigrant family, I had never even heard of sailing.
It only took 15 minutes of me crewing a 420 at tryouts for me to get hooked like most. I was driven to get better from my very first moments.
There were definitely a few hiccups along the way, but it was moments like listening to Sally Barkow give a speech about her Volvo Ocean Race experience that gave me the motivation to keep pushing forward. I went from crewing to skippering within a year, and found myself always looking up to my female counterparts, whether they were teammates, coaches, or pros like Sally. As my skill level went up, I was going to more and more competitive events, but noticed that the higher up the event was, the less females there were. I recall being at the 2016 Musto Match Race Regatta in Sydney Australia, on a team with four boys, and I was maybe one of 6 girls at a regatta of over 30 participants. Even at high school fleet race nationals, I was one of four female skippers out of 40 total.
This pattern ended up following all the way through to college sailing, where this past Spring of 2021, I was one of 8 females out of 50 skippers at co-ed fleet racing nationals and one of 7 females out of 44 skippers at team race nationals.
Throughout my entire career, I would rarely see female umpires either. There of course has been initiatives to give women more opportunities, such as College Sailing’s newest addition of Women’s Team Race Nationals. But in the end, I cannot help but feel as though throughout my experience, and many others, there is a lack of female representation. I am on a mission to help make sure that changes so that all the future generations continue to have women to lead by example, and working for Ronstan has been my first step in that direction.
The biggest problem with females having limited access to the world of professional sailing that men receive, is that it becomes a big discouragement to girls starting at a young age. Learned helplessness is based on the idea that if you feel that you are in an impossible or difficult situation, you subconsciously condition yourself to believe that you are unable to accomplish that task, and even when that similar task is possible or easier you still remain in the mindset that it is impossible. This is displayed in the sailing world as females do not see many women sailing at the professional level, perceiving an impossible situation and discouraging them from ever trying to pursue. To counteract the learned helplessness we see in women in the sailing world, we need to create opportunities for more women to rise to the higher levels and take more leadership roles. This means having more women represented as PRO’s, umpires, coaches, workers, and professionals. In college sailing alone, the ICSA Tide committee found that although women make up 56.1% of the athletes, only 30% of the coaches are female.
Making change after something has been the same since its existence can be scary. For people to start making the change, they need to be bold, confident, and fearless. Many women in sailing can be described as all the above. Therefore, it is time to get them more involved in the sport, and keep the momentum going for them to be involved.
All this being said, we are definitely moving in the right direction as a community. We see more mixed divisions at high level regattas, and we see many people taking action to ensure that this continues to happen.
The Magenta Project creates pathways for women to be involved in high performance sailing. Newport-based high performance class, NAASA, funded two woman-helmed F18 teams. Willem Van Way has been pushing for mixed divisions at J70 regattas. College Sailing has created TIDE, the inclusivity diversity and equity task force.
A perfect example of women achieving at high levels of the sport would be a majority female team winning the IC37 North American Championship team consisting of: Nick Sertl, Amina Brown, Jake Doyle, Mark Sertl, Cory Sertl, Hugh MacGillivray, Katja Sertl, Marly Isler and Marina Barzaghi. Again, an all-female crew winning the C420 Midwinter championship: Ellie Harned and Sarah Moeder. All these teams, junior or professional levels showed that women can do more than just “hang” with the men in the sport of sailing. At a professional level, the end goal is to move away from having rules that require women on your boat. Hopefully one day we will have people of all ages recognise that women are capable of doing everything a man can do, because there are times that we can do it better and there are many women out there proving that on a daily basis.