State of Gender Equality in Sailing

Published on January 24th, 2017

Marly Isler comes from good stock. Dad is an America’s Cup winner. Mom is an Olympic medalist. Now, recently graduated from Yale, she observes the state of gender equality in the sport of sailing…

At the countless Dave Perry rules talks I’ve now gone to in my life, it always brings a smile to my face that the word used when discussing a boat nearing another on port tack or entering the zone is “she”. That gender pronoun is proof enough for me that women hold a place in the sport of sailing, but it is all the incredible female coaches, competitors, and crews I’ve had over the years that showed me that we are equal to men when it comes to our ability to race.

I’d like to take a moment to thank all these women.

Thank you to junior coaches like Melanie Roberts (San Diego Yacht Club) who made it seem so cool to be a double-handed all-girls team. Thank you to event organizers and race committees who put on regattas like the Women’s High School Invitational (San Diego, CA) and the U.S. Junior Women’s Doublehanded Championship (Ida Lewis Trophy) where female sailors from across the country come together.

Thank you to female head college coaches (the select few there are) like Allison Jolly (University of South Florida) and Amanda Callahan (Roger Williams University) for connecting with us on the dock after a challenging set. From the Olympic Radial sailor to the 49er FX teams, thank you for representing us on the global stage.

And finally, thank you to all the women onboard America3 when their one minute and nine second win over Stars & Stripes in the first race of the Challenger’s Series for the 1995 America’s Cup sent early ripples of change throughout a male-dominated sport.

However, I don’t think any female sailor would disagree that we still have a lengthy upwind leg ahead of us. Too often young girls are pigeonholed into crewing for boys in Club FJs and Club 420s where they should be getting time at the tiller. There’s a recent observed uptick in the number of female college sailors with eating disorders, feeling perceived pressure to reduce their combined team weight.

It doesn’t seem it should be a requirement that a women’s team in the Volvo Ocean Race adopt the same favorite color of pink. The days of female figureheads on the bows of ships are over, so why do we still sequester our girls to the paint on the side of a hull or as a nude outline on a Melges 32 spinnaker?

This upcoming college spring sailing season, let’s celebrate as equals the winner of the weekend’s women’s regatta and that of the coed regatta. This year, let’s beat our record from last year and have more than one female skipper compete in the final race at the College Sailing Coed National Championships. And four years after, let’s have a female sailor onboard an America’s Cup boat again.

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