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Legacy rooted in camaraderie and competition

Published on October 2nd, 2018

Heidi Backus Riddle’s dad was passionate about sailing. When he died at age 46 from a brain tumor, the four Backus sisters carried on his legacy, racing with the Vermilion Boat Club in Vermilion, OH.

“My mother used to say, when are you girls going to give up that sailing? We said, ‘Mom, never’.”

Riddle, 63, named the 1985 US Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, can still be found on the water with sisters Amy, Gretchen, and Susan, battling in the Tartan 10 Class on the Great Lakes.

While woman in the sport of sailing remain a minority, Riddle sees more now involved than it used to be. “I think people respect us, same as any sailor,” she notes, having had only one overtly chauvinist interaction. “I filed a protest against another boat, and when I went into the protest room, the judge said maybe I had been too cautious because I didn’t own my own boat. I said, ‘That is my own boat’.”

On what has kept her in the sport, she notes the camaraderie and the competition “Your lifelong friends, for me, have been your sailing friends. And we’ve met them all over the world. Sailing is something we can all do together lifelong, whether you’re racing or not.”

She admits that her team isn’t all girls like it used to because of age. “Younger guys have an advantage because they’re stronger and more agile. We love sailing with the younger people. But we’re still pretty competitive. Wednesday night races at home are fun because we get to take out all the little kids with us, all the nieces and nephews, who are 8 to 12 years old.”

Riddle, a retired school teacher and principal, recalled how she remained grounded despite the Yachtswoman of the Year honor. “You go to NYC, and they present you with a Rolex watch, which I wear every day. You’re treated like a queen. They put us up at the Plaza, with a fancy lunch with lamb and cigars and whatever. But then I came back to the school cafeteria and the realization of real life.”

Regarding the participation decline in sailing, Riddle finds it incumbent for the current generation to help. “We need to keep educating and bringing up the younger people. Our junior sailors are the crux of our existence. If they can jump on a boat and be part of a crew, that’s a real great way to learn. Most sailors are quite welcoming to try to get people to come on board.”


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