Overcoming hurdles for women in sailing

Published on August 1st, 2022

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
With the intention to provide opportunities for women in sailing, it has become increasingly common for there to be a requirement within event rules that the crew not be all male. This was famously introduced for the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race, with the Mixed Multihull event added for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Gaining experience has been a hurdle for women, and with the inclusion of gender rules to overcome barriers, it is with optimism that this will increase the participation of women in sailing. But are there other barriers?

It is customary for boats to have an ideal crew weight, and this occurs when the boat is designed. Nowhere does this speed variable become more apparent than in one design sailing, and with typically sized people, there is not always room for women to fit into the crew. Are boats being designed just for men?

The Etchells was intended as a three-person boat, but when I was among the winning crew for the 2011 Etchells Worlds, we dieted to squeeze in a fourth. We saw the extra person as an advantage, but our fourth was a very light female. Others might include a small youth sailor.

An effort in youth match racing has been to require the inclusion of at least one female in the crew, and this is the rule at the US and World Youth Match Racing Championships. But what happens when it’s not in the rules? Here’s an observation from Molly Carapiet following the 2022 Governor’s Cup International Youth Match Racing Championship held July 26-30 in Newport Beach, CA:
I competed at the 2001 Governor’s Cup as one of two women. Balboa Yacht Club put on a phenomenal event with some of the best youth sailors from across the world. It was an amazing introduction to match racing and it completely hooked me on the game.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve become a very accomplished match racer, winning the 2015 Nations Cup, the US Women’s Match Racing Championship four times and many other events. However, I’m sorely disappointed to see the continued lack of women racing at the Governor’s Cup and other youth match races.

It looks like the 2022 Governor’s Cup had three women competing (based on names) out of 38 sailors. I went back to coach at the Governor’s Cup in around 2009 and was reminded of the gender disparity with only two women competing. Moreover, the Balboa Yacht Club had young women acting as “boat hostesses”, who bring the sailors drinks and welcome them back to the dock.

While I appreciate the extraordinary hospitality the Balboa Yacht Club provides, I think we should be showing the next generation of women that they can lead winning teams and not just act in a support role.

If SailGP can mandate a woman on each boat and Olympic Sailing has gender parity, I think US Sailing should mandate all US youth match races have complete gender parity, including the Governor’s Cup. We should be providing our ambitious junior women more opportunities to compete if we want them to stay in the sport.
It is notable that the Governor’s Cup uses the GC21 which was designed and built specifically for the competition, and which was also used when Balboa Yacht Club hosted the 2021 World Youth Match Racing Championship. Per the rules, the 2021 Worlds required women in the crew, but as Molly points out, the absence of gender rules for the 2022 Governor’s Cup has not led to any progress.

We can likely come up with reasons, such as the inclusion of lighter women may require the boat to be sailed with four instead of three, which was the case in 2022 for the two Governors Cup teams with women. As an international event, extra people along with mixed genders adds to cost and logistical issues.

But are these reasons or excuses? Are there other issues to consider? Send your comments to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com.

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