There is no clear reason why the boat pronoun most commonly used is “she”.

The answers range from an historical use of goddess names for protection to language practices and the desire to personify inanimate objects. Ship is “navis” in Latin, which is a feminine word, so maybe that’s it. The worst are the annoying sexist explanations: Unpredictable, High Maintenance, Expensive. If you ever hear one of these silly remarks, just go ahead and throw that person overboard.

This maritime tradition is changing a bit to accommodate those who see it as disrespectful, but I don’t mind the reference to sailboats as “she”. I like to think it is because these vessels are tough and graceful and capable and beautiful and resourceful and resilient.

And so are the women who sail them.

There have always been women sailors. In the mid-1500’s, Grace O’ Malley a formidable Irish sailor and pirate was well-regarded for her superior sailing skills and heroism as she protected Ireland in English conflicts. In the 1700’s, Thurídur Einarsdóttir was renowned for her skills in navigating and fishing the North Atlantic waters near her Icelandic home, and in more modern times, scores of extraordinary women – Naomi James, Kay Cottee, Laura Dekker, and Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz to name just a few – have sailed around the world and come home safely to tell of their adventures. Just last year, the all-woman Seattle crew of the Sail Like a Girl race team won the 750-mile Race to Alaska. Dutchwoman Carolijn Brouwer is on track to become the first woman in history to helm an America’s Cup challenger yacht.

I could go on and on and on. The point is, women have been competently and confidently sailing for practically as long as there have been sailboats. Women who stand as uniquely outstanding role models for our daughters and for us.

Even still, female captains and skippers have long been the exception, not the rule.

Fortunately, that is changing.

From racing crews to coastal cruising, there is an ever-growing movement that has women at the helm. The sailing world is taking notice and responding in kind with increasing numbers of just-for-women programs and new opportunities for this growing community of sailors.

It makes sense. Glimpses into the world of sailing and being able to travel to spectacular places on the planet by boat are more frequently on our social media streams. Travel and adventure-seeking young women see sailing as an ideal pursuit, and those of us nearing retirement age long for the rare combination of peace, excitement, and wonder that can only be found on the water. Some women want to create quality experiences for their families and others seek a diversion from their too-plugged-in and packed professional calendars.

The good news is that learning to sail and loving it is accessible to all women, regardless of age or background. Curiosity and a willingness to learn are the only prerequisites.

Exploratory Sailing Programs for Women

This summer, I will be heading to the lakes near Boulder and Denver for the best kind of ladies’ night. The Wind, Women & Water program sponsored by non-profit Community Sailing of Colorado offers evening excursions that allow women a chance to see what sailing is about, to connect with like-minded ladies in the area, and to enjoy a couple of hours on the water without a significant time-commitment or cost.

Programs of this type are cropping up at sailing schools and sailing clubs nation-wide, and for good reason. They offer an easy, fun, low-stress way for women to gain an introduction to the sport of sailing.

Women-Only Sailing Certification Courses

Sailing certification courses in a women-only format are not new. Black Rock Sailing has had women’s classes in its curriculum since 2008 and there are even schools that cater specifically to women. But women-only courses are increasing in availability as schools like Modern Sailing School, who launched their Wind & Women program this Spring, find ways to meet the needs of the growing demographic of female sailors.

Of course, all sailing school courses are always available to women, and the instructors I’ve encountered are excellent, professional, and eager to help all students. Women can join any class without fear of being ostracized.

That said, the women-only classes layer on perhaps a bit of extra support and encouragement for women who, like me, might feel extremely out of their element when first starting to sail. The courses are also really fun for ladies who want girl bonding time while learning something new.

Plus, I can’t think of anything better than a group of girlfriends getting their sailing certification together and then sailing in beautiful places around the world. Can you?

Racing Opportunities

Sail racing offers a wonderful combination of kinship, teamwork, sport, and fun. For women who want to advance their sailing skills and enjoy the thrill of competition, racing is a perfect choice. Often you can become involved with minimal experience, you just need to be open to learning. Sailing schools and clubs across the country offer the opportunity to learn to race and participate in both co-ed and women’s-only events and regattas.

Online Groups and Resources

Women’s online sailing groups are plentiful and an excellent resource regardless of your experience level.

The Women Who Sail Facebook Group has more than 16k members, many of whom are outstanding sailors with incredible advice and experiences. It is also an environment where new female sailors can find a community of support and a wealth of information in addition to opportunities for group sailing excursions.

Whatever your motivation, it is easier than ever for women to take advantage of all of the benefits learning to sail offers: confidence building, an active hobby, a way to visit beautiful destinations, a chance to share an amazing experience with friends and family. And with the growing number of programs available for women, taking a peek at the sailing world to see if it is something you might fall in love with is definitely within reach. Information about the programs in your own backyard is just a simple Google search away.

We can’t wait to hear where the wind takes you.

Lea Maxwell

Lea Maxwell is the sailor and scribe behind Escape Under Sail, a web|blog project that connects new and future charter sailors with the resources, information, and motivation they need to competently and confidently sail beautiful destinations around the world.

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