Being a woman, being a skipper: 3 stories of passion and salt in the hair.
8 Mar 2016
In order to celebrate International Women’s Day we are going to tell you three opinions, three points of view, three stories belonging to women skippers… and we assure you that if you happen to meet Chiara, Elena and Silvia in the city, maybe on a Saturday night, you would hardly imagine how much wind has blown in their hair, how many miles they have travelled and how many times they have seen the sun rising.
“I got my nautical license just because I wanted to have a deeper knowledge of what has always been a part of my life, as my dad brought me on a sailboat since I was very little.
While I was studying chart work, I thought: “Even if I pass the exam and get the nautical license, I will never become a skipper… too much responsibilities!” It was 2008 and I had no idea of how fate would kick in that summer. In fact, I found myself skippering in the Cyclades, Greece, dealing with Meltemi… that adventure paved the way for my following experiences.
I soon found out I was able to steer in the harbour, repair sails better than anyone else and be able to replace an impeller… maybe it’s a bit more difficult for me than for a man skipper, but just because as a child I played with Barbies and not with Meccano! But most of all, I realized that the crew totally followed and trusted me, and this was the most satisfying reward.
I learnt that staying up all night to check the anchor made my love for the sailing boat even more special and baling out was something that triggered my childhood memories.
Obviously being a woman skipper is not always a walk in the park: it creates peculiar reactions, such as male crewmates’ awe, and I find it hard to reconcile my femininity with the strength needed for this role. Many times I realized how difficult it is to maintain a strong attitude inside and outside in order to be accepted. Not to mention the workers of this field: mooring operators, mechanics, gas station attendants… no time to waste with them! Even if you’re at the helm while giving orders, they will systematically ask you: “Where is the skipper?”
We women skippers are a category with scarce numbers and I ask myself why. Maybe because the world of sailing is mainly made up of men, where people rub their eyes when seeing a woman giving orders, but it’s just a matter of instilling security and obtaining the trust of your crew.
I will never forget that time in Croatia, when I rented a boat and I was asked “Who is the skipper?” and when I raised my arm I was told “I asked for the skipper, not for his girlfriend.” I felt so bad about it!
Apart from this situation, that nowadays makes me smile, being a skipper has given me high satisfactions and has made me a better person, making me trust in myself and making me recognize my limits.
Besides, nothing can be compared to the sense of independence you get when steering a sailing boat on your own, be the one deciding the route, get up at dawn to set sail when the rest of the crew is still dealing with their dreams, hoist the sails just out of the harbour, instill your passion to others… emotions that only a skipper can feel, maybe even more if you are a woman.
After many travelled miles, I realized two things: first of all, there is a big difference between being the passenger and being the skipper on a sailing boat. Secondly, among those worlds where the gender gap is so obvious, the sailing reality is unfortunately (or luckily?) one of the most evident.
Being a female skipper when steering the boat is more than the wind on your face, the boat following your manoeuvres, the sunsets, people keeping company, the parties… it is also being wide aware of what is happening around you, what you can control and what you cannot, but you have to handle anyway.
Being able to create harmony among you, the crew, the sails, the hull, the wind and the sea is the reason why I like being a skipper: when I succeed it’s hard to find words to describe this sensation. You realize to have won a personal challenge, but above all, you see people around you discovering a new world as it was the first time, and their happiness almost always infects you from head to toe.
Certainly you must be prepared to deal with mooring operators searching for the male skipper to give directions, or gas station assistants checking if you insert diesel fuel in the right tank and many more nuisances. However, you realize in the end that these are trifles swept away by a self-made patching on the sail, some salt in your hair and by your crew who trust you deeply instead of trusting a man with the double of your age but with half or less of the experience you have. Last but not least, being a skipper usually exempt me from cooking… better for me and especially for the crew!