Sexism on the low seas

pearson ariel 26 liveaboard, pearson ariel 26 cruising
This is my boat in a storm of convective energy that blasted through the mouth of the bay where I anchored. This photo was taken by the boat anchored next to me, before the storm got really bad (At which point the captain told his crew ‘put the camera down’)! Shit got real. This photo has nothing to do with this post 😉

When I was selling an outboard engine on craigslist one caller said, upon a female (me) answering the phone, “Is this your boyfriend’s, or your brother’s, or your dad’s engine and can he tell me more about it?”

I once had a dude circle my boat at anchor in his small power boat like a predator, several times throughout one day.

One man told me that I’d be better positioned to be a boat owner and long distance sailor if I was a boy who had grown up around sailing and tools.

A fellow sailor I’d thought was my friend, who is nearly old enough to be my grandfather, told me recently that my shorts gave him the impression that I wanted sexual attention from old men (including him) at the yacht club.

For the most part, most dudes I meet on the high and low seas are nothing short of awesome, but blatant and rampant sexism exists and it can be demoralizing as a young, female sailor to always have that negative attention based off how I look or by being friendly and enthusiastic about boats.

pearson ariel 26, live aboard community
This is George, one of the good dudes on the sea. He owns a Contessa 26 to which I am the next rightful owner.

I recently had a weekend crew member who couldn’t accept the fact that I was the captain.  Things were fine if I accepted his suggestions without protest, but many times when I gave him a task he outright refused. The facts were that it was my boat and I had more experience on the water than he did, but for some reason he thought he knew better. The thing about boats is it’s not a democracy, and no matter how nicely the captain tells someone to do something—it’s a command, not an option.

It started off innocently enough when he suggested we motor off the mooring rather than sail. That’s not usually my style, but he made a good point that I should run my engine. Then, as we hit flukey light winds rounding the point, he insisted on sheeting in all of my sails tight. In the meantime he went forward to untie the sheets from the hank-on headsail, and retie the bowlines I’d already made.. When I said “what the fuck are you doing?” he smugly smiled and said, “You tied it wrong.”

I didn’t realize what was really going on yet, so I proceeded to treat him as an able bodied crew member, but then we decided to change to a larger headsail. He said he’d set it up and I said okay. But he didn’t tie down my haylard while doing it and when I told him so he said it, “didn’t really matter because it was such light winds,” (I made him properly cleat the line before continuing).

When we began to reach our destination, the wind died and we motored the rest of the way. I know the entrance to the harbor well, and it’s littered with rocks, reefs, and wrecks. When I told him the course to keep, he said he was just going to use the rock we were trying to avoid as his reference point, instead of steering in between the rock and the land like I had said.

At that point it was starting to hit me. I grabbed the tiller from his hand and we motored in silence for rest  of the way while he played on his phone. When I told him I was going to be anchoring soon, and he could be a part of the plan if he put his phone down and listened to my direction, he glared at me.

As the hook set reality of the situation did as well. I told him we would not be continuing north as planned, and he left the next day.

I contemplated this for a while, wondering what could have possibly caused someone to act in such an appalling manner. When an accomplished male, sailor friend said it sounded like my mutinous crew couldn’t accept the fact that a woman was a more skilled sailor than he, I sadly agreed.

 

5 thoughts on “Sexism on the low seas

  1. totally love your story which gave me lots of laughs being father of 3 tough, delightful raised- aboard daughters. carry on strong!

  2. totally love your story which gave me lots of laughs being the father of 3 tough and delightful daughters raised aboard. carry on strong!

  3. Thanks for your blog, I love your prose. We had a Contessa 26 for six years. Great sailing, but my wife referred to it as ‘camping underneath the stairs’. But your young and flexible so should be no problem! She was a great sailing machine but going in reverse under engine in a marina was a dry mouth experience. Keep up the travels and writing.
    Cheers
    Bob
    South Coast UK

  4. Wow Emily sounds like you did all the right things to make it work. That guy needed you to wear your “when I say frog U hop” tee shirt. Do you have a main sail cover? I nade new ones and my older green mizzen might work.
    Jim

  5. Well I’m infuriated, but keep on keeping on Em. Oh and wear longer shorts so the geezers keep their boners at bay. (Just kidding wear whatever you want girl!)

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