As a southerly wind whipped a good 12 miles per hour across Bristol Harbor, a dozen women gathered on the deck at Bristol Yacht Club Monday evening discussed how to decelerate their vessel when the force of Mother Nature had other ideas and other finer points of sailing. It’s a typical Monday for the women, who gather at the dock every week. Led by the East Bay Sailing Foundation Program Director Pete Wisotzkey, the group used terms such as the Cunningham, backstay, boom vang, outhaul and traveler as ways to “spill some of the wind” out of their sails. Then they boarded three of the foundation’s J-22 sailboats and applied the techniques while underway.
The women’s sailing program is the latest learn-to-sail offering from the East Bay Sailing Foundation. While many of the participants in the program already have experience on the water, some find that sailing with other women gives them the opportunity to take the helm, rather than feel obligated to continue their role as wife and mother while out for a pleasure cruise. In fact, said Mr. Wisotzkey, since often a man will assume the captain’s role aboard the family craft, the program is jokingly referred to by some participants as “learn how to sail without your husband,” he said. While Kristen Browne of Bristol enjoys sailing with her family, she finds that while on a family sail she’s either following orders to trim sails and tack, or making sure everyone’s well fed and happy. “It’s more conducive to learning, with the women,” she said of the sailing program. And she’s not alone. In its first season this year, the women’s program filled its two six-week sessions and is looking forward to expanding the program next year. With varying skill levels, ages and interests, the program is modified to teach the students what they want to learn. While the first session focused on pleasure sailing, the second session was geared toward racing and knowing how to maximize speed and knowing which boat would have the right-of-way when approaching a marker. “It’s all about building confidence,” Mr. Wisotzkey said.
The East Bay Sailing Foundation has grown significantly in the past five to seven years, said board Chairman Nick Cromwell. Through a partnership with the Bristol Yacht Club, the foundation is able to utilize the club’s private facility while offering programs open to the public. “The membership at Bristol Yacht Club is very supportive,” Mr. Cromwell said. Linked by their enthusiasm for sailing, program members and club members often cross paths while on a launch heading to or from their respective boats, and share each other’s sailing experiences. “It’s very symbiotic,” Mr. Cromwell said. “We build sailors and they get members.” Over the past year, through donations and an exhaustive search, the foundation acquired four J-22s that allows program members to learn to sail on vessels similar to what they own. As the boats made their way across the harbor, conversation and laughter were as much a part of the sailing experience as was the ability to maneuver the craft effectively through the white-capped water. “One of the big plusses is they sail in a fun environment, not in a super high stress race environment,” Mr. Cromwell said, observing from a nearby power boat. In her experience on her family boat, Karen Ringeride of Bristol said that her family sails mean “becoming a mother” out on the water. Sailing with the women in the group is different “It’s like a girls’ night out,” she said of the learn to sail program. “It’s nice to get out.”