Home . Articles . Columns & Blogs . Full and By . Fake news: Women’s sailing advocate exposed as unsophisticated misogynist

Fake news: Women’s sailing advocate exposed as unsophisticated misogynist

2017 April 1

In the 1960s, my wife and my mother were (briefly) sailing TV stars.

That is only a mild exaggeration. They appeared on television, on Chicago’s NBC affiliate no less, and in those days that qualified you as at least a minor celebrity.

They were chosen for their few minutes of TV fame because they were curiosities. They were women sailors, going where very few of their gender dared go—on a long-distance offshore race as members of a predominantly male crew.

The TV interview took place on the dock of the Chicago Yacht Club on the eve of the Mackinac race. There may have been several other women in that race, but it is certain that in total they represented less than 1% of the more than 1,500 sailors in the event.

I was a crewmate with those two pioneering women sailors in that race, and since then have sailed thousands of miles in races with crews in which women played key roles.

I bring this up because it seems I need to produce my bona fides as an equal opportunity skipper—of sailboats and of this magazine.


In an email I will charitably describe as unfriendly, a California reader accused me of being a male chauvinist pig or something like that. She didn’t use those words, but obviously had that pejorative or worse in mind. The message started with “Ugh!” and ended with the judgment that, “This magazine is only for men.” 

Her signature had a “Ph.D.” after it. There was no indication of what area of study the degree was awarded, but it may have been one in which language is examined minutely and deconstructed syllable by syllable to ferret out evidence of sexist intent. 

She parsed a recent Full and By column and, sure enough, detected words and nuances fitting her criteria for demeaning women in general and my wife in particular. She took issue with my referring to her, as I always do when she makes an appearance in this column, as the First Mate. (See, it’s sort of a play on words.) 

Apparently not wanting to appear too subtle in her indictment, she declared the column “misogyny” that “demonstrates a small, unsophisticated worldview.”

I don’t mind telling you that being called an unsophisticated misogynist stings, especially because I think of myself as having been an advocate for women in sailing as a journalist and a sailor with a worldview somewhat elevated from caveman level. 

I just wish my critic had demanded that I cancel her subscription. That would have given me the opportunity to reprise the words of our late fellow sailor William F. Buckley who, when a reader of his National Review made that demand, famously replied: “Cancel your own goddam subscription!” 

Alas, it turned out Dr. Ugh! was reading a free sample copy of SAILING.

The story of that long-ago TV interview tells us how far the culture of sailing has progressed and why it needs no supervision by the diversity police.

It has been decades since there was anything curious about women crewing beside men. They are mainstays of crews on everything from small class boats to ocean-racing 100-footers.

I’ve watched this develop on my boats, which have always had women crewmembers, and on others. It has been fun to see the growing numbers of young sailing athletes among them, women who cheerfully don a bowperson’s harness and scoot up the mast, or wrestle headsails on deluged foredecks, or furiously grind winches jibing asymmetrical spinnakers.

Other women, of course, are trimming sails, steering, calling tactics, navigating and leading crews as their skipper.

Many of these sailors excel simply because they love sailing and have learned to be good at it. But their abilities in some instances are also sharpened by a motivational edge. 

There’s a fading vestigial macho element in sailing. This is evident in every sport in which men and women compete—it’s at least as prevalent on a Pickleball court as in sailing. On sailboats, it is sometimes manifested when a task involves strength or a perception of risk. In these situations, the women I sail with are very accomplished at defending their territory from a well-meaning but trespassing male—“Touch that halyard and die!” After a few such educational experiences, harmony and teamwork prevail.

I will stand on my record of encouraging women in sailing, but if there are any doubts, a look at the SAILING masthead should erase them. It is dominated not just by the feminine gender, but by experienced, expert, assertive women sailor-journalists. 

If my behavior or, perish the thought my worldview, in any way resembled what was described in the dark fantasy of the Ugh! email, the mutiny would be instant. I’d be marched the short distance from the magazine offices to the waterfront and, like poor Capt. Bligh, plopped in a dinghy and pushed off toward the horizon. The First Mate would no doubt be with the mutineers waving goodbye.