Nicolas Cholula is a fourth-year photojournalism major at SF State and photographer for Xpress. He is originally from Southern California (Santa Ana) where...
Alameda Island Yacht Club hosts sailing seminar for women
October 14, 2021
Over 30 years ago, after participating in a sailing seminar for women in Orange County, Linda Newland and Mary Quigley thought, “We need a workshop where women can learn about sailing from other women!” They decided to start their own sailing seminar at the Island Yacht Club in Alameda.
In 1992, a sailing seminar for women was unheard of in the Bay Area. If women wanted to learn to sail, they learned from men. “Women sailing was unheard of, and Newland was breaking that ceiling,” said Melissa Grudin, commodore of the club and host of the Northern California Women’s Sailing Seminar. She said this seminar has been a safe place for women to learn how to sail for the past 29 years. Last year, the seminar went virtual due to the pandemic. This year, it was a hybrid event with all physical attendees required to show proof of vaccination.
Grudin said that everybody has different lingo, and that is why it is important to attend seminars like this one: taught by women, for women. “A lot of women get on boats with their guys, their significant other or whoever it is … and all they get is ‘do this, do that,’ but they don’t know why and women like to know,” she said. Grudin also said that if you take the time to explain something to women, they will do it and if you show them so that they understand, they will want to do it again.
The IYC is now a paper club, meaning that it no longer has a clubhouse — but instead, it communicates with its members online. Club members enjoy reciprocal privileges at other yacht clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area, allowing them to enjoy their club facilities. Still, without a clubhouse, the IYC has held more meetups and events over the last year than most other yacht clubs in the area.
Over the weekend, the club hosted its 29th Women’s Sailing Seminar with the help of the Encinal and Oakland Yacht Clubs, which lended their boathouses for the three-day seminar.
Newland kicked off the first day of the seminar with a hybrid, in-person and virtual, talk about her 50 years on the water. She shared her experience sailing out in the Oakland estuary with little to no experience in the 1970s. Then, she told stories of her single-handed adventures racing sailboats from San Francisco to Japan,and from Hawaii to San Francisco. Today, she is still sailing on her new boat, a Grand Banks 36 named “Tsusiat,” which she hopes to take down to Hawaii next summer.
“Most of these [instructors] have been on the water for a long time, some over 50 years,” Grudin said. She added that some of them have come a long way from being galley wenches to captains. “They’ve seen a lot of stuff. they have been chased around boats and felt totally uncomfortable, and yet they persevered, and they ended up building a reputation for themselves and they broke records.”
Grudin considers herself a cruiser, but adds that racing sailboats requires that ‘just-go-for-it’ attitude, one that doesn’t take no for an answer.
“I like to live on the edge,” said Dawn Chasney, an avid racer and volunteer instructor at this year’s seminar. Chasney got into sailing in her mid-30s, when $10 worth of raffle tickets earned her a trip to the British Virgin Islands with some sailor friends. This is why she emphasizes to people she meets to never “assume you know where opportunities will come from.”
Chesney understands the dangers of racing, not only because of the environment, but also because of how close some boats come in contact. Still, she believes that “if you’re hardcore you go as close as you can.”
On Saturday, the students were separated from beginner to advanced tracks. “When beginners come to our class, we treat it as, ‘This is a boat 101, this is the bow and this is the stern,’” said Grudin, pointing at the front and back of the boat. While the beginners started with the basic anatomy of a sailboat, the more advanced students learned about boat maintenance and racing. On Sunday, the seminar put on a race to compile everything the students had learned into a closing event.
“There is just something magical that happens when you’re on the water,” Grudin said. She added that many of the older women are aging out of the program, but there are also many young women who are just getting started. She urged all young women who might be at all interested in sailing to get involved before they begin to feel fearful and while they’ve still got “all [their] senses and wits about [them].”
Grudin acknowledges that it wasn’t easy going virtual after losing their clubhouse of 50 years. But their club was determined to keep up the tradition of women teaching women to sail. Despite the difficult transition of becoming a paper club, they have continued to hold well-attended events and races with the help of an onslaught of determined volunteers.
Grudin knew that holding the seminar this year, amid the pandemic, risked a lower turnout than usual. Knowing this, Grudin said, “Are we nuts to be doing this? Well, probably. Are we stubborn? Well, yeah, we’re sailors. And are we flexible? You damn well better be in order to be able to make something like this happen.” She hopes to someday have a clubhouse again where all the members can come together and a place where the club can organize its own events. But in the meantime she is grateful that the other clubs were “gracious and so amazing in helping [them] survive [the] pandemic.”