25 years ago, I started compiling a list of woman captains and crew who inspired me. Back then, the closest thing to internet research was a clunky combination of search terms in the Unix system, linked to databases of books and published work, typed on a fat keyed monitor's keyboard at some hard to access university library. It required exorbitant amounts of patience to wait while a green cursor blinked and came up with the names. Maybe.
By the end of 1995, my doctoral dissertation, called Women of the Wind, was well underway and Women's Studies scholars in US, England, and Australia, weighed in on my effort. My own sailing adventure caused me to drop out of the Ph.d. in 1997 (for reasons that will become clear in the book.), but my files of interviews and notes stayed wrapped up in a dry bag while I sailed around the world, then moved to boxes in the basement when I dropped anchor in 2001, in Port Townsend.
Today, while working on my second book When a Cowgirl Goes to Sea, I've been reading through my notes and zipping around the internet searching again.
Some of the women are well-documented and rightly so, have become famous. They are using their experiences to make the world a better place. It's a joy to see and read about the accomplishments of women like Kay Cottee, Tracy Edwards, Dee Caffari, Ellen MacArthur, Isabelle Autissier as captains... and now dozens of women who are seriously competent crew onboard nearly all the top ocean racing teams.
In the Pacific northwest USA this summer, it was a thrill to watch Team Sail Like a Girl win this year's R2AK, to hear the stories of 5 other women and participate as a "teller" in She Tells Sea Tales, to watch and donate to the middle/high school girls build badairka's at this years' Girls Boat Project, to watch the launch and "victory tour" of Felicity Ann, solo sailor, Ann Davison's boat by a young woman captain, Nadja Chimenti, in the Salish Sea this summer.
It is an honor to be moderating the first Women <3 Water: The Circumnavigators (Women's Offshore Panel) at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. The women on the panel are not as widely know as the racers... but notable, just the same. They include Nancy Erley, Behan Gifford, Pam Wall, Wendy Hinman, Leslie Linkilla, and Carol Hasse.
There's no comprehensive website to find all woman sailors online. There are lists of record holders and every time one is posted online (yea!), someone comes up with more names in the comments. My list and this blog post have missed at least a dozen women I can rattle off in my mind and more than a hundred I don't have time to post this second. The good news is there are more of us every day. Maybe we don't need lists anymore, but I will continue finding and writing about the notable achievements of women who sail... "To make the invisible, visible." Including those I find a little too late, like Florence Arthaud. She was on my list back in the 1990s and it's sad to think, now that I am spending more time in France, that I missed the chance to meet her in person. Her life, though, is an inspiration.
If you're a woman sailor or want to share the name of a woman who's inspired you, please write and let me know. Sail on!