|PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHARINE HOLLAND
By Katharine Holland
An Oprah Magazine article once asked me to list the things that made me feel privileged. Sailing was in the top 2-3 for me. To enjoy life, the author encouraged me to do these things as often as I could. At the height of my sailing on the Bay, I was racing three times a week.
A prominent skipper took me under his wing 19 years ago when I mentioned I wanted to race. I had just come out and lost my 27-foot sailboat in the divorce from my husband. I was awful, and was a real beginner as one of six crew on deck racing his Olsen 30. Each of the other crew had more than 10 years of racing on the Bay. I asked myself all the time, â€śWhy does he keep me?â€ť He had me there for one reason. He wanted to set an example to the other teams to put women on their boats. He wanted women on the water. My blonde ponytail flew out of the back of my cap like a windsock, causing other skippers to talk of my captainâ€™s â€śsecret weapon.â€ť It was rare at that time to see a ponytail on the Saturday one-design races. Thank you, Jack, for giving me a seat on your rail.
I learned how to pull in the jib sail in the heavy winds, using my feet to brace me and amplify my efforts. I lifted weights, so I could hoist a heavy spinnaker pole on a moving deck. I bought gloves for my blistered hands. When I had to pee, I used a bucket down below that I had tied a rope to. Thatâ€™s right. No bathrooms on racing boats. The weight of a bathroom would slow the boat down. When done, I lowered the bucket into the water, quickly rinsed it in the water and then hoisted it back in. The guys just peed over the side. I remember one time there were three peeing at the same time.
Have you ever seen a gay pride flag flying at a yacht club? I donâ€™t recall ever seeing one. When I showed up to my clubâ€™s annual holiday party with my girlfriend, men descended on us â€“ unable to believe we did not want to dance with them.
After years of trying to fit in on a team of all straight men, I decided to start my own with my friend Kip Darcy back in 2000. We were able to recruit two women coach volunteers â€“ Sallie Lang and Jan Crosbie-Taylor â€“ and ended up with 30 participants for SF Sailing Team from the Bay Area (teams of three on 10 boats) competing in the Sydney 2002 Gay Games. Many of our sailors had never sailed with other gay crew until we formed the team. They did not even know there were other LGBT sailors at their yacht clubs. Some people had not sailed since they were kids and had definitely never raced. Other gay sailors that joined had sailed across oceans. We welcomed them all.
What does it take to form a sailing racing team? It does not take being the best sailor. I never won the most races out there. I did have an overwhelming desire to sail with an LGBT team.
There are only a few places in the world that compare to sailing in San Francisco Bay. There are small craft warnings almost every day here. I am not a strong swimmer, yet Iâ€™m not afraid of the water. Iâ€™ve heard if you fall in the Bay you can only survive 10 minutes due to the cold.
Itâ€™s a masochistic environment. Itâ€™s the choppiest, windiest, most unpredictable beautiful waters and currents in the world. I have been out there in 40+ knots, raced in pouring rain during El NiĂ±o seasons and in fog so thick I could not see more than a few feet in front of me and had to navigate using a chart and the sound of buoy bells. This Midwestern girl always thinks â€“ hey, at least we get to sail year-round here!
Back home, you only have the boat in the water June through October.
It will be interesting to watch the Americaâ€™s Cup boats and teams navigate these waters. I have my binoculars ready.