That old sailing one-liner — “I’m not into buoyancy, I’m into anything that floats your boat” — came to mind recently when the world’s oldest yacht club did something remarkably historic.
he 302-year-old Royal Cork Yacht Club made the landmark decision to elect a woman as Vice Admiral for the first time in its history. Annamarie Fegan, a 25 year member of this Crosshaven nautical institution, is the recipient of the long overdue honour.
She eventually becomes the club’s admiral, bringing a feminine dimension to a community that has been reserved for men for over three centuries.
Just as we saw with the 125-year-old Royal Dublin Golf Club, which last year enshrined a “gender equality” policy in its constitution, the winds of gender change continue to blow away outdated cobwebs that should have gone the board decades ago.
After breaking through the glass ceiling of the “RCYC,” as it’s known colloquially in Rebel County, Annamarie paid tribute to the former sailing sisters who made the hammer. “I stand on the shoulders of a lot of women who haven’t had the same opportunities,” she said.
Women have long been the unseen beating heart of sailing clubs across the country, and now they are increasingly grabbing the tiller of sporting opportunity through initiatives such as Take the Helm and Women in Sailing programs designed to empower the female champions of promote tomorrow .
When it comes to the perfect representative, the articulate and fiercely competitive Annalize Murphy – who won silver at the Rio 2016 Olympics – has become an influential sporting inspiration for a new generation of sailing girls who are already flexing their nautical muscles.
The newest face in this female pantheon is Karen Weekes, a sports psychologist from Kinvara, Co. Galway, who last month became the first Irish woman to row solo across the Atlantic after 80 days and 3,000 nautical miles to Barbados.
“I’m really not into records, but I love the fact that I’m writing a bit of history,” she said, demonstrating a wonderful talent for understatement. “Sometimes I would burst into tears, screaming at Neptune and the wind and these huge waves.”
Bethany Hamilton, the American surfer who once survived a shark attack that ripped off her left arm, summed up this modern-day sisterhood of the sea neatly: “Bravery, determination, talent and guts. That’s what little girls are made of – sugar and spices to hell.”
While I stand in spellbound admiration for these sea goddesses, my own ventures were unfortunately anything but heroic. You’ve never really liked that standard quay instruction – “May you have fair winds and following seas”.
Rolling a deck in even the slightest swell will give me a belly punch, which is not a pleasant sight. Add to this the frustrations of terminology as mysterious as the Chalcatongo Mixtec dialect of the farthest reaches of Mexico— For example, “tack” has two meanings. On top of that, “jibe,” which normal people use as a taunt, turns out to be a directional command. My aspirations to become a Horatio Hornblower are clearly a boat that has long sailed.
Sailing is on the rise everywhere these days, a fact confirmed at every marina from Kenmare to Carlingford Lough, where the sport’s pinnacle is evident most weekends.
Fresh attitudes waft through a 300-year-old nautical passion – but now with her elite label firmly submerged. The word ‘yachting’ has always had a snobbish connotation, reason enough for the Irish Yachting Association to change its name to the Irish Sailing Association years ago.
In 2022, the notion of sailing as the “sport of gentlemen” to the exclusion of all others has clearly been given a long overdue burial at sea. And as for the old complaint that sailing is too expensive for ordinary people, I remember Donal McClement of Crosshaven Boatyard marking my card on it a few years ago. “You can buy a very good quality boat for the same price as a lower-end Mercedes,” he pointed out. (Sailors always call them boats, by the way, even when they’re $550 million sea palaces like Roman Abramovich’s Eclipse.)
“If you sell the boat five years later, you get back what you paid for it, while luckily if you sell the Mercedes you get half.”
In fact, you don’t even need to own a boat to get involved, with clubs like the RCYC offering crew membership for €350 a year and the joy of sailing aboard a stranger’s gin palace.
While sailing will probably never fascinate me at this point in my life, it’s hard to resist the company of Seadog characters that can be found at every club – especially the few who adopt the same zany attitude as Jack Sparrow Pirates of the Caribbean. They have a life and language of their own, love the sea like a mistress and think every hour they spend on land is wasted time where they really belong.
The 80 days it took Karen Weekes to make history recently were no doubt filled with frustration and hardship—yet bathed in the warm embrace of a salty world where the normal rules by which the rest of us don’t apply.
Robin Lee Graham, the American teenager who sailed around the world in 1965, said it all: “At sea I learned how little a man needs, not how much.”
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/venerable-yacht-club-becomes-the-latest-organisation-to-embrace-the-winds-of-gender-change-41413796.html The venerable yacht club becomes the latest organization to brave the winds of gender change