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Women in Sailing

  • Kerry Gouge and her Sydney Hobart crew reunited at Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron (Photo by Contributed)
  • Assistant PRO Louise Davis at the 2010 King's King with Cynthia Carrion and PRO Racing Jerry Rollins (Photo by Tracey Johnstone)
  • Linda Goldsmith with Leon Wiegard and Andrew Plympton (Photo by Contributed)
Women in Sailing

Women in sailing is the norm. They fill a range of sailing roles.

They are an integral part of blue water racing teams, international leaders, club leaders and contributors, Olympic class medallists, technical geniuses and full fee paying club members.

Women are part of the sailing family.

Across Australia there are many women sailors leading the way in their fields of endeavour. Some we know very well and while others just need to be introduced.

All of them have stories to share.

Just like them – Jessica Watson

Jessica Watson readily admits it was a tough challenge stepping into the unfamiliar territory of team leader for last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.

While Watson achieved international acclaim for successful completion of her 2009/10 round-the-world, solo non-stop voyage, it was her practical approach to the Ella Bache Hobart campaign which proved to her peers she was actually a lot like them with lots to learn about ocean racing.

“The biggest thing for me was being a good leader because that was where I could add the most value to the team. So I left everyone else to the high-level sailing side of things and I worked on getting the best out of everyone. It’s something I came to really enjoy.”

Watson learnt how to inspire her crew and to let them be an integral part of the campaign. “That’s really what got us there in a good place in the end.”

Joining Watson in team were three girls – Alex Paton, Genevieve Warlow and Lisa Chamberlain.

“The girls were a pretty amazing set of sailors in their own right. I realised having the girls on board bought so much more to the program. Not just on the water, but also on the land. They bought a totally different perspective which was really invaluable. They had different attitudes and different ways of looking at things on board.”

“The thing that they took away from it was getting to know me and realising I was just like them.”

Watson and her Sydney 38 Ella Bache crew of under-21 year olds took out second place in their division.

Silver lining – Olivia Price

An Olympic silver medal in the Women’s Match Racing was not the only reward Olivia Price bought home from the London Games.

At the start of her campaign in 2008 the competitive Price was a quiet 16-year-old with an exceptional match racing opportunity offered to her. “I didn’t want to let it go to waste, so I put everything into it and was really determined.”

Now four years later and with a silver medal for skipper Price and her team members, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty, Price confidently states she has finally found her voice.

“I am such a different person. I have learnt so much. I have learnt not only a lot about sailing, but also some life lessons and I have seen so much of the world that I would never have seen otherwise.

“I used to be a shy 16-year-old. I never really knew what was going on. Then all of a sudden I found my own voice. I had a say in what was going on around me and I stood up for my opinions because we were in a competitive environment. I wanted someone to listen to me. That is the biggest change I had; being an outgoing person rather than someone who was really shy.

“I love talking now.”

Price heads off to Sydney University next year to start a Political, Social and Economic Sciences degree which could be the start of the road towards a career in journalism or politics. But firstly, Price has the 2016 Olympics to look forward to and mastering the 49er FX.

A little bit of history – Kerry Goudge

“Every time we started, we finished. We proved we could do it, which is what we set out to do.”

From 1989 through to 2000 Kerry Goudge was a key member of the Sydney-based Women on Water (WOW) group that achieved inroads into blue water racing which had until then been the bastion of males.

“In those days, you could sail with a boat all season, all year in fact, then Hobart came around and the girls were off. Only blokes went to Hobart then.”

In 1989 and already a veteran of two Sydney Hobart races, Goudge joined an all-female crew, the second in the race’s history. After enormous monetary and logistical challenges, the 45-foot Belles Long Ranger and 11 women sailors made the start line.

Recounting the response by the doubting offshore racing community to their successful race finish still brings a surprisingly emotional reaction from Goudge. “We had to come down past all the boats that had already tied up in the pond. As we went past they gave us a standing ovation. Their recognition was spontaneous and genuine.”

Fast forward to 2012, Goudge still remembers the feeling that by 1996 the WOW offshore program had achieved what it had set out to do. “We were doing it to make a point. I think we made a huge difference. There was no way a guy could turn then around and say a women wasn’t good enough to sail to Hobart because we proved they were.

“The other side of the coin was we demonstrated to other women that they could do it and that was probably the more important thing.

“Women’s sailing now is about integration not segregation.”

Can I get there ? – Louis Davis

With an eye to detail which has come from her work as a microbiologist, 54-year-old Louise Davis is achieving at the top level of race management.

Davis was introduced in the late 70s to sailing by fellow Victorian university students. “We got ourselves some boards and taught ourselves to sail”. They then headed off to the beach to join the racing crowd. Davis remembers it was then she realised just how good it felt to be on the water.

The move from competitor to race management didn’t happen until her twin boys started sailing. “It was a way of me being out there and helping their sailing. I found I could do it well and I enjoyed doing it.”

Davis progressed up the ladder to National Race Officer through the encouragement from her home club, Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, and from many sailors. She also ensured she attended as many events as possible in and outside of Australia.

At one point she wondered if she could really get there, but not for long. With an attitude of wanting to achieve what seemed almost unattainable and a strong streak of competitiveness thrown in, Davis says she has found the pathway towards the sacred territory of IRO reasonably easy, finding few barriers along the way.

Davis is now on the cusp of achieving International Race Officer (IRO) status; joining Jenny Bonnitcha as the second woman to sit in the current group of 18 Australian accredited IROs.

Committed – Linda Goldsmith

Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron’s Commodore, Linda Goldsmith, is passionate about her club and about women in sailing, both on and off the water.

Almost 17 years ago Goldsmith, then aged in her mid-30s and she claims working far too hard, looked for something healthy to do on the weekends that was outdoor, fun and social. So she walked in the door of RMYS, claimed a regular place on a Squadron yacht, leapt into the women’s sailing with enthusiasm and hasn’t looked back since.

Goldsmith, now a 16 year veteran of the Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta, sees the Squadron’s 22-year-old event as a key factor in the increase in women’s sailing numbers in Victoria. “It gives them skills in organising and managing a crew, managing training sessions and competing. There other events in Melbourne with mixed crews, but the boys do tend to let the testosterone run around sometimes and don’t give the girls a fair shot at it. We call it being ‘bloked’.”

The regatta has also pulled more women into the membership of the club which is valuable to any club’s survival.

“Women similar to me, that is, in their late 30s, are coming to yacht clubs in droves looking for something different to do. Sailing is attractive because it is active and social.”

With a sea-bed lease for the new marina to study and about six hours of club work to be completed before she gets on with her own legal work, the highly organised Goldsmith is just as hard working and committed now as she was when she first walked through the front door of the Squadron; but now she is having a lot more fun.

Age no barrier – Danielle Pascoe

Already a National Judge with international status in her sights, 23-year-old Danielle Pascoe represents the new breed of sailing administrators.

Born to a sailing family, literally, with her first sailing experience while still in her mother’s womb, Pascoe has travelled the world with her parents to many world championships held in amazing locations. “That’s normal for me and that’s what I enjoy.”

Pascoe discovered early on in her sailing travels that she was not a hugely competitive sailor, preferring the social side of regattas. “I will happily sail around the course, but I am not in it to win it.”

She then discovered judging was something she was really good at doing. And with her dad a judge and her mentor, she took her National Judge exam at the age of 19. “I didn’t have to study for it and I topped the exam. I was the only female in the group and the only one under 50.”

Surrounded by a supportive group of peers and friends, Pascoe is now enjoying her climb up the judging ranks, rarely experiencing barriers to her chosen pathway. “Knowing why you are doing what you are doing makes it a lot easier to deal with criticism.

“Most people expect you, when you are young, to be an athlete. If you find something else that you enjoy doing more than competing, then you really need to know why you are doing it and be very assured of yourself so that when people do question your decision, you have an answer for them or you can let their comments roll off you.”

High Achiever – Karyn Gojnich

Have you got your running shoes on ? You’ll need them to keep with Karyn Gojnich.

Triple Olympian, Yachting Australia (YA) Board member since 2009, chair of the YA Athletes Commission and member of the YA’s High Performance, Participation, and Finance and Planning committees, and mother of two, competitor in this year’s Etchells and Yngling World Championships, is an exceptional achiever in the world of sailing.

Her schedule is demanding requiring her to finely tune her commitments. But this, she says, isn’t unique to women.

“Men in our society are trying to find the same balance as well. Certainly what I have been able to do wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my parents and then from my husband and even from the girls when they were younger. “

Gojnich’s motivation to spend time in sailing administration is about giving something back to the sport and helping sailing to grow.

“Through my coaching work I am seeing an increase of women at clubs. I am encouraged by the number of girls who are sailing because we are in a sport where we can play on an even playing field. If you pick the right class, then strength doesn’t matter. It comes down to how smart you are.”

Oh, and now that her youngest daughter has finished school, she is starting to cast her eye around for other challenges.

It would be wise to keep your running shoes on if want to keep up with this super woman.

Heart of the club – Julie Hodder

Ocean Racing is her passion. Finishing third in the harrowing 1989 Sydney Hobart Race on board the yacht she co-owned with Peter Sorensen and Stan Zemanek, her proudest achievement. But it’s her love of Sydney’s Middle Harbour Yacht Club that really defines Julie Hodder.

She has served the club in many roles since joining 35 years ago, finally rising in 2010 to both Commodore and chair of the organising committee for the 2012 International Access Class World and International Championships.

Earlier this year she retired from the Commodore role only to step into being the Club Captain. Theoretically this move gives her time to go back to part-time IT consultancy work and to do more ocean racing, but her long work list will see her continuing to spend the majority of her week working on club projects close to her heart.

The Access Worlds helped Hodder to develop an appreciation of the simplicity of combining abled and disabled sailors in the one fleet. “They competed on the same turf. They didn’t get any advantages. There was one guy there who couldn’t even talk and he was there competing and won his division.” From this experience she sees ways in which the club’s Sailability program can be expanded to incorporate a racing fleet.

Australia’s brilliant Olympic Games sailing result is the basis for Hodder’s drive to increase club member numbers. “We want to make MHYC the place to be for not just sailing, but also for cruising and for social events and charity races.

“I love my club. It’s my other home.”

Le grand dame – Adrienne Cahalan

It was an enthusiastic Adrienne Cahalan who greeted August’s announcement of an all-female crew for the next Volvo Ocean Race, even though she is on sabbatical from that level of competition.

The 48-year-old veteran navigator of two Volvo Ocean Race campaigns, several other around the world campaigns and 19 Sydney Hobart yacht races, has her hands full with two very young children and with mentoring women and men sailors into professional roles.

“I see my role as giving equal air time to both women and men in the sport and at the same time, helping them to grow in the direction they want to go.

“Since the Volvo announcement, traffic has increased quite a bit from all different countries.”

Cahalan started developing her navigation skills early on as sailing friends saw her legal skills valuable, tossing the race documentation her way to decipher. It didn’t take long for Cahalan to become internationally recognised for her talent which then took her around the world working alongside some of the best open water racing sailors. The slim build Cahalan also seemed to enjoy being stuck below deck.

“It suits me. When I go around the world and I look at those on deck, I just have to hand it to them; the structure of watches and sheer, bloody hard work. I like not being on a watch, instead being across the team.”

Cahalan sounds wistful when she speaks about the next Volvo Ocean, but then quickly reminds herself that right she has her hands full with a young family. So one more Sydney Hobart aboard Wild Oats X1 and the occasional weekend race on her 12-Foot skiff is all the sailing she will be doing, for now.

By Tracey Johnstone