Have you ever been at a function and you walk around having polite boring conversations with strangers about the weather, until you FINALLY find the one person in the room who has a boat? You breathe a sigh of relief, and spend the rest of the night chatting to them sharing stories of adventures on the water…
Well imagine a whole room full of people you can share those stories with! And not only that – they are all women!
Welcome to the Women Who Sail Gathering on the Bay. An annual get together of sailors from around the South Pacific, where you instantly have not only a sailing passion in common with everyone in the room, but you can talk about things that non-sailors and men don’t know anything about, like how difficult it is to pee when you’re dressed in wet weather gear and other general girly stuff like that.
But it goes much deeper than that. These women are inspirational. After listening to the speakers I think “If she can do that – then I can do that too!” The atmosphere is buzzing and emotional. Its like an incredible sisterhood of people who understand one another, who know how it feels to be ignored by the salespeople in chandleries, who are sometimes given amused looks by fellow male sailors who think its a bit ‘cute’ to have a female skipper at the club. Or the friend of a friend who simply can’t believe that a girl could possibly own a boat and manage it on her own.
The room is filled with racers and cruisers, singles, couples, mothers, young people and those with years of life experience. People who have built their own boats, sailed solo around Antarctica, those who have sailed all the way to Australia from Europe, and those who have sailed 100 miles up the coast. But no one judges anyone else. You can ask any question, you can cry and laugh, hug and squeal, and chat for hours and hours without your husband rolling his eyes. You can be yourself and feel supported in what it is that you do.
It is quite simply just awesome.
And if you are a woman who loves sailing and happen to be in the South Pacific in April time then you should absolutely come along and join in next year!
My friend Vic and I jumped on the red-eye flight from Christchurch to Sydney, picked up a rental car and drove the 2.5 hours north to stunning Nelson Bay in Port Stephens. A huge glittering blue inlet lined with squeaky white sandy beaches, holiday houses and a couple of marinas. It isn’t far from Newcastle and you can fly in there as well on a domestic flight – although apparently there are plans afoot for some international direct flights.
The impressive agenda was packed full of interesting topics and inspirational speakers.
We’d unfortunately missed the Friday morning splicing lessons but arrived just in time to participate in Jackie Parry’s workshop on navigation which was brilliant and we had lots of fun plotting a course on the huge Whitsundays chart we had been given and pouring through the fabulous handbook Jackie had made.
It was a huge honour to meet Jackie in person and also Shelley. They had planned the whole event and had given me lots of support over the years, Jackie encouraged me to submit some of my blog posts to magazines, and Shelley encouraged me to start Women Who Sail New Zealand. It is incredible how an essentially online friendship can have such a profound and lasting effect on your life. They have just launched a magazine called Sistership – celebrating everything to do with women and sailing. Get your copy here!
Then we headed up the hill to the house we had rented with some other sailor friends. There are heaps of different places to stay in Nelson Bay, and this was a great option. We were sharing with Ann, Jenny, Amy who I’d been following for ages on their awesome blog Out Chasing Stars and had met when they’d visited Christchurch and Leanne from Yoga for Yachties and Down Under Rally. They were fabulous roomies and we had heaps of fun all hanging out together looking out over the stunning sea view from our house.
Friday nights dinner was at the Nelson Bay Bowling Club and we had a fascinating talk from EyeGlass Assist. Paul and Frances sail around the Pacific helping people from remote island communities by giving them glasses. They use the glasses that are donated/recycled back in Australia, which are cleaned and tested and sorted in to the different prescription grades, and then they do a simple eye test in the communities they arrive in and give the glasses away. It gives their cruising a purpose and really enables them to make a deep connection with the people they meet along the way. I love that.
The following morning we were up early (because we were still on NZ time) and we headed down to the venue to start the day off with a yoga class with Leanne and Yoga for Yachties. It was a fantastic class and Leanne also does yoga retreats and classes for the sailors she meets on her travels across the South Pacific.
Feeling very relaxed we all settled in for the first speaker, and someone I had been looking forward to meeting in person. Charlotte Kaufmann. Charlotte was the founder of Women Who Sail and she explained how she got in to sailing and was desperately seeking a supportive community where she could connect with like-minded people to network, ask questions and share ideas. Some of the sailing groups out there can be pretty brutal. It is amazing how nasty people can be when they are sitting behind a keyboard. Anyway the philosophy of the Women Who Sail group is to “be kind”. You can disagree, but no nastiness allowed. There are now around 15,000 people in the main group and numerous sub-groups like Women Who Sail Australia and Women Who Sail New Zealand.
Charlotte then went on to describe her trip across the Pacific with their two girls around four years ago. Her youngest got sick about 1000 miles off the coast of Mexico, and when the antibiotics weren’t working, the satellite phone didn’t work either, they made the tough decision to set off the EPIRB and get rescued. This attracted huge (negative) media attention and the Women Who Sail Community got together to help support and counter some of the criticism about children being out sailing across oceans. It is fair to say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. It was Charlottes first time speaking in public about the ordeal and she is now writing a book. You can follow her journey here.
Then we had more interesting sessions including a Diesel Engine seminar, a fascinating talk from Kristen Anderson who quit the corporate world to go sailing, and her adventures along the way. We also crossed live to Poppy Moore who is sailing around Australia raising money for Parkinsons disease.
Over lunch I got to meet the lovely Jessie from SV The Red Thread, a blog I’d been following for sometime as they have been sailing through the Pacific. Such an amazing person and we all chatted away for ages about their adventures and what they are up to now that they are based in Melbourne for a while topping up the cruising kitty.
In the afternoon we heard from Nic Douglass from Adventures of a Sailor Girl who had been sent to the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma by Pantaenius insurance. She showed some video footage of the devastation and all the destroyed boats. Ugh terrible.
And our final speaker was Lisa Blair who was the first woman to sail solo around Antarctica last year. She spoke about her incredible voyage and her dismasting near Cape Town. She described how she overcame this huge setback, including getting rid of the rig over the side in freezing and challenging conditions got us all a bit teary eyed again! Such an inspiring person and I was so excited to have met her.
In the evening we had a wine tasting from Wild Oates Wines back at Broughtons At the Bay, followed by a fabulous dinner. We all got dressed up and had a fantastic evening chatting with our fellow conference delegates and their partners.
I was a bit nervous on Sunday morning. It was my turn to speak! My talk was about sailing in the South Island. Anyway I shouldn’t have been nervous. The hour passed by very quickly and I had a number of people come up to me afterwards saying how they might just now consider coming in our direction! Brilliant!
It was another action packed day. Amy spoke about photography on her sailing travels and showed us some amazing pictures of the places they have visited on their voyage around the world. Check out more here on their Out Chasing Stars Blog.
Roger Badham – aka ‘Clouds’ a meteorologist who was involved with the Americas Cup gave an interesting talk on how weather models work.
Kerry Tait did a great session on provisioning and we even got to sample some of her recipes! You can follow her tips on her Facebook page Cooking on Tardis.
There were sessions on marine debris, a talk about marine rescue services and how that works behind the scenes and Leanne finished off with a talk about her sailing adventures and their business Down Under Rally.
Everyone was feeling inspired, chatting with new and old friends, we had all been given goodie bags filled with information, magazines and caps, we’d bought T Shirts and burgees from Grotty Yachtie.
The vibe was electric. It had been such a great weekend. It was time to wind down, and there was a perfect end to the weekend – a seafood dinner cruise aboard Imagine Cruises where we cruised down Port Stephens and in to the stunning sunset.
The marina was filling up with boats coming in for the Port Stephens regatta that week. Everyone was saying we should stay and sail with them. I think next year we might just have to do that.
Vic and I got up on Monday morning, said farewell to our new friends and drove back to Sydney for some lunch and shopping before heading back to the airport to fly home.
It was a brilliant weekend. Thanks to everyone who organised it. We will definitely be back next year. I hope you can join us!