Come sail away

Photo by Kate Pepler

It’s a warm summer evening at the Bedford Basin Yacht Club, the first night of the women’s Learn to Sail program. Fourteen women from age 15 to 61 are huddled around a table when our instructor comes out. Kate Pepler, age 23, has a heartfelt smile and wild hair, and radiates enthusiasm. She’s head coach and instructor at club, overseeing the adult, youth, and women’s Learn to Sail programs.
She starts talking about the workshop, “I wanted to start this workshop because out of all the boats in this yacht club,” her hand pans out to the nearly 90 boats tucked in their berths, “fewer than 10 are owned by women, and I want to change that.”
We go around the table and say what inspired us to take this workshop. One woman says she’s sailing to the Caribbean on her husband’s boat this winter. She says, “I want to be able to man the boat in case something happens where he can’t.” Kate snaps back, “You mean woman the boat!”
She started this two-day women’s workshop last year with a goal of getting women interested in sailing, giving them more confidence in the sport and getting them out on the water. She emphasized the need to change the fact that sailing is a male-dominated sport. All of the instructors are women, all of the participants are women. “It’s typically the husbands, boyfriends, dads, brothers, or uncles who own the boats and the women are told to make sandwiches or cook, but we are totally capable and competent,” says Pepler.
There had been a women’s workshop at BBYC in the past, but it was a week-long commitment. Pepler started brainstorming how to reinvigorate the program and decided to make it a weekend course costing just over $100. There’s a Thursday evening of theory plus two full days of sailing: dinghies on Saturday and keelboats Sunday.
Halifax Magazine writer Emily Sollows hits the water with the Women’s Learn to Sail workshop. The course was offered once a month in summer and this year Pepler added a September course. Interest in the workshop has soared; each workshop this year has been overcapacity. Pepler says she wishes she could put on more workshops, but they’ve had a busy summer with the expansion of youth programs.
“This workshop is one of my favourite things to do now as a sailing coach,” says Pepler. “There are a lot of women who have sailed before but didn’t have the confidence in themselves and then they walk away from the workshop saying ‘I can totally do it’.”
At the end of the workshop on Sunday afternoon, we dock our boats and stow the sails. Pepler gives a final debrief encouraging women to get out on the water in whatever way possible, be it a small boat or a big boat, a friend’s boat or a rented one; be it at this yacht club or another. There’s not only a newfound confidence in these women, but an excitement about sailing. Everyone is planning the next step in their sailing endeavours. A few even ask about boat and membership prices, hinting at someday buying a boat of their own.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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