The Freedom To Sail With LPWSA
Anything women have done or continue to do, purposefully, should not surprise us, and yet we are moved when we find women defying assumptions of what they can and cannot do. That sailing is the purview of men has been indoctrinated in our culture via film, literature and advertising. Yet, when you look at the role of women in sailing through past and present times it shows a pattern of women defying assumptions and following the wind in their sail. There is historical evidence from the 1700 -1800’s where young women disguised themselves as boys to gain access to the sailing profession. The superstition that women were bad luck at sea and other social inequalities tried to restrict women from freely seeking adventures or financial opportunities that the sea afforded. Thankfully, we are somewhat enlightened now, and over the years women on a global platform have set and broken sailing records and have gained accolades in their own right.
In New Orleans, the Lake Pontchartrain Women's Sailing Association (LPWSA) hopes to smash the image that most people may still hold onto about the sport of sailing. They want to show that sailing is accessible to everyone no matter their race or gender. The mission of the LPWSA is to ‘to increase women’s participation in sailing’, and it welcomes anyone (women,men and juniors) who shares their passion for sailing. This group hopes to encourage and support the next generation of female sailors by educating them about the joy and responsibility that comes with sailing.
In 2004,The LPWSA started with the goal of encouraging more women to participate in the sport of sailing. With that in mind, the group (with the help of donations and other organizations) started to rebuild a 54 year old Flying Scot (a type of boat) and christened it with the name ‘Femme Fatale’. The boat serves as a classroom to teach young girls, or anyone for that matter, about boat safety and good seamanship. This female run association of veteran and amateur sailors meet regularly to race; teach/learn and share their passion, but most importantly, to also ‘increase their numbers, one sailor at a time.'
Education Is Key
The other focus of LPWSA is educating the public (particularly young women) about water safety and good seamanship. There are 3 events that this association puts on that focus on teaching and mentoring -The Knot Tea Party, AdventureSail, and the L.A.S.T program.
The Knot Tea Party, is an event hosted by the association to teach girls the importance of learning and tying proper sailor knots on and near a sailing vessel. At this event, Pam Brierre taught the girls in attendance a series of knots - like a bowline knot and a stopper knot - and explained their importance. She also taught the girls little tricks to aid in the process of using various knots quickly and safely. The girls that were being instructed at this particular Knot Tea Party were a Girl Scout Troop that participated in the 2016 summer AdventureSail program.
The AdventureSail program nationally started in 1996, with the original intent to help at risk girls between the ages 9 -14. In New Orleans, the LPWSA has taken up that mantle and former LPWSA Commodore Debbie Huntsman was instrumental in bringing the first AdventureSail program to the Gulf Coast. Ms. Huntsman worked with a number of organizations like the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, East Louisiana Girl Scouts, New Orleans Yacht Club and the Women's Sailing Foundation (WSF) to bring this program into fruition. Ms. Huntsman also stresses that, ‘Each of the girls who attended, are eligible to apply for a local sailing school scholarship and a cruise experience in the Pacific Northwest on the Tall Ships Adventures.’
The success of the program was so great last year that the association has scheduled 2 more AdventureSail’s in 2017 and would love to expand this program to include the entire Gulf Coast region.
L.A.S.T stands for Learn About Sailing Things. The primary focus is boating safety and good seamanship and takes place monthly. This program has guest speakers and on occasion, hands-on learning. Ms. Huntsman recalled, ‘The L.A.S.T. program has hosted such women sailing luminaries such as Doris Colgate, Margaret Bonds Poldlich and Lina Newland at the New Orleans Yacht Club. Larry Taggart from Southern Yacht Club pitched in and helped us with training dozens of women on sailing the Flying Scot.’
On March 4th, there will be a L.A.S.T. safe sailing conference in conjunction with the Mardi Gras Race Week, made up of several post-race safety seminars. Ms. Huntsman believes that water safety is paramount when she said, ‘Sailing safely is not rocket science. The vast majority of all accidents could be avoided. Most fatalities are caused by drowning, so simply putting on a life jacket can be a lifesaver.’
For this upcoming event, the association is receiving an assist from the U.S. Coast Guard, LA Wildlife and Fisheries and the New Orleans Power Squadron.
Even though the association is new on the scene, its effort to empower young females is already being witnessed through the faces of the young girls when they take the helm for the first time or see someone giving a presentation that inspires them to explore their horizon even further. Ms. Huntsman recalled one such moment when she said,
‘As for seeing any positive results, we can only hope the girls will continue with sailing. One of the reasons I believe in the program is there is something magical about taking the helm of a boat powered only by the wind. Even for an adult, it gives a thrilling sense of being in control of something much bigger than oneself. If the girls only gain that one experience, but nothing more, I think it has great value. In addition, our speaker, US Coast Guard CAPT Lucinda Cunningham, was not only a great role model for the girls, but she duly impressed the adults with her comments on perseverance, hard work and self esteem. She was so powerful in her impression on the girls, they all mentioned her in their thank you notes. Hopefully we can see the girls enough during the years to build a stronger relationship and eventually develop lasting ties.’
In the book ‘Little Women’, the author Louisa May Alcott wrote, “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” The LPWSA is trying to help young girls overcome their fears through the power of sailing. By all accounts, every member testifies how this association sees the self esteem of young girls grow by participating in the sailing programs. Through various educational programs and the establishment of their annual Lake Pontchartrain Sailing Association Scholarship, the LPWSA is in it for the long haul. They are committed to promote the sport of sailing and to give young girls an opportunity to not just sail but to dream bigger dreams and to not be afraid of the storms that may lie ahead.
LPWSA Membership Details are available on - Meetup