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Why I started Women Who Sail

We kind of have this thing for doing crazy stuff together. Here: skydiving for Eric's 30th.

I had never been sailing before I met Eric but he pretty much let me know from the moment we started dating that he wanted to sail around the world. I signed on immediately because I love adventure and I love to travel (and I was really into him too).

Since I had no experience sailing I began to read as much as I could about the sailing and cruising lifestyle and was drawn over and over to books written by women and about the female experience on the water.  I’m a Gemini. I’m a communicator. I flourish when I can talk to, listen to, and share with other people, especially other women. I started looking online for places to ask questions about everything that was new to me about owning a boat, living on the water, and sailing.

Liveaboard life in San Diego, circa April 2009.

Eric joined a very prominent sailing forum, Cruisers Forum (CF) before me, but I soon joined too and hoped that I could use the site to meet new people, ask my questions, and find out interesting things about this lifestyle I had signed up for.

And then the infamous Jewelry Thread happened. In 2009 I posted a question about how to store jewelry on a boat in the ‘Women Afloat’ sub-forum (read the whole thread here). While I did receive many helpful replies, I also received many mean-spirited ones as well. Several of my previous posts in the forum had also been answered rudely and I got upset. It seemed like even if I limited my posting to the ‘Women’s section’ of the forum, I would still get responses from men that were often grumpy or outright disrespectful. Reponses that reflected bitterly on what their ex-wives would do, or that pontificated on why women did things wrong, or didn’t do things the right way. On the one hand my posting would be met with sentiments like, “Yay, another woman interested in boating,” to be then countered by someone else demeaning how little women (or I knew) about boating in the first place.

It was frustrating.

I was no noob to the internet. I was well-versed in message boards and their super fun (<------sarcasm) vetting process of new members. You’d sign up and spend your first 1,000 posts being told to “Die, fag.” Or, “Just shut the fuck up.” Or, repeated replies to any of your posts or comments with, “SHOW US YOUR TITS.”  Aww yes, the “joys” of internet message boards.

Perhaps it was naïve of me then, to think that I could join a topic specific message board like Cruiser’s Forum and think I could skip some of the internet assholes out there. Lots of people on CF sent me private messages or just told me in my threads not to let other posters “get to me,” and even though I started liberally using the ‘ignore’ function, get to me they did. Was it so naïve to think that I could expect to find a place where people were friendly on the internet? Where people were respectful? And helpful? I refused to think it was just wishful thinking.

Hanging out with the "infamous" crew of Bumfuzzle. January 2013.

If you follow my blog, then you’ll probably have seen me linking to my friends Ali and Pat on Bumfuzzle. I first found out about them from a thread that was bashing them on Cruisers Forum. Eric was reading me the thread and I kept thinking, why does everybody hate these people? They sound cool. So I went to their blog and started following their adventure. We eventually met in real life and are now friends and anybody who hates on Bumfuzzle has got to just be envious of their lifestyle. Ali and Pat are perfectly lovely. I guess I should say thanks to CF for introducing me to them in the first place, but how sad that I had to find out about them in a rant thread.

Our first boat baby. Bathing on board circa September 2010.

After continued, repeated frustrations with the less than helpful posters on CF I gave up on posting there and grew restless. I had started to read lots of blogs of sailing families and Eric and I were now not only living on our sail boat but starting a family of our own too. I desperately wanted to connect with other women who had been pregnant on boats and who had, or were currently raising children onboard. Some mamas reached out to me after finding our blog; that is how I met Cindy on Zach Aboard. I followed a group of bloggers, including the families of Ceilydh, Totem, ForgeOver, and Wonder Time as they left the US, crossed the Pacific, and then headed to New Zealand and Australia. I began to be Facebook friends with other sailing women, and slowly had online links to many families out there cruising.

Eric and I tried to start our own online community; it was called The Keel. The idea was to create a sailing message board that was useful, helpful, and friendly (to everyone). The Keel was up for a few months, and we met some awesome friends through it, like my doula, Amanda, and my friend Victoria, but we couldn’t get a lot of momentum and found that once members on the Keel friended each other on Facebook they did most of their follow up communicating through Facebook instead of the message board.

While Facebook is not a perfect platform, many, many, many people use it. And that is how I came to start the Facebook group Women Who Sail. I started the group in December of 2011 and now almost two years later there are over 900 members. We welcome any woman who is interested in sailing, who is currently sailing, or living aboard, or used to live aboard, who is on a motor vessel or a sailboat, or is just dreaming about it all.

The mission statement of the group states emphatically that the group is a supportive one. We strive to respect other people in the group and this is sometimes hard to enforce. There are the differences of politics, religion, and oh, sailing :)  While we have members from all over the world, the bulk of our members are Americans and any American knows that political and religious ties are beyond strained in our country right now. These differences run DEEP. We work hard to make sure that discussions about hot button topics are not stopped, but that they remain respectful. We aren’t always successful. We aren’t always perfect, but I have been told over and over, how much the women in the group appreciate the little, safe corner of the internet that we have created with Women Who Sail. I often think of what Lincoln said and how it rings true today as well, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

It hasn’t personally been easy to admin the group sometimes. I am passionate about my beliefs and being an admin has taught me to often put my money where my mouth is when it comes to respecting people whose opinions are different than my own. It has been a good learning process. There are lots and lots of places where people can go online to be assholes to one another. There aren’t that many where the rules of respect and civility are expected to be upheld.

I’m not the only who has noticed that there is something about the internet that makes people forget about being kind to one another. Case in point: Popular Science is no longer allowing comments on their online news articles. GoodReads is deleting comments that personally attack authors, instead of the authors’ works, and YouTube is currently requiring people to leave comments under their (:gasp:) REAL NAME!!  What is it that makes so many people turn into vile human beings when they can hide behind a screen?


Moving on!

If you are a woman, and you want to join Women Who Sail, you can find the link here. We’d love to have you. I must also add a huge thanks to the women who help admin the group. I could never do it alone. Devi, Behan, Cidnie, and Laurie, thank you so much for being awesome admins.

I also want to add that Cruisers Forum has gotten a LOT better about not allowing people to be total jerks to one another when they post. Eric finds the forum very useful and gets a lot of enjoyment out of it, but I still have found it hard to reengage over there, especially when I have the awesome support and connection of Women Who Sail.

And while I don’t think I’ll post this in the original thread that started it all for me on CF, I finally answered my own question about how I store jewelry on board. So far, it is working like a charm.


Reader Comments (17)

Do you see me applauding? As some of us say it down south, Amen, sister. (Or sistah, depending how far south you go.) Well said. So glad you began the group and that it works for us, no matter how old we are, no matter how much we've done or yet yearn to do.

And thank you for being concerned about kindness, which seems so lacking in folk who can merely type and click and suddenly have a voice. The one thing my Southern mama always taught was that if you couldn't say something nice, don't say anything at all.


September 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNormandie

Thank you so much for the story of how you started WWS, Charlotte, and for the time and energy that you have put into the group over the years. I greatly appreciate my membership, even though my boat is up for sale right now.


PS: I hung my jewelry from "carabiner" clips fastened to my shower curtain rod. They come in several pretty colors on Amazon. No pics I'm afraid. :) Here's a link: http://www.amazon.com/Inkology-Carabiner-Clips-Purple-147-8/dp/B004H7Z0D4

September 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeverly Mason

I am SO grateful to you for starting The Keel, I remember finding it and exclaiming to Erwan that I found other PEOPLE that did the same thing, I was ecstatic. From The Keel to Facebook to Women Who Sail, all the women I have met IRL and OL are all lovely ladies who have a WEALTH of knowledge and although we are not sailing right now (le sigh) I love being able to keep up with everyone and live life through someone else's lens for a while.
Can't wait to meet you IRL friend ;-)

September 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria

Hey there Charlotte!

I remember your fated 'Jewelry Post' on CF and I was one that cheered you on. I was dreaming of my upcoming move to being a liveaboard Cruiser and was so glad to see another women, around my age, figuring out how she was going to integrate a little bit of the icing like jewelry and some foundation pieces of clothing with her new, wonderful cruising life. I was grateful to see your posts!

You since have some years under your belt cruising as do I, and guess what?!? without ever finishing up that thread on CF we both discovered the same plastic boxes with the side closures work great for *girl stuff*.

I will never apologize for striving to try to maintain some of my femininity while cruising...I sailed with eleven or so guys in college on a fifty footer, but it doesn't mean I can't wear some makeup and some earrings.

I am glad we have met virtually and hope one day we will get a chance to meet in person!

Take care Charlotte! You rock!

s/v Alchemy

September 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGretchen

Awesome as always, Charlotte!

September 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Willie

I hadn't made the connection between that thread and Rebel Heart !

That was before my short stint as a mod on CF. I'm sure there was furious backroom moderator discussion about the topic, trying to decide what to do about it.

CF has certain similarities to Lord of the Flies. It's similar to some diving forums in that regard. There are quite a few people who can't stand the idea of not joining a mob that is having fun kicking someone who has identified themselves as being somehow different. It's cyber-bullying among adults.

Then there are the ones who don't even need a mob, like the rep for Rockna who would go all out berserker against anyone who was not a true Rockna believer. He's the only reason we don't have a Rockna for soft bottom anchoring.

Glad you found another outlet and that you didn't just cave under the onslaught.

I think you should link to this blog post as a follow-up to your original thread :-)


September 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSven

I love that we met when we did, as it was exactly what I was looking for. And I like how you go back to it here. You reached your virtual hand out to the air, and found a friend gasping at the air too. I'm so grateful to have found you!

September 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

And we all thank you very much for starting it! I'm sorry we never got to meet before we left San Diego! Maybe we'll share an anchorage some day! Keep being you! We all benefit from it :)

September 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMonica McKaskle

It is so uplifting to have so many of my own thoughts reinforced by your blog posts. Even on the site, " women and cruising" other women cannot help putting in a little sharp jab where it is not needed. I had just an experience such as yours over a light hearted article I wrote about staying feminine while cruising and I got snide comments about how being tough and sailing was just as feminine as wearing jewelry. I would have thought that the fact that we are all out there sailing the world made that fact totally obvious but some of us also like to feel presentable when we get where we're going (as much out of respect to the locals as for our own morale). And they totally missed the point of my article, which was that we women need to seek each other out to support each other. Thank you for creating the site. I am not a face book user, but I love your positive, honest and supportive message and the fact that you have created a safe harbor for other women

September 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterClare

You got me, I shot my mouth off on the Internet. Then I grew up, met them, and have a different opinion.

Every day the guilt kills me, but I manage.

September 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterEric

@Normandie, thanks for the cheers, and for all your support. Your Southern mama was very wsie (as was my own :)

@Beverly, good luck on your boat sale and thank you for the tip on those carabiners. Just added them to my Amazon Wish List (will be great for storing toy bags on the boat!)

@Victoria, I can't wait to meet in person one day. Your adventures traveling on land fascinate me!

@Steve, thank you, man!

@Gretchen, good for you for not apologizing for your femininity and for striving to keep it while out on the water. And those side locking plastic containers are PERFECT, aren't they? I almost makes me think I SHOULD go back to that CF post just to share how great they are.

@Sven, your comment made me laugh, especially the 'Lord of the Flies' part :) I'm considering your suggestion about linking up to the CF one :)

@Amanda, I'm incredibly lucky to have you in my life!

@Monica, I just added your blog to my post as well. I KNEW there was one more that I followed with that original group. Thank you for reminding me and thank you for the support. Hope we meet out there soon.

@Clare, (side note, I LOVE your name, have you read the Outlander Series? If not, you'll know why if you read it.) Sorry you got the snide remarks on Women and Cruising. I've gotten similar remarks from other female sailors who want to really insist that they can be considered feminine if they don't do overtly feminine things. I don't disagree, I just like like jewelry! Also, we have several members on Women Who Sail who only have a FB account so they can access our group. We'd love to have you!

@Diva, Eric's response speaks for itself.

September 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

Why the big deal over jewelry? (I will follow the CF link after commenting here.) Sparkly things make me happy. That shiny happiness does not in any way erase my bad-assness. Maybe one day we will all realize we don't always have to be "either/or" (in most any situation) but can embrace being all the many things that make us unique.
Thank you for creating the group - it's such a friendly, helpful place and we're all lucky to have it.

September 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Jennifer, thank you!! And I agree. Some of us like the sparkly jewelry and some of us don't. Why make a big deal out of it? Glad you are enjoying Women Who Sail!

September 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

Loved this! My husband and I live aboard and have followed your adventures off and on. I had a similar reaction when I checked out the women's sections of CF, though I wasn't brave enough to post anything! I'll check out your Facebook group, which sounds like just the resource I've been looking for.

Also, gotta say to Diva, give the guy a break. You called him out and he agreed, but you're still gunning for him?

October 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

Gosh I've not used CF a lot just browsed so not realised what it could be like. I joined a mostly UK forum ybw.com several years ago and have met nothing like that type of response. But every cloud as they say - I am very glad you started WWS and stuck with it. Thanks for all your hard work it is much appreciated!

January 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSusie H

As a fairly new sailor and one that is still not completely comfortable with things like heeling, for examplr, I LOVE your site and have found it helpful. There is another site I won't mention where I have actually deleted questions I had bcause of rudeness.

Thank you! Your rfforts are appreciated!

January 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConnie Smith

Thank You! You and the other admins, and women in this group are being the change we want to see in this world. So grateful I was introduced to this group!

Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have.

Margaret Mead

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/margaretme101283.html#9CVLm8YG4BUwq1Vu.99

January 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKate catlow

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