Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Importance of Role Models

When Patrick and I think about setting off for a life of long-distance cruising, that little twinkle of excitement in our eyes rapidly clouds over as a profound lack of confidence sets in.  Neither of us comes from a sailing family and we took up sailing rather late in life.  I started going to sea when I was 18 but not on small sailboats and certainly not in a position of responsibility for the ship or crew.  Over the last 10 years, we have taken sailing courses, passed our coastal and offshore permits, and joined a sailing association that allowed us to log approximately 5000 nautical miles on more than 25 different boats (and more importantly, with more than 25 different skippers).  (For our sailing CV, see "The Crew") We bought our own boat and have skippered her more than 2000 nautical miles in the last 18 months.  But we still seem to be missing some essential ingredient that would allow us to boldly bound over the horizon. 

Recently, I was reading an article about how to get more young women interested in science and engineering careers, and the mantra highlighting the importance of mentoring was “you can’t be what you can’t see.”  I realized that we don’t have many role models in the sailing world that looked like us: a middle-aged couple with no sailing experience trying to cope with a strange new world of sailing and the cruising life. 

This week, a quick spin around the internet turned up new inspiration.

Over the past year, I followed the voyage of the amazing Jeanne Socrates, the 70-year-old British woman who completed a solo, non-stop, unassisted sail around the world this past July. 

Jeanne Socrates on Nereida.
It wasn't until the newspapers covered her story that I learned that Jeanne only started sailing at age 50 with her husband.  When he died, she decided to continue sailing alone and this successful solo circumnavigation was her THIRD attempt after some serious knock-downs.

A lesser-known inspiration is Elizabeth Tyler, who’s blog title says it all:  Sailing on - Single Handed:  A blog about untying knots, releasing lines, weighing anchor and getting under way again after having lost the captain in my life.”  

Elizabeth Tyler on Aquarella.

I have yet to wade through the entire archive of posts, but what I’ve read so far is a very candid and moving documentary of one woman learning to cope with the physical and psychological challenges of cruising.  Elizabeth is also an amazing artist and a visit to her art blog and site will astound you.  Remind yourself that you are looking at paintings, not photographs. 

Patrick has not let me ignore the fact that both of these “so-called” inspirational blogs are about women who have lost their husbands.  I tried to explain that the take-home lesson is that if single elderly women can do it, surely the two of us can manage, but this clearly isn't the inspiration he seeks.  We’ll keep looking for role models that we can both aspire to, but I feel better already.

It also has not escaped my attention that both women are cruising with confidence in Swedish boats ! (See recent musings on Swedish boats). 


Elizabeth Tyler said...

I am so honoured that you have written about me on your blog and consider me a role model together with the legendary Jeane Sokrates! She is the one that inspired me to sail single handed. My achievement is microscopic compared to hers, nevertheless we all need inspiration sometimes and a reminder that determination and patience can get you a long way despite everything and against all odds. Good luck to both of you with your sailing adventure!

MH said...

Dear Elizabeth - thank you so much for your words of encouragement. Determination I have; patience I'm trying to learn. Please keep sailing and blogging and I hope we may meet up with you one day in the Med !