AdventureSail helps women take the helm
Doris Colgate had a challenge for fellow sailing aficionados.
She issued it while delivering the keynote address at the National Women's Sailing Association (NWSA) annual sailing conference. Colgate, 69, CEO and president of Offshore Sailing School and the NWSA's founder, asked the women assembled to not just embrace sailing for themselves, but to share that passion with those around them.
"To me, sailing is freedom. It's empowerment. It's challenging and it's relaxing and exhilarating," Colgate said.
"If sailing is a passion that you feel deeply, I wonder what you're doing to share that passion with your family or any woman or man who gets in your way?" she asked.
Colgate has earned the right to ask pointed questions. Not only did she write the book on sailing for women -- literally -- as the author of "Sailing: A Woman's Guide" (International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, 1999), but in founding the NWSA, Colgate wanted to give other women a chance to experience some of the opportunities the sport and "sailing lifestyle" have afforded her over the past 45 years.
The year after creating the NWSA, Colgate founded AdventureSail, an educational program for underprivileged girls that offers the opportunity to experience the freedom and self-esteem sailing provides.
In partnering with other non-profit organizations like Big Sisters and Girls, Inc., AdventureSail has introduced at-risk girls to a sport that could give them confidence, a broader perspective on life and new ideas about what they might achieve one day.
For some participants, taking the leap from shore meant entering a completely alien world.
"We did a program in Texas one year on Galveston Bay. It's an ugly piece of water, but we had a group of kids and their mentors who all lived less than a mile away and most of them had never been to the water. I was on the boat with the kids and one of the girls asked if she could put her feet in the water," Colgate said. "She didn't know it was OK to do that."
AdventureSail has hosted dozens of different groups of young women around the country over the past several years and each session is different, said Joan Thayer, the current president of the NWSA, who took over running the organization after Colgate stepped down from her leadership role in 2002.
The programs are run at the request of the sponsoring club or group and can be coordinated anywhere in the country where there is sailable water.
In early June, AdventureSail hosted 19 Big Sister/Little Sister pairs at a session held in Boston Harbor. AdventureSail programs are typically a half- or whole-day affair featuring everything from knot-tying contests and compass-reading lessons to races on the water. The Boston event launched from the Courageous Sailing School in Charlestown, Mass., which donated the use of its facility, boats, lifejackets and the grill for the barbecue afterwards, Thayer said.
But it hasn't always that easy. Organizers behind an AdventureSail program sponsored by a West Coast yacht club were reluctant to lend the use of their equipment, Thayer said, "until they saw the kids and how excited they were. Their eyes are just aglow and they're so happy. I think the volunteers get just as much out of it as the girls do."
Introducing girls to the water and a lifestyle they can embrace for the rest of their lives is part of the overall aim of AdventureSail, but an even bigger aspect of these events, Colgate and Thayer said, is to spend a day with girls who need the chance to see other women achieving something.
Sailing skill "is not dictated by strength or gender, only by desire," Colgate said as she addressed NWSA members at the June conference. "Let's take our passion for sailing to new and inspiring heights for those girls and women who, in this unsettled world, deserve a far better life."