Burly girlies

Where are the women who love sailing their boat? Who raise and reef their main and raise their spinnaker? Where are the women who like to talk gear?

These questions might sound like the lament of a single straight male sailor looking for love, but instead they are those of a married straight woman.

I crave the community of women that I had when I was rock climbing and I'm struggling to find it in the cruising world. We called ourselves the burly girlies (you know, the kind of women who paint their toenails and then rope up for something tough).

It took me a while to realize that this new community I was part of was the cruising community not the sailing community and that many of its denizens are lukewarm about the sailing part. I understand that - travel is a big part of why I chose this lifestyle. When we first bought our boat I had little sailing experience and thus we had a long conversation about what would happen if I became a proficient but not eager sailor.

So, not everyone who cruises is a sailing addict. No biggie. When we come together, with our varying personalities, vastly different backgrounds and myriad interests, we still have cruising in common, right? We can talk about weather, boats, distant ports, gear bought, broken and repaired.

Except that with many of the women I meet, we run out of things to talk about after distant ports. When two couples get together there is rarely this problem because the dynamic of the foursome keeps the conversation to middle ground topics. But in a group of women, there is a moment where the conversation turns to what seems like everyone else's common ground - children, grandchildren, pets, decorating, the galley or other things about which I am a terrible conversationalist. I'm happy that the group is having fun but I begin to get bored.

At that moment, I start looking longly at the men's conversation and strain my ears trying to catch snippets of their interesting topics. My husband Carol throws me a life preserver by asking me the wattage of our solar panels or which model SSB we have. If I can do so at all politely, I switch my conversational participation over and I'm back in the game.

It has come to the point where I try to sit near the men if the genders look like they are segregating at a gathering so I can join in either groups conversation at will. How sad is that? And what is with gender segregating at co-ed parties post puberty? It's not that the men are more interesting. If we removed cruising topics from the conversation I am certain I would struggle to connect with most of the men for the same lack of common conversational ground.

I recently realized how desperate I was for burly girly friends in cruising when I was talking to a woman about cruising and I burst out somewhat inappropriately with the comment "It's just so nice to talk to a woman who knows about the gear on her boat!".

By writing this I know that some people will read it and come away with the impression that I think everyone should love sailing or that everyone should want to talk about gear or that there is something wrong with wanting to talk about your children. If so, they've missed the boat. I like people who are happy with where they are and the choices they've made. I just might not have much to talk with them about if their choices and mine are so far apart and I was surprised to join a sport and find out that, even with people in that sport, I don't have that sport in common with them.

My singles friends ad would be: Married women in her 30s interested in sailing, boat bits, and adventure sports. Looking for likeminded female friends of any age.


  1. This is a great post! You have expressed this point far better than I ever could. It is amazing how many women would much rather watch the world go by then participate in the experience. Friends become either jealous or judgmental and it is unfortunate. I think traveling around the world using wind (hopefully) as the primary mode of transportation and having the opportunity to understand new cultures and thereby expand your horizons are the exciting moments in life but talking about it at a cocktail party in middle America is not popular. Most likely because most people just have no concept of such ideas and its much easier to talk about football and soccer lessons. If we ever meet up with Estrellita in an anchorage - we could probably talk all night about rigging, dinghies, how low are batteries are, and if you have a high-water alarm on your bilge!

  2. Great post! I'm not a "burly girl" yet but I'm working on it. Knowledge is power!

  3. Nice post, I hope you run into my friend Lisa Beliveau sailing abroad someday. She's a rock climber and been sailing for ages. She got her partner, Brian, into sailing and they are now building their own boat to voyage on someday. If you were geographically closer at the moment, I'd set you up on a date :-)

  4. Good post. I get it. 100% Signed another burly girlie.

  5. what makes posts interesting to me, are the more personal observations, how you feel about things happening, what really goes on in you.i live on the other side, in mombasa, so you see, people think about you far away.take care and thanks.rico

  6. I agree with you 100%! Apparently I'm a burly girl as well! Keep conversing & I'm sure you will find some women of interest along the way.

    SV Orion

  7. Climbing and sailing are SUCH different worlds. I expected a lot of cultural overlap but have found none. Sailors are vastly more conservative than climbers, and that seems to show up in gender expectations & roles. & while many climbing partnerships feature a Rope Gun and a Belay Slave (j/k), the level of passivity among women in sailing is awful; possibly a reflection of the Alpha Males who gravitate toward the helm? The Burly Girlies could print up some T-shirts: "Shut up. Make dinner. I'm steering."

    (Also a demographic & generational function; you are YOUNG for sailors. Hopefully Jessica Watson et alia will change things.:))

  8. Excellent bi-conversational post. I've seen many sailing couples where the man does everything. That can't be fun for eiher of them. Dee has taken Kiskadee out without me. I can go below for a nap and she handles everything. If it was just about me, I'd sell the boat. PS: The new-to-me rigging looks great. Kiskadee is smiling.

  9. Hi Livia,
    My awesome friend, Pam, responded on my behalf before I even saw your post, but she is very right. I will enjoy meeting you guys out there on the oceans. I think sailing can be an intimidating sport for some because there is so much to learn--from the actual sailing to electronics to anchoring and navigating, etc. The cool thing with Brian and with me is that we both have our favorite areas of expertise, but we also both like learning about the rest together. I am the one who got him into sailing, but his vast knowledge of all things mechanical and electronic instantly made him a highly valuable member of our sailing team. And while I still have a lot to learn in Brian's areas of expertise, since we are building our boat, we have had pretty passionate discussions about the pros and cons of various types of sails, auxiliary propulsion, wind vanes, electronics, etc. To be honest with you, I wish more gals learned to sail at a young age, like I did, because I think familiarity with things makes you more passionate about (and less intimidated by) them. And, while I can be a girly, girl on some topics, Brian knew from the get-go that we would be sailing partners, co-captains. There was no way I'd be the galley goddess or the bow babe on any boat.
    I hope we'll have lots to talk about when we meet you out there!
    All the best, and fair winds!

  10. It is possible that the differences between Hiking and Climbing are similar to the differences between sailing in well-trodden low or mid-latitudes and sailing in cold, windy places. It seems that the sailors (of all genders) arriving here (Chile) are very keen not only about discussing gear and techniques, but also in repairing and modifying them.
    A little like climbing, I think.

  11. Great post! And great comments. Apparently I'm not the only one who's been having these conversation challenges.
    During the last four years of renovating and outfitting our boat (each of us working equaly much and not dividing the tasks into pinks and blues at all) has proven to me, that I'm not like the rest of the girls in our home port. I don't mind being different, but i DO mind, that most of the women I talk to get this blank look, when I introduce the boat bits topic. Sad really.
    But very comforting in a way to know, that you guys are out there somewhere. The burly girlies :-)

  12. Great post, Livia! As you know, this is something I have been lamenting for some time. However, the bonus is that when you do come across other like-minded women, the connection is instant and there is lots of fun to be had...even if that means getting together to fiddle with windvane adjustments!
    happy sailing!

  13. Absolutely! I totally have plans for a line of hot pink baby doll shirts that say, "I'm the %$*@-ing Captain. He's the first mate."

  14. Well, my husband is always the Captain. Sometimes I'm the first mate. But sometimes, I'm the ADMIRAL.

  15. Thank you everyone who has commented so far.

    @Molly - I have to say that I don't think that women who embrace the pink are necessarily passive, or just watching the world go by. There is nothing wrong with being a passenger in some aspects of your lifetime IMHO.
    @Mid-life cruising - Only if you *want* to be!
    @Anonymous - Regarding climbing, I think you are right. It is such a huge difference and I think Steve nailed it.
    @Dana - Agreed. It would be difficult for me personally to not have a complete partner in this but then again, that's the kind of relationship I crave and I guess not everyone does.
    @Lisa - Looking forwad to meeting you. Can I still be a bow babe some days? (just kidding - well, kind of).
    @Steve - You make an excellent point. I haven't been anywhere seriously remote yet.
    @Mer - I'm looking forward to meeting more of those rarities.
    @Heather - HA! Maybe Carol and I will make up t-shirts that say "Who's the captain? We're not keeping track."
    @Beth - Whatever works for you two, by definition...works! Still, I thought this relevant:


  16. 'Shut up. Make dinner. I'm steering'

    I LOVE it! Let me know when the t-shirts are ready & I'll get my order in :)

    Having the double-whammy of being both female AND young, I've decided to just laugh it all off. Every time someone addresses a question to my handsome partner or asks with incredulity "are YOU going to take this boat out??" or "is this YOUR boat???" I just give myself a silent pat on the back for cracking these ridiculous stereotypes wide open.

    I don't read recipe books, I don't provision, and my boyfriend is a much better seamstress (? seamster??)... but I tackle the foredeck work when it gets rough, rebuild the s*** clogged head when it stops working, and am pretty proud that I can call myself Captain.

    That said, I feel pretty lucky to have a partner who's as happy as I am not to have 'pink and blue' jobs.

    LOVE this post Livia -- thanks for sharing!! Maybe you can share a bit of Carol's take on all of this?

  17. Great post. Having spent many thousands of hours at the local crag and playing rope gun, I get your point. Rock is a great equalizer; no posing, it either goes, or it don't. Sailing should be like that.

    But I'm often disapointed by cruisers (and climbers) that can ONLY talk about boating (climbing). Sure, I like the topic and sure, I have a blog to get the excess off my chest, but when I reach a harbor and meet some new faces, I really don't always want to talk sailing, not exclusivly; I've been living sailing for a few days and may have had my fill.

    There should be pleanty of gender-neutral topics, and often we're just lazy: why not discuss a good (non-pulp fiction) book we are reading, politics (prefereably not hard line), adventures we've had OUTSIDE of sailing (burly or not so), or perhaps some bit of local history that's new to us. Cruising talk will filter in, no worry about that.

    As for kids, it's really hard NOT talk about them, at least for me. My daughter's been my crew on many sailing and climbing trips and so we share many stories, and she loves telling them with me. On the otherhand, I don't understand big families and that dynamic--I find the best expereinces in life are one-on-one. What is important is that we choose for our own reasons, not someone elses.

  18. Leah - I asked Carol and he said that he finds it weird that there is so much gender segregating in cruiser get togethers and also finds it funny when people ask him questions and then he has to ask me for the answer because it is something I did the research on. Otherwise, he says he doesn't think about it much because it doesn't affect him.

    Drew - Good points. I don't like talking about just cruising and when I meet people I connect with, we end up talking about everything. Also, I think talking about things that are major parts of your life (like kids, or your spouse, or whatever) is completely normal/usual.



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