In my search for bringing women's rights to the sea, I instituted the habit of going out to the Bay and taking Aquarius out by myself on Wednesday
s Not too many Wednesdays passed before I conceived the bright idea of getting an all woman's crew to race in the Wednesday Night Races. I consulted with Paul, Hugh and Elsie Wallis in regard to this and we came up with the idea that the men were willing to let the women have the boats on Wednesday nights so we could race with an all woman crew. Elsie would skipper their boat, M'Luv and I would skipper Aquarius
. We would alternate boats.
This was quite generous of the men. They were both working, but they were able to get out to the Bay early enough to participate in the Wednesday Night Races. Not only did this mean that they would have to give up that practice. It also meant that they would have to trust us with their boats. Of course, the boats were ours, also. Women's lib had already gone far enough so that our names were on the deeds to the boats. Women might relieve skippers at the helm at times, but the men were always in charge.
Elsie had been born and raised on Chesapeake Bay. Her father had founded the Hartge Yacht Yard and she had sailed all her life. I took me, however, to inspire her to race as skipper. We invited women from the Tartan 27 association to crew for us. We had no difficulty getting crew at all. I had been taking Aquarius out by myself for several weeks, so I had no problem. Elsie's first turn was difficult for her, but she did it.
Everything went fine. We did very well, also. We had seven Tartan 27's competing in those races. We wound up on the 700 dock (where we kept our boats) after the race. The first Tartan 27 in was responsible for starting the grill and we all had a picnic on the dock after the race. Several times we were responsible for starting the grill.
Then the night came when we had a big thunderstorm during the race! We probably would not have gone out had we known what was going to happen. On the other hand, if the men went out we were sure to go. Our reputation was at stake!
Well, we did go out. It was my turn to skipper and we were in Aquarius. We no sooner got started than the lightning began to flash. Remembering my girl scout leader days, I counted the time between the lightning flash and the roar of the thunder. (They both happen at the same time, but light travels much faster than sound and you can tell how far away the storm is by multiplying the seconds by four. Each second is a mile). I soon realized that the storm was almost upon us.
"Lower the jib," I shouted to my dainty but reliable crew on the foredeck. We were all scared and a crew in the cockpit freed the jib sheet there before she could lower the line that led to the mast. The jib went flailing out over the water with its sheet way out of reach. When released, that line refused to drop. We all screamed bloody murder, including me.
I could not scream for long, however. The storm was already upon us. The main was flopping around, ready to tear to pieces. I got one cool crew member to lower the main and between us we managed to put a reef in it. We were then able to sail on the main only even though the jib was still sailing off into the wild gray yonder. By then the rain came tumbling down.
We did not win the race, but we finished it! We did eventually get the jib back in the boat without even tearing it up. We were able to laugh at ourselves and even to admit that had the men been there things might have gone better.
Elsie was a far better sailor than I. It was bred into her bones and I was a newcomer to the sea. I found, however, that we tended to do better when we were sailing Aquarius. I became curious when I realized this and tried to analyze what elements were involved. I soon realized that I was better at handling the crew than she was. My years of running girl scout troops, teaching school, and even developing the Federal Funding File had put me in working relationships with a variety of people in different situations while her entire life had been lived within the Hartge environment. Perhaps this was the seed that led me to venture my single handed journey to the Gulf of Mexico.