One of the great things about sailing is that it’s one of the few sports where women and men can compete together on the same proverbial playing field. Go to any regatta these days and you’ll find women on almost every boat. They’re not just “bow bunnies” anymore either; women are taking part and taking charge, making it a true coed, co-operational sport.
Of course, the other great thing about sailing is that the number of events solely for women is growing exponentially. Case in point is women’s match racing, which is becoming wildly popular and will be an Olympic event—along with men’s match-racing, but that’s been around for ages—for the first time in 2012. As women, we get to have our cake and eat it too, mixing it up with the boys and challenging each other separately as well.
Things are no different on the college sailing circuit, where coed fleet racing, coed team racing, and women’s fleet racing are the three major divisions. Most female college sailors sail both coed and women’s regattas throughout their college careers. Even the female skippers often jump in a boat and crew at major coed events. Mimi Roller is one of those female skippers.
Mimi grew up on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, and is now a sophomore at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a small liberal arts school in the idyllic St. Mary’s County. She’s traded her tropical paradise for a more pastoral setting, but with an amazing boathouse right on the lake, her sailing opportunities aren’t lacking. St. Mary’s is ranked seventh in coed and sixth in women’s, according to the Sailing World College Rankings.
She’s been sailing her whole life, and laser radials have been her most recent passion, though she also sailed 420s in high school. At St. Mary’s she’s shown her skills in each of these boats, representing the school in different capacities on both the women’s and coed teams. Last spring she was a crew on the coed team racing team, and she attended both coed and women’s regattas as a skipper.
This year she’s hoping to step it up a notch and become a more vital part of the team in all divisions of college sailing. When I spoke to her in October, she had just qualified for the women’s laser national championships in Texas in November, and she was determinedly hopeful about her future and, by extension, the future of women in sailing.
AAS: Which is more fun, women’s regattas, or coed regattas?
MR: Having gone to both, I can definitely say that being at a regatta with the women’s team is more chill and fun. The guys can get so tense and serious, but the girls always manage to have a good time.
AAS: What do you prefer more, skipper or crew?
MR: Honestly I prefer to be by myself, which is why I love the laser; I’m in complete control. If I mess up, I know it’s me. If I’m skippering and my crew messes up, I always feel bad, and that can get stressful. I do appreciate the team aspect more now, though, and it’s good for me to sail double-handed as a skipper, because most of college sailing is double-handed. Of course, sometimes it’s nice to crew, too. When it’s really windy, all I want to do is crew in a 420. It’s fun sometimes, too, not to have to make all the decisions.
AAS: So what does your future look like?
MR: Well right now there are two senior girls who are our top women’s skippers. Hopefully next year I can fill their shoes. I’d also like to skipper at Team Race Nationals or in a big coed event like that. There aren’t a lot of women who skipper in coed. I’ve always wanted to see more women sailing as skippers in all kinds of boats. I’d like to work my way up and inspire girls everywhere to sail. In 2012 I’d like to go to the Olympics in lasers, so that’s the start I’m looking for.
Andrea Bailey is a freelance writer and recent graduate of the College of Liberal Arts at Georgetown University, Washington, DC. She is a former collegiate sailor who has returned to her home island of St. Thomas.