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Empowering Women in Sailing: The Transformative Coaching & Mentoring Course in the USVI

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Uniting Women Sailors

A cross-section of women sailors, seven each from St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John and one from the British Virgin Islands, who represented a mix of professional sailors, coaches, and recreational enthusiasts, participated in the Coaching & Mentoring Women’s Sailing Course, held October 27 to 29, 2023, at the St. Thomas Yacht Club (STYC). The goal? To get more women and girls in the territory out sailing via building a strong network and sharing resources. The three-day course was led by Rebecca Ellis, an experienced and qualified UK-based World Sailing Coach developer; hosted by the Virgin Islands Sailing Association (VISA), the USVI’s Member National Authority to World Sailing; and funded through an Olympic Solidarity Grant, plus funds from VISA, the Virgin Islands Olympic Committee, STYC, and World Sailing, the sport’s global governing body.

“My vision for this event was to connect everyone, to ignite or reignite their enthusiasm for sailing, and to make everyone aware of the many roles available to women in sailing in our community that need to and should be filled,” says Juliet San Martin, VISA president and course organizer. “I’m expecting to see at least a decade of ripple effects from this event, with a great deal more interisland coordination and competition. Not to mention newly formed lifelong friendships all founded on the common bonds of a shared interest in sailing.”

Key Take Aways

It was the diverse experiences and paths to sailing, careers or recreational, of the course attendees that most caught the attention and interest of Michelle Peterson, an assistant professor of biology at the University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus, St Croix Yacht Club member and avid Sunfish sailor. “What could be better than to be around other women who are passionate about sailing, be part of that community, and of course get out on the water each day,” says Peterson. “I think we all have a better understanding of ways to get more women sailing by supporting competitive racing or working on the organizational side of events. It’s all about how to support and build on the foothold we have now going forward. How to hold onto the past yet build on and improve.”

For Marguerite Burke, from St. Thomas, who is a Master 100-ton Licenses USCG Captain, it was a new experience.

“This was my first time sailing an IC24. I’m a big boat sailor, so a small boat was intimidating at first. We had excellent and professional instruction. Now, it’s opened a whole other world of racing for me.”

Maya Craig and Felicia Renaud were among the St. John attendees who instruct and coach youth sailors as part of the community-oriented Kids and the Sea (KATS) Program in Coral Bay.

“The opportunity to build a community as a resource and to be able to tap into it in the future is what I enjoyed most,” says Craig, who teaches 8- to 12-year-old Optimist sailors and professionally is the watershed coordinator for the Coral Bay Community Council.

Renaud, a professional artist, and KATS instructor for a decade, found it inspiring to learn the many facets of women in sailing in the Virgin Islands. “I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned with others at KATS.”

Many of the women, even from the same island, had never met one another before attending this course.

“It often takes an event like this to bring like-minded women together. As a result, the discussions were excellent and the learning from one another was invaluable,” says Ellis.

The participants were Marguerite Burke, Kelly Johnson, Kerry Kline, Bic Leu, Emily Pearsall, Ameda Smith and Deborah Woods from St. Thomas; Joyce Campbell, Meg Deegan, Meagan Hislop, Megan Littlefield, Cheryl Lowery, Michelle Peterson, and Molly Winkelman from St. Croix; Erin Lee Burger-Gohl, Maya Craig, Erin Durell, Felicia Renaud, and Sarah Swan from St. John; and Meagan Woodman, from the BVI.

Land & Sea

The Coaching & Mentoring Women’s Sailing Course featured a combination of hands-on sailing in IC24s and onshore discussions and networking opportunities. Discussion topics included how to attract more women and girls to try sailing, the difference between instructing and coaching, how to develop coaching skills, and how to meet the needs of the female athlete.

“Many of the women, even from the same island, had never met one another before. It often takes an event like this to bring like-minded women together. As a result, the discussion was excellent and the learning from one another was invaluable,” says Ellis.

Social activities featured a dinner on October 27 where keynote speakers were the Honorable Ruth Miller, an International Judge with World Sailing and Magistrate Judge at the USVI’s District Court, and Oriel Blake, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association. Miller detailed the strength of networking as a gateway to her obtaining global opportunities to officiate at local, regional, national, and international sailing events. Blake shared how having a passion for the water and collaboration has led her to mentor others to do the same professionally.

For more information about the event, contact San Martin at (340) 690-9040, or julie@teamsanmartin.com. Or, visit virginislandssailingassociation.com Or, on Facebook at Virgin Islands Sailing Association (www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61551668560067)

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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