Five struggles of being a lady in sailing, and how one woman is overcoming them

Sailing is an incredibly male dominated sport and workplace, says Victoria Morris, a sailing instructor at the Russell Coutts Sailing Foundation in New Zealand.

From learning to sail at six years old, to having worked in the industry, teaching sailing and delivering yachts, for two years, Victoria has found that as a woman she is often overlooked or assumed to be less qualified, here’s what she’s experienced and how she has dealt with it.

A view of Teignmouth pier with two cruise ships at anchor on the horizon
A view of Teignmouth pier with two cruise ships at anchor on the horizon

1-Being the only woman on a boat

This summer Victoria spent her time delivering two Yachts, one of which was a catamaran. On both yachts she had male skippers and was the only woman on her last trip from France to Croatia, She told me it was sometimes really hard being the only girl.

Obviously this could happen in any profession but in the sailing industry women are often few and far between. Out of over 180 sailors at the Swan 45 World Championship in 2017, only 12 were women. 

A view of Exmouth from across the estuary and trainline, a yacht and other boats can be seen at their moorings.
A view of Exmouth from across the estuary and the trainline, a yacht and other boats can be seen at their moorings.

2-Having her knowledge questioned

Victoria also mentioned that during her time as a sailing instructor, people have often doubted her ability to teach sailing.

She has often had men be patronising towards her, as though she couldn’t do her job and didn’t know as much as any of her male equivalents, even if she was more qualified than her male counterparts.

3-Having her ability to be firm with students doubted

Women are stereotypically seen as more ‘gentle’, compassionate and nurturing, even though the science tells us that this is not always the case, but that compassion is just expressed in different ways.

Because of this, Victoria has often experienced prejudice, with people questioning her ability to reprimand bad behaviour in the sailing classes that she teaches.

Students at Paignton sailing club, in full winter sailing gear, putting dinghies in the water. photo used with permission from Maria A Bown
Students at Paignton sailing club putting dinghies in the water, used with permission from Maria A Bown

4-Being expected to make more mistakes at sea

When things go wrong at sea, the consequences can be life threatening, but apportioning blame in situations like that do no good. Victoria said that when things went wrong she would be the first one that people would look at, as they assumed the woman would have made the mistake.

One study shows that men were rated lower for making the same mistakes as their female counterparts in ‘masculine fields of work’, and the researcher suggests that this was because women were ‘expected to fail’ in these environments.

5-Experiencing misogyny from people in senior positions

Due to the lack of women in the sailing industry, from committees of general sailing clubs in the UK, right up to formal racing such as the America’s cup, misogyny is rife and often goes undetected.

Victoria had an experience where an Olympic coach was so ‘nasty and misogynistic’ towards her that it made her cry. A global survey of 4,500 sailors revealed that almost 60 per cent of female respondents have experienced gender discrimination in the sport, but this rises to 71 per cent for women aged between 25 to 30 .

How she deals with misogyny now

I’m sure that many other women have had these experience, but this was the turning point for Victoria. She made a formal complaint due to the misogyny from the Olympic sailing coach and now ‘doesn’t take anything from anyone’.

She always stands her ground and sometimes proves them wrong by exceeding expectations. She says that women often have to work twice as hard to earn the same level of respect as men.

She shouldn’t have to do this to prove her ability as a woman in sailing, but it’s good she’s found her confidence and doesn’t let anyone else’s opinions get in her way.