Some guys claim it’s difficult to find a woman who shares their passion for boating. Maybe they’re just looking in all the wrong places.

Lots of women love boating. Some are power boaters; others sail. Some sailors race, while others cruise. Women sailors come from all walks of life, and they get into the sport in all sorts of ways. Some sail strictly for fun; others work summers as sailing instructors, launch drivers or dock hands; and a select few are making a career out of boating.

The contrast among women sailors was evident at a recent gathering hosted by Harraseeket Yacht Club Commodore John Karp and his wife, Heidi Bishop. John and Heidi thought it would be fun to devote an evening to discussing “Women at Sea.” To make it even more interesting, they invited Katie Bradford, who has thousands of miles under her keel and has managed to turn her love of sailing into a career.

Heidi broke the ice by describing her first experience sailing the Alberg 35 Allegra without John on board. It was “big boat day” for HYC’s youth sailing program, where the youngsters take a day off from sailing dinghies to experience a day on club members’ boats. On board with Heidi were a college-age sailing instructor and six kids. The day started out well enough, and Allegra was moving along under full sail. But then the skies darkened, it began to sprinkle, and it quickly went downhill from there.

“We were in a squall, and the boat was on her side with the spreaders in the water,” said Heidi. “The instructor was at the wheel, we had two kids on deck, with the other four below, and I said to myself, ‘He gave me the boat and now I’m going to sink it.’ “

Heidi and the instructor sent the other two kids below and worked to get Allegra under control. They released the sails to get Allegra back on her feet, and as luck would have it, the roller furler jammed as Heidi tried to roll up the genoa. Eventually the squall passed, and they got the boat back to the club dock. Both Heidi and Allegra were a little worse for the wear — Allegra had a shredded genoa and the mainsheet traveler had pulled out of the deck. Heidi was frazzled. But everything was repairable, and no one got hurt.

The experience had Heidi steadfastly refusing to take the boat out without John for a while, but not forever. She completed U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary courses in sailing, seamanship and advanced coastal navigation, and as she gained knowledge, experience and confidence, she came to realize that she could indeed take command of the boat. Today, Heidi skippers an annual “Estrocruise” from Freeport to Northeast Harbor, and with help from her all-female crew, continues to triumph over sailing’s many challenges. They have included troubleshooting a nearly dead battery and fixing a broken head with a screwdriver and duct tape.

Katie’s indoctrination to sailing was vastly different.

“I learned how to sail on little tiny boats in the Thames River,” she said, referring to the river in New London, Conn. During her junior year in college, while offshore on a boat studying marine sciences, she realized she wanted to sail professionally.

Katie immersed herself in the sport, taking on any task, including cooking in cramped galleys, just to get boat time. She learned by doing, got her captain’s license and delivered race boats around the world, including a couple trans-Atlantic crossings. She captained a schooner on a delivery from New London to the British Virgin Islands.

Closer to home, Katie is past commodore of the Eastern Connecticut Sailing Association and Mystic River Sailing Association. With her mother, she founded New London Community Boating and remains its president. She continues to compete on the grand prix level.

Best of all, Katie found a way to combine sailing with sewing and turn it into steady work.

“If you can sew a pair of pants, you can make a sail,” she said. After working briefly at a sail loft, she started her own business in 1985. For 27 years, she and her team at Custom Marine Canvas have been fabricating fittings and canvas products for fine yachts and even Coast Guard vessels.

Heidi and Katie’s vastly different experiences and skill sets prove that there is no “typical” woman sailor.

Heidi summed it up best: “Women don’t have to hide behind their husbands to enjoy time on the boat.”

Gail Rice of Freeport and her husband, Randy, race and cruise their Pearson 30 sloop on Casco Bay. Contact her at:

[email protected]