I have always known that gender bias in the United States was not a thing of the past, but experiencing it first hand, as I have on my sail to the Bahamas, is another matter all together.

My first day heading south from Maine, I docked briefly to drop off a photographer who had been with me for the day. I spotted two older men and asked if they knew if the moorings were for rent. They seemed surprised that someone would ask something so silly, and said that no, I couldn’t get a mooring today. I thanked them for the information and walked away.

Several minutes later, while I was talking to my father on the phone, they approached me again. I smiled, and whispered that I couldn’t talk right then. One of the men responded by saying “If you would get off the phone with your Daddy maybe the two of us can help you.” Shocked, I made the poor decision of hanging up. They asked if the man they saw getting off the boat was coming back. I said no. They asked if I was alone. I said (somewhat proudly) that I was and was shocked at their response. They told me I was making a mistake, that it was too dangerous, and that I couldn’t do it alone. (Gentlemen, if you’re reading this, the weather is fabulous here in the Bahamas. How’s the weather in Maine?)

Along the way, I’ve received many surprised reactions when explaining my story:

“Oh, you sailed down all by yourself?”

“Yes, I sailed by myself.”

“So you know how to sail?”

Now, I have a lot of respect for human intelligence, but it begins to worry me when someone can’t understand simple declarative statements. “I sailed” is the past tense of “I sail” which can be transformed into “I can sail.” To me, this isn’t very difficult to understand. That aside, its pretty safe to assume that a person living on a boat, operating a boat, traveling on a boat … knows how to operate said boat.

I have also found that men in the same situation as I are not expected to prove themselves. By this I mean that I am frequently drilled by questions about my engine, sails, boat, strategy, course, etc. When my interrogator is satisfied they tend to throw me a “You seem to know what you’re doing.” In similar situations, men traveling alone on the seas (close to my age) are not greeted this way. They receive congratulations. They’re even asked for sailing advice.

Just the other day, when my father was onboard a fellow boater pulled up along side and struck up a conversation with the two of us. Given our ages, it’s completely understandable that someone would think it his boat, not mine. But once my dad corrected the individual we were talking to, he continued to converse with my father. He asked about our crossing, staring my father in the eyes. He asked him about my engine, told him about his boat, and asked if he had fixed my outboard yet. I would chime in and not get a response or eye contact. I was humiliated when I didn’t deserve to be.

Some days I need to remind myself that I am just as capable as anyone, and that the people belittling me likely made the same errors as I have when they were starting out. I have to remind myself that it isn’t stupidity or foolishness on my part that makes people treat me like this. It is their skewed lens on reality. I am not, and never will be, a damsel in distress.

Everybody makes mistakes and we are all still learning, especially here on the ocean. Sailors, whether male or female, should be judged by their intelligence, ability and personality. My mistakes can be credited to my inexperience and human error, not to my gender.

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