In the male-dominated sport of sailing, women were once viewed as the weaker vessel, docile and helpless -- not aggressive enough to take on an opponent on the high seas, not strong enough to manage basic tasks such as hoisting sails and trimming sheets. Men frowned on using women as crew, let alone allowing them to join their yacht clubs and racing associations.
So women took matters into their own hands, establishing female-only groups. Olympic yachting, which went coed for the 1984 games, then changed to men- and women-only events four years later. And in 1995, for the first time ever, an all-female crew, aboard the America3, mounted a challenge in the America's Cup race.
Back in the early Seventies some Miami women created their own sailing opportunities by forming the Women's Yacht Racing Association of South Florida. Membership is now 150 strong, although only four actually own a boat. That's where men come in: For the group's monthly races or its yearly Coral Cup Regatta, men provide the majority of the boats, which range in length from 24 to 30 feet. Sometimes they even stay onboard.
"Some men are very quiet and don't say a word," notes association president Andrea Stringos. "Certain men get competitive and they tend to yell. Since you're there by the courtesy of whoever owns the boat and you want to be with a good sailor, you learn to deal with it."
Approximately fifteen teams from all over the nation -- each composed of six to eight members -- will convene for this weekend's third annual Coral Cup. (The defending champions are from landlocked Oklahoma!) The regatta consists of three races in two divisions: gold and silver. Advanced competitors vie in the gold division and are allowed one man onboard. He can be seen only, not heard. If he coaches or even raises his voice, the team is automatically disqualified. (A "committee boat," stationed in the middle of the course, carries officials who monitor the action.) Silver-division contestants are allowed two men onboard, who can give advice. Each division's winning crew receives a trophy.
The difference between men and women mariners? Not much, except perhaps temperament. "The men we deal with are very supportive and respectful of women as sailors," Stringos says. "But men in general are more apt to play chicken and not yield the right of way to another boat in a race, which can cause a collision. Women are just as intense as men when it comes to tactics, but they're a bit more cautious. That doesn't mean they're any less skilled, just much more careful -- especially since they're usually not in their own boat."
The Coral Cup Regatta takes place Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to noon in Biscayne Bay, behind the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, 2990 S. Bayshore Dr., Coconut Grove. Entry fee is $40 per boat. Call 662-7020.