With many in Canada looking for ways to stay active and keep cool during the surprisingly hot summer, sailing fills that roll for many. Sailing schools across the country run programs for children as young as 6, all the way up to teenagers on the race team, many who look forward to taking part on a variety of regattas both at their home club and across the country.
Unfortunately, the sense of competition, sportsmanship, and fun being fostered by sailing schools does’t always carry over to events at the national level. When the Canadian Youth National Sailing Championships were hosted in Ottawa in 2010 I was extremely excited to be able to compete against the best sailors from across the country at my home club. However, there were major inconsistencies between how the fleets were organised at this event when compared to other large sailing events around the country. The 420 class I competed in is a two person boat, sailed by both guys and girls alike. At the Canadian National Youth Sailing Championships the 420 fleet was split up into a male and a female fleet with both groups racing together but being scored separately. Having been used to sailing with, and against, crews comprised of both genders all my life, the idea of being segregated by gender was disturbing, and insulting. While this segregation in it-self was odd, it was nothing I hadn’t seen and come to accepted in other sports. What made it odd was how there seemed to be no problem with gender at any other regatta, making odd for it to become one now. Where the issue became even more complex was that as this was a youth regatta, there are many people who sail at regattas around the country as mixed crews, and are used to being treated the same as any other single gender crew. The question was where these boats would fit into this male female division. The organizers made the unfortunate decision to score these mixed crews with the male crews, a choice which I think was insulting to everyone involved.
The organizing committee is making the incorrect assertion that men are better sailors than women by making crews both men and women sail against the male crews. Unlike many other sports such as running or rowing, sailing is less about the physical strength of the athlete (not that sailors aren’t fit) and more about how they apply their knowledge of sailing to move the boat. Because there are many different types of boats to race, many of which are designed to be sailed by people of a certain weight, there is only a need to segregate by boat class and then let the sailors choose which boat suits them best. If one is too light for the boat then they will have trouble holding it down in heavy wind, and if they are too heavy then they will be too slow in low wind conditions. None of this has anything to do with the gender of the athlete and has everything to do with the weight of the athlete.
So while there are many sports that rely on pure physical power to go faster, sailing is a sport where skill, not physical power is needed above all. And while there is an element of physicality involved, sailors choose to sail a boat which is designed for their size, making it a level playing field of everyone involved. With this in mind, its hard to see why sailing takes such a hard line towards dividing genders. With so many other important issues with sailing in Canada today, adding another to the list is the wrong way to go. In my mind Sail Canada’s choices on this matter did a huge injustice to gender equality and youth sailing across the country. As a sport that has the ability to break down these gender barriers Sail Canada should be jumping at the opportunity to take full advantage of their unique position.