‘Capturing the Power’ at the Northern California Women’s Sailing Seminar

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Have you ever wished for a sailing seminar taught by women for women that was also tailored to your interests and skill level?

Meet the Northern California Women’s Sailing Seminar – an educational, fun and motivating weekend hosted by the Island Yacht Club, in Alameda, San Francisco’s East Bay.


northern california women’s sailing seminar on the water training – photo by: brian hill

The tagline is ‘capture the power’ and it’s accurate – the array of courses offered and dedicated instructors inspire confidence under sail. For many female sailors it’s an annual event.

The WSS has 10 different tracks: Beginner, Crew, Sailor, Divas of the Bay, Advanced Sail Trim, Spinnaker, Racing, Navigation, Boat Ownership and Offshore Cruising.

Now in it’s 22nd year, women come from all over Northern California and beyond. This year the states of New Jersey, Missouri and Washington were also represented in 78 who attended.


excitement in the air as the seminar begins – photo by: brian hill

Day One begins with registration and continental breakfast. There is excitement in the air as boat assignments, attendee bags and WSS visors are distributed.

I chat with Valerie, who grew up sailing small boats in France. Now living in Alameda and with a renewed interest in sailing, she is attending to learn the English sailing terminology.


valerie is attending to learn english sailing terminology, andrea and allison are here to hone their skills

Experienced sailors Andrea and Allison registered to up their game. Andrea, who belongs to Cal Sailing Club, has just switched jobs and doesn’t have as much time to sail in the evenings.

“I thought this would be a good way to focus on sailing in a concentrated way, instead of every two weeks or so,” Andrea said. She added that she was looking forward to meeting more women sailors who were her own age.

Another shared she was in it solely for the racing. Laughing she said, “ I’m in it to go fast! I usually get a ticket when I am in the car!”


on the water training with christine weaver of latitude 38 and norcalsailing.com

Classes are taught in the classroom, dockside and afloat.  My day begins on the water with Instructor Christine Weaver, a local racer who works for Latitude 38, Northern California’s sailing monthly magazine and also the founder of NorCalSailing.com, the weekly sailing newsletter of all things sailing here.


classmate chris rocking the tiller!

Students Chris, Carol and I all take turns helming as we tack, jibe and work on sail trim. We get lots of practice as it was a busy day in the Estuary with sailboats, crew teams and paddle boarders all under way.


greeting old and new friends, val and jill, left to right. val and her husband joined island yacht club during the wss


enjoying a lovely al fresco lunch

It was time for lunch before we knew it. We mix and mingle, greeting new and old friends. As we nosh on the Island YC deck, announcements are made that the raffle would begin shortly and there was a little more time to allocate tickets to the carafe by items of interest.


candy, the winner of the sail couture gift basket – i love her ‘got wine cap!

Raffle items run the gamut: subscriptions to sailing magazines, baskets of sunscreen and lip balm, t-shirt and hats, a very pretty pink and black Hogan Sails duffle and of course the Sail Couture gift basket.


two tickets aboard acsailingsf’s usa 76!

Included in our basket are all kinds of fun sailing, fashion and wine things, among them: an Ella Vickers Recycled Sailcloth Wristlet, a Toss Designs Travel bag with sailing patch, A Sperry Topsider Scarf, a book on knots, a bottle of Chandon nautical limited-edition sparkling wine and the basket itself, an acrylic wine bucket.  The coolest item by far – two tickets to sail aboard ACSailingSF’s USA 76 – San Francisco’s entry for the 2003 America’s Cup!

A hush fell over the crowd as the drawings began. We clapped with joy as the winners were announced hoping we would be next.


alice watts, knot teacher par excellence in action

Then it was time for my favorite activity, knot tying – not – at least traditionally as that just may have changed. I specifically chose the Crew Track as I wanted to conquer the bowline knot once and for all. With the guidance of instructor Alice Watts I did.


fun with knots!

As the first mate of Alma, the historic 1892 Scow Schooner as well as a volunteer deckhand for various other Tall Ships, Alice knows her knots. I appreciated her figurative approach and by the end of the class I was tying knots like a pro.

Then it was onto Seamanship with Renee Kiml, an experienced sailor who has sailed throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean.  There we review directional terms, rigging and boat checklists. Renee teaches us “to have a plan for things that can go wrong, that way they won’t happen” and “that knowledge will give you the freedom to enjoy a wonderful day on the bay.” I couldn’t agree more.

The day finishes with a no-host cocktail hour featuring a variety of tasty hors d’oeuvres, which we enjoy while regaling each other with tales of the day.


loving marianne’s chic side braid, a perfect solution for ‘sailor hair’

Surveying the group, my thoughts turn to sailing fashion. I love Marianne Armand’s casual sailor look, especially her chic side braid. What a great solution for ‘sailing hair.’ Marianne is a WSS instructor and Marketing Director for Club Nautique Sailing School and Charters.


dianes’ anchor sweater was a hit

I also love Diane’s Anchor sweater, which is too cute for words. It’s from Old Navy’s Spring Collection. I’m a fan of Gap’s Banana Republic and Piper Lime brands, it looks like I need to start cruising Old Navy too.

Diane’s inspiration for attending WSS was learning how to save her husband’s life. As avid sailors who frequently cruise with the San Jose Sailing Club, they know the importance of safety.  The ability to deal with a man over board is an important skill in San Francisco where the water temperature is 57ºF near the Golden Gate Bridge. Hypothermia can set in at 95º…


christine sporting her exciting new accessory

Christine was sporting a very important new accessory, which I can’t believe I missed on the earlier sail. Jonathan, skipper of the Laser 38 Stink Eye, we sailed earlier, had proposed the night before.

She and Jonathan selected a beautiful estate diamond solitaire, which met two important criteria for them: bezel set to better protect the diamond given her active lifestyle and low profile so her sailing gloves would easily slide over. It’s proof that good things happen at the Women’s Sailing Seminar, or at least right before it!

Day two began with an elective Yoga for Sailors by Julie Lucchessi of Bow Yoga. I missed it and that is my only regret of the seminar – everyone who attended raved. Next time for sure. At breakfast I had become engrossed in conversation with some fascinating sailors.


heather funhauser often combines vacations with work, sailing all over the world

Heather Funkhouser, a sailing instructor with Modern Sailing School and Club is a real inspiration.  Sailing is truly a way of life for Heather who lives aboard her Hinkley 35 in Sausalito. The sea is in her blood as she grew up sailing the world with her parents. Even now Heather usually combines vacation with work, acting as delivery captain through the Panama Canal, New Zealand and Australia among other interesting yachtie jobs.


new live aboard michelle o’healy is now a passionate sailor

A recent convert to the live aboard lifestyle is Michelle O’Healy, who in supporting her husband’s love of sailing, has become a passionate sailor as well. Today she and her family live on a Lagoon Catamaran. You’ll be hearing more about her soon as she is our newest contributor!


dr. jerry morgan

Soon it was time to test our enhanced skills via an Estuary Race or Bay Cruise. There is nothing like sailing the San Francisco Bay for me, so I crewed aboard Dr. Jerry Morgan’s Whimsea, a Hunter 44 Deck Salon. Alice was our female instructor.


sailing from the old to new bay bridge


leukemia cup sailboat spinnakers dotting the bay

Cruising out of Alameda was a first for me. We headed out the Estuary and under both the old and new Bay Bridges into San Francisco Bay where we practiced tacks and reveled in the San Francisco’s famed afternoon wind. The Leukemia Cup Regatta was under weigh and beautiful spinnakers dotted the bay.


susette rowsell trimming the jib, golden gate bridge in the background


san francisco’s iconic transamerica pyramid

We took turns helming and practicing sail trim, the dramatic San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge a beautiful backdrop.


the golden gate bridge makes a beautiful backdrop


the very sleek and fast usa 76, san francisco’s entry in the 2003 america’s cup

Alice quizzed us on reading a Tide Table, which is particularly important when sailing the Bay as there are strong currents. We caught a glimpse of USA 76 as she glided by. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was swooning over her beauty.

As we worked our positions we bonded and enjoyed sharing sailing stories. The most interesting of which being the Jerry’s dramatic lifesaving rescue off Australia. I won’t share anymore as I’m hoping he will share his story in Sail Couture.


stacey passalaqua at the helm

I love Stacey Passalaqua’s story of how she got started sailing. Attracted to a lightly used Hobie 14, she asked if the owner would be interested in selling. When he said yes and gave her a price, she simply went home and financed the purchase with a yard sale.  Today she’s sailing on an Islander 24, and yes there is a story about that one too…

Stacey and her friend Sandy Parsons, both of Forrest Ranch, CA traveled three hours each way to attend the WSS.  Will they attend next year? Likely they say, trying a different track of course. That is the beauty of this WSS, with 10 different tracks there is always something to challenge you.


a toast to captain jerry morgan with sandy parsons and stacey passalaqua

Nearing the marina, we toast Jerry, our gracious host, Alice our instructor and the WSS. What a wonderful weekend it’s been. Major kudos go to Nancy Hird, chair of the seminar, and her team for a transformative weekend.

As I write this and reflect on the seminar’s learning and camaraderie I’m already missing it a bit. I needn’t though, a benefit of participating is the crew list which is due out soon. We can connect informally with each other until next year.

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