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Which rock to turn over at the WWSA 2018 Gathering?

by John Curnow 13 Mar 14:00 PDT
Fun at the Gathering on the Bay at Port Stephens © Women Who Sail Australia

Funnily enough, unless you have been living under the proverbial rock itself, you’ll know that the Women Who Sail group (WWS) is a universal, and global success. So to make it even more important for you to attend this year’s Gathering at Port Stephens from 6-8 April 2018, Shelley Wright’s Women Who Sail Australia (WWSA), together with Pantaenius Sail and Motor Yacht Insurance, are not going to take you wading through the rock pools.

No. They are going to turn over a very special rock for you all, and in doing so reveal a truly phenomenal treat. One that is guaranteed to make you book in now, so here is the link you’ll need to use in order to make that happen – buy tickets for the Gathering now.

For a start, it is not a thing, but a person. She is so well known as to be bordering on the ridiculous, very giving of herself and her time, and having recently spoken with her, terribly excited to be on her way to Australia to be the keynote speaker at the Gathering.

She is the inimitable Charlotte Kaufman. Yes. The very woman who started it all, and she will be there at Port Stephens to engage with you, but that can only happen if you book in to be one of the attendees. By way of background, here is an ultra-brief synopsis of her nautical life.

She and husband Eric, who is a Coast Guard licensed Captain by the way, had been liveaboards since 2007. They brought both of their babies home to their boat, and raised them there. Charlotte was looking for a community to talk with regarding how to go about mothering on sailboats. She could find ones for home schoolers and RVs, but not on sea. So the original nine members of WWS were all mothers on board.

Charlotte’s family had cruised Mexico and the Sea of Cortez, as well as the Pacific Coast. Indeed their second child was born in Mexico. When they went to cross the Pacific, they had the experience, knowledge, systems and procedures ingrained in themselves, and a more than capable boat to make the passage. Interestingly, their children were not the youngest that year, with other craft carrying three more babies, aged four, six and eight months.

Alas, it did not come to pass as such, but in her own words Charlotte says, “We survived, and it went well because we were prepared.” Their primary directive was ‘can we solve this on our own?’ When their daughter became gravely ill they had a satellite phone to talk with a doctor. They even had the full medical kit with all the required items to administer, but when the situation deteriorated with firstly the satellite phone being cut off and then no SSB or VHF responses, they had to divert to the EPIRB. All of which shows they had the right gear, and the correct procedures to deal with a cascading situation, which all nautical disasters have as their cornerstone.

Charlotte often gets asked about all those procedures, checklists, supplies on so on that go into being a totally prepared ship for sea. She certainly knows them off by heart, yet in her typically magnanimous way she covers it off by saying, “WWS has an extensive files section with dozens of documents that cover everything from Hurricane Preparedness, Float Plans, Ditch Bag info, Renaming Ceremonies, Medical Kit Spreadsheets and Off-shore First Aid, to things like Tips for the Tropics, Children's Sailing Books, and an amazing French Bread recipe, too.”

“Truly though, it's our members who are the true repositories of knowledge. You can ask any type of sailing-related question in our group, and quickly receive a wealth of friendly and helpful advice from fellow sailors.”

Now it is not Charlotte’s first trip to Australia, as it turns out. It was just that the other was in a former life. In 1995 she came here as an Alaskan All-Star Cheerleader in the 1995 DownUnder Bowl (College Grid Iron on the Gold Coast). “So I already know how wonderful and friendly Australians are. This trip I’m looking forward to seeing a part of Australia I’ve never been to, in Port Stephens. I’m also most especially eager to meet so many of the sailing sisters that I’ve known online for years, but can now finally meet in person”, Kaufman commented.

You may know that Charlotte has recently completed the manuscript for her memoirs of the fateful passage aboard Rebel Heart in 2014. During the Gathering, she will share some of sections from this yet to be published work, as well as discussing how and why she created the very group so many of you love – Women Who Sail.

Asked if she ever thought WWS would go on to become what it has, Charlotte replied with, “I had no idea it would grow so vastly. The main group has over 14,600 members. When I started Women Who Sail in December 2011, there were initially just nine members! We now have over 37 sub-groups that span the continent with 15,860 members in those sub-groups. It’s amazing.”

It is also very interesting to learn what Charlotte thinks is the secret of WWS, and all the satellite groups? “The numbers in our ranks, and the success of our growing groups show that there is a need for what Women Who Sail provides. A place to share insights, tips, questions, excitement, and most importantly, support over what it’s like to be a woman, and non-binary person in the boating world.”

In a way, Charlotte kind of runs a global entity, so it was important to understand the links between them all. “All the sub-groups are independently managed and have their own guidelines. The main WWS admin team asks them to mirror WWS guidelines but has no authority over the groups. Of the more than 37 sub-groups, 20 are regional, and some are even in different languages. Five deal specifically with topics surrounding health and living aboard, and 10 are various interest groups like, Women Who Splice, Women Who Write, WWS Unicorns (LGBTQ Sailors), and Women Working in the Marine Industry.”

The passion for the nautical lifestyle is evident when speaking with Charlotte. I was very keen to see what that might be, especially after reading her first hand account of coping with the loss of her craft, which you can find here. Charlotte responded by saying, “Even without a boat, I strive to be like people who live on the water. I think this excerpt from the article you mention sums it up – ‘People who live on boats are dreamers + doers. They are innovators + adventurers. Sailors are refreshingly alive.’ That joie de vivre that comes from sailing hasn’t left me, and I don’t think it ever will. We still plan on getting back on the water when our girls are a little older, and re-introducing them to the lifestyle.”

Part of being at sea means dealing with named storms. 2017 was a bad year for these all over the globe. Charlotte, and its affiliates have helped so many who have lost their lifestyle, and passed many a lesson on to others. Specifically, Charlotte commented, “Our main group set up multi-pronged networks of support to connect sailors in need during the recent devastating storms in 2017. We organised to connect sailors on everything from fundraising and financial assistance, to housing help, storm resources, and personal updates. Women Who Sail Australia did the same to help those affected by Yasi and Debbie in the Whitsundays, and beyond.”

“One of the things I’m most proud of with the creation and ongoing success of Women Who Sail and it’s sub-groups, is how I’ve connected sailing women world-wide, and how those connections benefit my sailing sisters in good times and yes, in times of great need too.”

This is WWSA’s third Gathering on the Bay, and the second where Pantaenius Sail and Motor Yacht Insurance has been a major partner. Asked about the process, Charlotte said, Michaela Backes from Pantaenius helped make the process of travel and tickets go very smoothly. It’s been an honour working with Caitlin Harris and Shell Wright, two of the founding members of the WWS Australia group. Caitlin and I have been friends online for years. We bonded over raising kids aboard. I can’t wait to hug her in person!”

“I am also very delighted that all monies raised go to charity. I know one of the charities is Marine Rescue Port Stephens. First-responders, especially those who work on the water, are dear to my heart. When you experience something like a rescue at sea firsthand, you know how brave and courageous the men and women are who go out to rescue mariners. So I’m glad we’re supporting them, Sailors with DisAbilites, and Eyeglass Assist as well!”

In fact, the creator of the whole phenomenon is very inspired by what WWSA have achieved in such a relatively short timeframe. Most notably with the Gathering itself. The seed has very much been planted, for Charlotte would like to have a Gathering in the USA and would like to consider that Pantaenius USA would assist with that."Our regional groups often have meetings, but we haven’t had a countrywide one like WWSA has done. I would love to host one, especially on the West Coast, since the East Coast has the Annapolis and Miami Boat Shows. Women Who Sail members get together at those shows, but to have our own gathering would be wonderful! And yes, I would love to talk to Pantaenius USA about the specifics of how we could make that happen.”

In closing, a very polite Charlotte simply said, “That’s it! I’m very much looking forward to travelling to Oz, and meeting fellow women who sail!”

All of which has probably got you very inspired to make sure you are at the 2018 Gathering at delightful Port Stephens from 6-8 April, 2018. Whilst men cannot attend the conference part, they are not excluded, with social activities allowing them to be involved, but like the tickets for conference itself, these sell out smartly. So if you want to be there, then you have to book, which can be done by going here for tickets to the Gathering on the Bay, and here for the dinner. Both are priced at $65 per head, with all proceeds going to the charities named above.

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