Park City Sailing hosts Women and Wind event, with professional sailor Sally Barkow | ParkRecord.com

Park City Sailing hosts Women and Wind event, with professional sailor Sally Barkow

On Wednesday, Park City Sailing Club hosted its second ever Women and Wind event, a sailing get-together for women.

"It's a light lesson with a social aspect," said Park City Sailing boardwoman Casey Marsh while sitting at a pavilion near the personal watercraft ramp on the Jordanelle Reservoir. Out on the water, three small sailboats, each with about five sailors in them, cruised the reservoir under the tutelage of skippers, all women.

One of the boats carried the night's special guest – Park City resident and professional sailor Sally Barkow – who hosted a short question and answer session after sailing with some of the club's members.

With years of experience in sailing, Barkow said living in Park City is a way to get a taste of the landlubber's life between excursions.

"I was just traveling for 10 or 12 years with Olympic sailing and ocean racing, and it was just time," she said before speaking in front of the group. "I needed a place to live and needed to balance out life."

When the time came, Marsh introduced Barkow to the crowd of about 20 club members as an Olympic sailor and competitor in the Volvo Ocean Race – an eight-month round-the-world race using 65-foot carbon fiber yachts.

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Barkow then proceeded to describe a mixed picture of competitive sailing's gendered landscape, with some arenas more open and adaptable to women than others.

For example, there are forms of racing, she said, like the Elliot racing with PC Sailing, where gender doesn't matter.

"You can come out here and race against the guys and it's not a physical difference," she said. "It's more of a mental sport, and if you have good instincts on the water you can probably beat them."

However, there are some types of sailing where lots of muscle mass and strength matter more, making it tougher for female athletes to carve out a space in those areas.

When asked about the future of women in the America's Cup, the race for the eponymous trophy using large hydrofoil catamarans, Barkow said, "I wish it was a strong one."

She said with the use of manually operated hydraulic systems, which require a lot of strength to operate, women are likely to remain sidelined.

"The guys you're bringing in are massive and super efficient, so there's just not a lot of space for women in the America's Cup at the moment," she said.

However, the Volvo Ocean Race is slightly different.

During the 2014-2015 season, Barkow was part of an all-women team that competed in the event and finished first in one of the race's 11 legs.

Last season, when Barkow raced with Team Brunel, which finished third out of seven boats, the race's administrators pushed through a rule that encouraged teams to incorporate female sailors into their crews. Rules mandated that teams could use an active crew of seven sailors of one gender and two sailors of another, or a single-gender team of seven.

"In the beginning, most guys were like, 'Forget this, we are only going to sail with seven (people) around the world, but it was a 65-foot racing yacht, so sailing with seven people is really shorthanded," Barkow told the audience. "So then they took one (woman), then they took two, and by the end of the race every boat had two to four women on their team that are rotating around, and the value is so strong, having women (be) a part of your team."

She said there are still times in the Volvo Ocean Race when being a very large person – in the range more typical of a male athlete – is important, like when moving a 400-pound sail, and thus there are some gendered roles, but she said there are generally more opportunities for women to contribute.

She said a friend of hers, an expert navigator who weighs 100 pounds, helped the crew of boat Scallywag win the leg across the Pacific from Melbourne, Australia, to Hong Kong.

"There was nothing about her physical fitness that helped that boat," she said. "It was her knowledge; her skills."

Barkow said she was also encouraged by observing younger women coming up in inclusive racing clubs and competitions.

"They haven't been burned by having more skills, but someone choosing a guy for a job," she said. "Different things like that, that we've all been through."

Overall, Barkow told the crowd she hasn't seen a massive influx of women into the sport, though she said it feels like they do have some momentum.

"A couple of the rules at the top have really filtered down and given women opportunities, and if you look at Olympic sailing, there's a lot of coed disciplines in the sport," she said.

As for Women and Wind, board member Ken Block said he saw a move toward including more women in the sport as necessary for the club, both as part of the club's ethos and as a way to keep the sport relevant. He said when he first joined a club in his hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts, it was composed of only men, and they had to dress in ties and jackets to drink at the club's bar.

Now, fortunately, he said things have changed, though admittedly, the Park City Sailing club did have to search to find women to act as coaches for the day's event.

Statistically, Block and Marsh said they weren't sure exactly how many women the club has, but Marsh said out of 150 full-time members, more than 50 women had expressed interest in Women and Wind.

"This thing is selling out like crazy," Block told the crowd. "We are trying to have maybe three boats a week until fall."

In time, and possibly through the help of incentives and more inclusive clubs, Barkow said she hopes to see more women get the chance to compete at sailing's most prestigious events, and that what happened at last season's Volvo Ocean Race proved that women belong there.

"It was incredible when you saw (the sailors) come together as a team, and you have a female on that just looks at something a little differently," Barkow said. "They gained things they wouldn't have. I'm not saying (women) are magic, but they are different."

For more information on Women and Wind, go to sailpc.org.