A blog by Amy Baska
In 2018, I told a dear friend that I wanted an adventure. She suggested that I take a sailing class. That was an absolutely bonkers idea for two reasons. The first reason is that I had never been on a boat before. The second reason is that she knew that I had a fear of the ocean. I tried to clarify to her exactly what I wanted; something completely new, a challenge that would push my boundaries. She gave me the type of long-suffering look that only the truest of friends can hurl at you and replied, “Yes, it sounds like you need to learn how to sail.”
I met her halfway on the idea. I got the adventure that I wanted by flying to Guadeloupe, an island that I had never been to and where I did not speak the primary language. Then I stepped aboard my first boat, and learned to sail on the way to Saint Martin. By the time I arrived in Marigot, I knew that my friend was right. Sailing was what I needed.
From that point on, I went sailing whenever I could. I loved being an adventurous, perpetual student…I was excited to get out there and learn new skills! However, after multiple negative interactions with men in the recreational sailing community, my enthusiasm was dimming. Then I had an encounter with a male captain whose startling behavior severely damaged my confidence in my sailing skills. I was shaken and questioning if I wanted to continue sailing. Luckily an email came from my library that the DVD of “Maiden” was ready for me to pick up from the loan desk. As I watched it, I thought, “That, that is what I want.” I had never been sailing with a majority female crew, let alone an all-female crew, and I wanted that experience of sailing with a crew of strong and skilled female sailors. I wondered if there were all-female recreational sailing groups that were local to me…heck, I wondered where Maiden was.
An online search led me to the Maiden Factor and information on their Mile Builder program. It was the perfect opportunity to sail with and to learn from women who are professionals in the maritime community. Fingers crossed I submitted my CV. Since I was a recreational sailor and (in my opinion) a novice, I was both surprised and honored to be accepted as a Mile Builder on the Charleston to Annapolis leg. To be able to stand at the helm of a legendary boat, to sail with her crew and learn from them…I enthusiastically said yes!
After two years of being landlocked due to the pandemic, I was excited to be able to get out on the water again for some serious sailing.
When I flew to Charleston to meet Maiden and her crew, I was equal parts excited and hesitant. After two years of being landlocked due to the pandemic, I was excited to be able to get out and do some serious sailing again. But I was also deeply unsure of myself. This was my first time sailing since that awful last trip, and my confidence was still damaged. In a way, my spiritual sea legs were still shaky. I was uncertain how I would fit into the Maiden crew as a recreational sailor, but at a minimum, I had two hopes. First, I hoped that as a novice amongst pros that I would be expected to be a useful member of the crew to the level of my ability and comfort. Second, I hoped that I would be able to learn something new that would expand my personal sailing skills from the crew.
I am pleased to report that those two hopes were in fact two realities.
When I met the crew and the skipper of Maiden in Charleston, I was relieved to find out that I would stand watch, help with duties, and clean my dishes, just like everyone else. No one seemed to mind that I had the least amount of sailing experience, nor that I asked questions, nor that I wrote some things down for quick reference in a notebook. The crew asked me questions in return to gauge my level of experience, waited while I took my notes, and supplied more information without hesitation or exasperation when I requested additional details. As we prepared for departure, I felt my shoulders drop as I unconsciously started to relax.
And because I felt surrounded by an atmosphere that felt safe and supportive, I was able to focus exclusively on sailing. I had never been able to focus all of my energy on just sailing before.
On route to Annapolis and thanks to the time aboard Maiden, I gained a whole new set of practical on-the-water experiences. I now have night watch and night sailing experience. I now have the experience of sailing through a squall. I had my first ever brush with being seasick (0/10, would not recommend) and learned about the benefits of electrolyte tabs. I had more cumulative time at the helm of Maiden than I had in my entire previous sailing experience. I learned a neat new trick to feed a line through a clutch.
Those practical experiences would not have been possible for me without the atmosphere created onboard by the crew of Maiden. Each one of those women communicated clearly, shared information transparently, gave explanations of actions freely, offered and received help graciously, and maintained politeness and courtesy throughout all conditions, situations, and hours. It was extraordinary to see each member of the crew act with such consistent integrity. This pattern of reliable individual actions quickly created an atmosphere where I felt safe to make a mistake, learn something new, tell someone that I felt sick, share a laugh, or be silent and sit with my thoughts. And because I felt surrounded by an atmosphere that felt safe and supportive, I was able to focus exclusively on sailing. I had never been able to focus all of my energy on just sailing before. That was a revelation for me, and those spiritual sea legs were a lot steadier by the time I stepped onto the dock in Annapolis.
Looking back at the experience as a Mile Builder, the opportunity to sail Maiden was the adventure that I wanted, but it turns out that the experience of sailing with the crew of Maiden is what I truly needed to start restoring my confidence as a sailor. Now that I have experienced sailing with a crew that generates a supportive atmosphere with the fidelity of their individual actions, I don’t want to settle for anything less going forward. Liz, Erica, Marie, Ami, Simone; thank you. All y’all are literally the best. Fair winds and following seas until you are safe at home again.