New York native Ayme Sinclair didn’t grow up sailing but she’d always loved the water, so when a friend offered to take her out on a Sonar, she didn’t have to think twice about agreeing. She was instantly hooked and sailed on every boat she could get on, eventually finding a permanent position on the J/109 Sweet Caroline.
Ayme soon noticed that she didn’t see any teams on the water that looked like hers—diverse, co-ed millennials—so she created an Instagram to share Sweet Caroline’s adventures. This Instagram proved such a success that Ayme decided to make a career change and become her own boss, working in social media management. “It allowed me the freedom to travel and sail as much as possible,” she says.
When preparing for one of these trips, she realized that her stay in Lamu, Kenya, would coincide with the area’s celebrated dhow race. She knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sail and set to work putting together a team, despite the fact that the race had historically been limited to men. A Kenyan television station caught wind of the Amye’s all-female team and sent a crew to cover them. The crew included not only a few friends from the United States but women from Ethiopia, Kenya and Liberia.
There was just one problem. “We had one day to practice, and I was the only one who knew how to sail,” she says. To complicate matters, the names of everything on the boat were in Swahili. Then there was the woman she met in Lamu who told her to quit because it was dangerous, and women weren’t strong enough to handle the dhows (which don’t have winches). She insisted they’d flip the boat and risk drowning.
Undeterred, the team used their one day of practice well, so that a few hours in, as Ayme puts it, “There was this moment where it just clicked like a light switch. I felt this immense sense of pride, like ‘we can do this.’”
The day of the race came and so did a huge crowd (including the woman who’d discouraged them from taking part).
“We beat her husband, and he ended up being the one who flipped his boat. Twice!” Ayme recalls. “The best part was afterward, the men told us that their sisters and cousins and wives who’d seen us sail were asking the men to teach them.” Seeing the all-female team compete, Ayme says, made the women watching realize what was possible for them. “The idea that you can change the way people see themselves with sailing is so empowering.”
After her success in the dhow race, Amye was inspired to continue pushing for diversity in sailing. “Sailing changed my life. I have this renewed passion to spread that beyond me and our team.” And so she started Sailing Noire, a movement aimed at changing the face of sailing by bringing new people to the sport.
“There are really three things the sailing community can do to become more inclusive,” she says. “They can register with Go Sailing, which is an app that helps people looking for crew get connected with people they don’t know who want to sail. They can ask their sailing center or club to host programs that get young kids in their community involved, like Adventure Sail. And finally, they can just invite people who don’t look like the people you normally see sailing to come sailing with them.”
As for Ayme, she’s already planning her next trip back to Africa where she’ll visit communities all over the continent to help set up sailing programs. To keep up with Ayme, follow sailingnoire on Instagram.
Photos courtesy of Ayme Sinclair