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Take the Helm Conference a Slippery Success

“We're trying to teach women to be more safe and confident on the water,” explained Joan Thayer, co-chair of the conference and president of NWSA, “You don't have to listen to your husband screaming and yelling, you can do your own thing. You can dock the boat—let him be the bumper person!”

On June 2, despite torrential rain and a large surf advisory, members and friends of the National Women’s Sailing Association (NWSA) gathered at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead, MA, for the 11th annual Women’s Sailing Conference, Take The Helm. “We're trying to teach women to be more safe and confident on the water,” explained Joan Thayer, co-chair of the conference and president of NWSA, “You don't have to listen to your husband screaming and yelling, you can do your own thing. You can dock the boat—let him be the bumper person!”

The all-day conference featured four workshop sessions on subjects ranging from sail trim to diesel engine maintenance. “The newest twist this year is Smartphone apps,” said Thayer, “We're trying to be up-to-date and tech-savvy, so we wanted to include an open discussion about which apps are right, and which apps are out there.”

Though the format changes slightly from year to year, the Crew Overboard Session is always a favorite. This year, Pat Marshall led the seminar, and allowed attendees to try out and rig a typical life sling with an actual person in the water. “These are probably the conditions you’ll be in!” said Marshall, raising her voice over the wind as she helped rig the life sling.

The workshops, taught by experienced female sailors, gave attendees the chance to learn skills they might otherwise rely on their partner or friends for while on board. Among this year’s volunteer instructors was Nancy Erley, the two-time circumnavigator who crewed her boat with only women aboard. “This is more for the cruising sailor—making sure and encouraging them that this is the sport for them,” said Thayer.

Following dinner, the NWSA presented Teresa Carey, an inspiring writer and educator who has sailed the entire coastal US, most of British Columbia, Canada, Newfoundland, Bahamas, Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway and the Caribbean. Carey spoke not only about how sailing has been a large part of her life, but also the impact it has had on her perspective on the world, particularly on her interactions with the environment. “That's her focus, on simplicity and taking care of the environment,” said Thayer. “I think it’s good to have a younger person. We've had plenty of more experienced people, like Don Riley, Doris Colgate and Nancy Erley but this year, we started thinking—what’s the younger generation; what are they doing? I think Carey showed us that they focus on the environment and living aboard.”

Carey is currently in the production stages of her newest project, a movie named “One Simple Question” that follows the experience of her and her fiancé as they sail north in search of an iceberg. During their journey, they not only face environmental challenges but also internal challenges that made Carey pose the question: “In a world where our hopes and dreams are overshadowed by the demands of modern society, how do we find and stay true to our own purpose?” In her talk, Carey gave the audience tips for staying strong—in body and in mind—on a boat, particularly as a woman.

From the women in the introduction sailing classes to those in the advanced anchoring courses, the conference was a success. “Everybody loves it,” said Thayer, “Marblehead is a beautiful town, the club seems to like having us, and as you can tell by the enthusiasm of the volunteers, they love it too!”

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