I’m American by birth; I was raised in the coastal part of Boston, Massachusetts. I learnt dinghy sailing when I was about ten years old at a summer school. It was this time that I was becoming aware that I was gay. Lots of kids spend a lot of time pretending to be someone else, but taking part in sailing helped me to drop that mask – I didn’t have time to be secretive, I had to focus. Although I didn’t leave the course being an expert sailor, the confidence that gave me in myself was amazing.
This never really left me. The memory of being out there in a boat, being part of and responsible for a team – it had a massive impact on me and one that made me realise I wasn’t damaged goods. I did have a lot of skills and, even though I didn’t connect it at the time, those skills followed me through life.
It all came down to the sailing. I came to the UK when I was 19, and I’ve lived here for 45 years, marrying and now living between London and Norfolk. I’ve always been interested in sailing and felt an affinity with water, so last year I decided to get involved again and joined the Sailing & Cruising Association, an LGBT+ sailing group in the UK. It’s been great to meet like-minded people.
Joining the RYA has changed some of my expectations. Coming out repeatedly is really boring when you’re forever having to introduce yourself, but nobody has batted an eyelid. In fact, I’m having to overcome some of my own prejudices of what I think people are like.
When I saw the announcement about the RYA LGBTQIA+ group I felt obligated to respond, because if an older person like me doesn’t put themselves forward, why should an 18-year-old? At our socials, I’ve talked with people about how they got into sailing and often they started as children with their families, but once they got to a certain age they felt shut out as they didn’t see anyone similar to them. This is why the addition of the rainbow flag on RYA social channels is absolutely fantastic.
I’ve successfully applied for a place on the Clipper Round the World Race 2023, sailing from South America to South Africa in 2023, then from the US East Coast to the UK in 2024.
Most of my close friends were surprised because in a lot of LGBTQIA+ circles sailing isn’t the first thing you associate with our community. That’s why it’s important to increase our visibility.
Speaking specifically from a LGBTQIA+ community, the biggest challenge we face is the reaction of other people. I’d love to join a yacht club on the same terms as anybody else, but I’m still not sure what kind of reception I’d get. There’s a big difference between being tolerated and being accepted; people are often tolerant but not necessarily accepting. You can only be successful at something if you feel comfortable bringing your whole self.
Sailing for anyone, at any age, is about learning something new, about building confidence. Whether you’re gay or straight, it’s about being challenged and making friends. Sailing pushes you out of your comfort zone and being out on the water is just amazing.