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A Valentine’s Guide for All My ‘Fella’ Sailors Out There

I love you guys. You’ve taught me how to service my heat exchanger, helped me carry new house batteries from the chandlery to my car, and given me many a nice, cold beer at the end of a long, sweaty day of boat work. You think it’s cute when there’s grease under my fingernails, and you’re charmed by the way the sea breeze ruddies my cheeks and teases my locks into a state so ocean-wild that even a kelp forest would be envious. When I seek romance, you’re the only ones I consider; you smell like the salt air and you know how to work with your hands (something that makes this millennial girl swoon). However, in friendship or amour, it’s clear that you’re still trying to figure out how to talk to my kind in this modern age. So, my dear Jack Tar, allow me to guide you toward more companionable relations with the fairer sex, and perhaps someday you’ll even find one of us by your side as you sail toward those enchanting islands of plumeria and coconuts.

The author contemplates the evolving dynamic of a young woman sailing into a man’s waters.
© 2020 Elana Connor

In order to become one of our favorite fellows, start by befriending us as you would any sailor. Racing, cruising, or daysailing, most of the women I know are looking for a mate first, not a mate. We love the company of other sailors, and you’ll be a welcome new friend if you only treat us as if we’re more than just the sum of our, ahem, parts. Be a genuine pal, or we’ll quickly see right through your feeble attempts to get us into your bunk, and you’ll be left — friendless — in our wake.

Approach every gal you meet on or near the water as though she is a strong, confident, competent sailor. Assume we know what we’re doing, and that our suggestions under sail are as valid as those of your race crew’s tactician. In fact, assume that we’re all captains, and we know more about sailing and diesel maintenance than you do. Even if it’s not true, we’ll feel empowered by your assumptions, and if it is true, you won’t have put your foot in it and crushed a budding friendship.

Elana Connor singlehanded to the South Pacific last spring before heading to New Zealand.
© 2020 Elana Connor

Gone are the days when women were considered bad luck on boats. In fact, many race skippers I know swear that the boat sails faster when there’s a woman on the crew. So, invite us to race and sail as though it would be an honor to have us aboard. We’ll be excited to go with you if we know that you appreciate us as more than deck-orations.

Once we’re on the water together, ask us what we know before explaining something to us (or as we millennials say, “mansplaining” it to us). Since our bits have nothing to do with the skills required aboard a yacht, try not to show surprise when we prove ourselves quite knowledgeable. There’s nothing more flattering than someone treating you as if you’re smart, right? We competent women sailors don’t have any time for men who talk down to us . . . we just assume that’s their way of telling us that they don’t appreciate capable, strong women, and we’d rather go sailing with someone who does.

“You’re a real catch,” said the capitana to these fish.
© 2020 Elana Connor

If you’ve mastered these skills, and you want to kick it up a notch, make sure that when we’re with you on the water, everyone treats us like equals. If you ask us to trim a sail, handle a line, or take the helm, and you see another bloke step in to take over, remind him that we’re badass sailors, and that he might want to step back, watch, and learn. If you hear him boorishly ruining our gorgeous day on the water by practicing the same tactless flirtation he used at the local dive bar back in college, feel free to mention that we’re all actually there to sail. There’s no faster way to a sailor girl’s heart than to treat her with respect — and insist your buddies do, too.

Finally, if you think there’s a chance at romance, the best way to stand out from the crowd that’s knocking down our hatchboards is to let us make the first move. Otherwise, you’re likely to get lost in that sea of men, and spook just the kind of mermaid you were seeking. Most of us are salty enough that we’ll be quite clear about what we want if we want it. Remember that even if we’re not amorously inclined toward you, we make terrific friends, and we can hold the backside of a through-deck fastener as well as the next fellow.

If you’re a sailor, then your true love is probably the sea. But dogs also compete for sailors’ hearts.
© 2020 Elana Connor

My race skipper back home always jokingly says, “You know I’m a big fan of women.” The truth is, us women are a big fan of you guys, too. There’s no one we’d rather bond with as we adjust the valve clearance on our engine, or as we sip a navy grog at sundown. My favorite cruising friend (and most frequent dinner guest) out here is a singlehander man 20 years my senior, with whom I can lose hours debating the superiority of roller furling versus hank-on foresails. What’s the secret to my unwavering delight in his company?

He just treats me like a sailor.

Elana Connor has been contributing to Latitude during her singlehanded circumnavigation. She’s also featured on the Out The Gate Sailing podcast. Click here to hear part 2 of her interview


  1. David Schullery 1 year ago

    Well said Elana! Too bad it’s necessary…

  2. Robbie Cleveland 1 year ago

    I’ve Been Sailing now for over 55 years, Sailing 95% of that time without a motor.
    Elana, in today’s Sailing World,I would have to say there are probably more Women then Men who Actually can Sail.
    Good On Ya for your Views😊😊😊
    S/V Kialani

  3. peter metcalf 1 year ago

    “Remember that even if we’re not amorously inclined toward you, we make terrific friends, and we can hold the backside of a through-deck fastener as well as the next fellow.”

  4. Gus 1 year ago

    WOW, that’s a heck of an earful of a talk-down by someone with an over-rated sense of self (or might it be a lack thereof?). It is unfortunately pretty typical these days for people who are just beginning to get a whiff of life to lecture others on what is wrong with them because they already have it all figured out. The name Greta Thunberg comes to mind.

    It’s funny to me when some people make it abundantly clear they have not a clue of what they don’t know. It is sad and does not bode well for their future when that inevitable reality check comes their way!

    • Erin 1 year ago

      Sounds like someone’s feathers got ruffled!

  5. Katie 1 year ago

    Well said Elana! Gents take note.

  6. Bob 1 year ago

    Many good points Elana, well said. I treat female guests on my boat the same as male guests, essentially you all need watching until I know your capabilities, for the safety of everyone and the boat. Unfortunately that often means that I as the responsible person has to assume maybe a little less knowledge and experience is available. I spend a lot of time teaching all my new sailing friends and it is a fine line to walk to get it right so that everyone develops capabilities and self-esteem while safely having a good time. Funny thing is sometimes I need to take Shilo out solo, for an easy stress free day.

  7. Don Rees 1 year ago

    Years as an airline captain has taught me that this comes naturally to some men, and is a struggle for others. The words Pride, Ego, and Humility come to mind.

  8. Katy moyes 1 year ago

    The older I get the more I see women moving into amazing futures and I watch in awe.Sometimes I wonder if men are a bit stymied by their genetics.I agree ,there is something awesome when a male sailor of any age focuses on your sailing wisdom .Well and aptly written .thankyou.

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