We caught up with Anna Mourou Lange, Founder of She Captain, a network organisation that is encouraging and helping women worldwide to take the helm, learn from each other and be confident sailors. Anna told us how women are feeling about sailing…
Sweden is known for being in the forefront when it comes to gender equality, but something happens when we get on our boats – it’s like we travel back to the 1950s. The country has the most small boats per capita in the world and we love our boats and archipelago. For most of us, sailing is something we do all summer long. During my childhood my family sailed six to eight weeks every summer, but I’d see very few women taking the helm.
A lack of women at the helm
One of Sweden’s largest insurance companies, Svedea surveys boat owners each year about habits and attitudes. In 2017, the survey revealed over 85% of men took the helm most of time and 8 out of 10 didn’t believe their partner would be able to handle the boat if something were to happen to them while out at sea. 8 out of 10! I thought to myself that this has to stop.
After another summer sailing for five weeks and still not seeing even one other woman taking the helm while berthing, I decided to do something. This is when I started the network She Captain. My aim is to get more women to gain the confidence to take the helm and feel free in their boat life. What I’ve learnt is that we need is more role models, support and encouragement from each other, including men.
The different approaches to sailing
Over the years I have talked to hundreds of women to understand why most take on the role of deckhand on the boats that they part-own. Women told me they generally want to feel like they know what they are doing before they do it. They take courses, read books and then wait until they feel confident enough to sail and berth their boat without making the slightest mistake. But that waiting can go on for years.
In contrast, men just do it and are more relaxed if they get it wrong. If they don’t feel comfortable doing something, they just do it anyway. This means they get all the practice they need to become really secure skippers. So it all comes down to practice, nothing more mysterious than that.
Issues women face
In Sweden, men in general no longer diminish women openly. Of course we still have to deal with situations where a man will talk to your partner about boat engines instead of looking at you, even if you are asking the questions. Yet when a woman takes the helm and berth, people are generally positive and helpful, even if it’s not executed perfectly. Sadly, I have heard stories from other countries where women are being called names or receive zero support when wanting to try. So we all have different struggles, some harder than others. But if we want a change, we have to start now. Both women and men.
The She Captain movement
Within She Captain we have organised women-only sailing squadrons. There are so many women that own boats with their partners but they never get out on them alone with their friends. So She Captain has matched beginner sailors with experienced female sailors. This has been so popular. Last September in the Stockholm archipelago we had 50 women on 12 boats. Several women came out on their boats without their partners for the first time after owning the boat and sailing for over 20 years. This year are we arranging similar sailings in the Mediterranean together with our ambassador Dream Yacht Charter.
Women just have to get out and practice and She Captain wants to be the push that gets women out at sea. We want to inspire more women to take charge and highlight all the women that already do it. Unfortunately we just don’t see them because sailing magazines are written by men for men. This is why we write articles and columns, give advice on social media, arrange meet ups and kick ass sailing opportunities, everything we can to get more women to become free in their boat lives.
After gaining popularity in Sweden, we are now going international starting with a European Facebook group and then developing our homepage in English. We are now reaching out to find She Captains all over Europe and ambassadors who wants to be a part of the movement. Interested? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and join us on Facebook.