In a male dominated sport, opportunities for women have not always come easily. Change is not always swift, but one Northern California club is now shattering the ceiling with two hallmark movements.
At the 2018 Annual General Meeting of the membership of the St. Francis Yacht Club, as the club welcomed in its first female Commodore, Theresa Brandner, it also awarded Nicole Breault with the Club’s highest honor – the Jerome B. White Yachtsman of the Year – which recognizes the member who has made the greatest contribution to the sport of yachting during the preceding year.
Breault, whose contributions to the sport of yachting ran the gamut from competitor to coach to volunteer, reflects on the achievement:
I am blown away by the notion that my name joins such a weighty list of names in the club’s history, and many with great fame in the sailing world. I am deeply moved by this acknowledgement of my racing and contributions to the club, even more so by the symbolic gesture to grant a woman the rank of yachtsman.
I hold a deep respect for the women in competitive sailing who have preceded me with successful racing careers, as well as for the female competitors who have challenged me on the water and have helped make me the competitor I am today. All of these tenacious women have had to struggle against the inertial forces of a sport historically enjoyed by men alone, and by doing so they carved a sphere of accomplishment within the wider field.
When a woman achieves distinction as “yachtswoman,” the recognition is loaded with gender-specific importance, and the title is loaded with the legacy of women in the sport. Kudos to those leading ladies of the sailing world, and especially to rockstar foiling kite world champion Daniela Moroz, US Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year for 2016 and repeat StFYC Yachtswoman of the Year for 2017.
Whether intended or not, in naming me the StFYC Yachtsman of the Year for 2017, the club has made a huge statement to neutralize the gender qualification of this top award. Perhaps the name of this honor should change to “yachtsperson,” and yet in delaying such a change while awarding it to me, we see the cultural paradigm of our past and its sticky influence on gender disparity in sailing laid bare.
Over time, the courage of female sailors and their male advocates has eroded the rules of exclusivity, and using me as an example, the StFYC has made a bold move naming me their 2017 Yachtsman of the Year. Were that merely for a successful racing record, it would be significant enough.
However, the club also focused attention on my efforts to bring more women into sailing and create opportunities to advance their skills, thus amplifying the message and mission of inclusiveness going forward.
I’ve been racing all my life and I’ve only ever wanted to be among the best of the best and earn their respect by winning on the water…
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