Wahine sailing contributions recognized

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 11/24/01)
By Ray Pendleton

There was a time in centuries past that women were considered bad luck aboard ships of the sea.

Those were the days of "iron men and wooden ships," and the only fair maiden allowed aboard was the figurehead carved into a vesselšs stem.

In fact, even in recent years, there were more than a few women in Honolulu who wondered if things had really changed all that much.

About eight years ago, one of them, Wendy Gibson, took it upon herself to conduct an informal survey of the male/female ratio aboard the sailboats taking part in the weekly Friday night "beer can" races out of the Ala Wai harbor.

Gibson noted not only how many of either sex were on board each boat, but also how often the helm was in a woman's hands.

Her figures proved what she had already suspected. Women accounted for about a third of the crew member tally, but only two of the 31 boats were being driven by women.

With the hope of inspiring more women to become more than "movable ballast," Gibson and a few of her friends founded the Hawaii Women's Yacht Racing Association (HWYRA).

Not surprisingly, since its formation, HWYRA has become an important part of O`ahu's larger sailing organization, the Hawaii Yacht Racing Association (HYRA), and its members contribute substantially to its success.

Appropriately, since 1987, HYRA has honored the women sailors of O`ahu by presenting the John M. "Doc" Wilson Memorial Trophy to the Yachtswoman of the Year.

The trophy is awarded to women "who significantly support, contribute to and participate in sailing, in the areas of instruction, racing, cruising, or as outstanding race committee members or volunteers."

At HYRA's annual banquet last Saturday evening, this year's award was, fittingly, presented to one of the founders of the HWYRA, Lyn Silva.

"In the mid 1970s, (Silva) was attracted to sailing, but had a hard time figuring how to get on a boat," presenter Susan Harper related.

"So, with her typical blindness to barriers, she hired on to build a racing boat from the keel up. Thus began her commitment to boats ..."

"She raced for years on the West Coast - from the (San Francisco) Big Boat Series to the (Newport Beach to) Ensenada (Mexico) race," Harper continued.

"She sailed with Dennis Conner at the San Diego Yacht Club, she was a mate on a 'tall ship,' and since she likes to talk a lot, she ran the cruisers' shortwave radio net in Cabo San Lucas.

"(Silva) is very modest about the experience and skills she brought to our racing community when she arrived here in the late 1980s," Harper noted.

"I think everyone in this room accepts her presence on the race course as a given," Harper said. "In fact, if the crew lists were engraved on all the trophies presented this evening, her name would be on each one - more than once."

Silva's name was on the 2001 Yachtswoman of the Year award though, and when she received it, she was given a standing ovation.

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