South Shore sailor advocates for gender equality in sport
It all began with her grandmother’s boat, which was a statement of sorts, although sailor Lesley Taylor accepted it as a fact of life at the time.
But now, fresh off completing the 560-kilometre Route Halifaxst. Pierre Ocean Race, Taylor is advocating for a change in sailing culture akin to her grandmother’s statement from all those years ago: Sailing is for everyone.
“I sort of grew up in this bubble where I thought it was normal for women to own their own boats,” said Taylor, who is from the South Shore. “It was not my grandparents’ boat and I never really questioned that. It was always Grammy’s boat.”
Taylor crewed aboard the sailing vessel Sea Smoke, which finished third in the race, the latest accomplishment in her sailing career. She has competed in many sailing events, won recognition with Sail Nova Scotia and is a master learning facilitator with Sail Canada.
Taylor credits her grandmother and the rest of her family for igniting her passion for sailing.
“I was begging to take sailing lessons when I was six and seven. It’s always been a part of my life,” she said.
And although Taylor loves the sport, she said she is keen to encourage more girls and women to participate.
“Sail Nova Scotia gave me the Female Sailor of the Year Award last year and it’s an honour, but I really wish there were a lot more women out there to sail with and against,” she said.
Taylor was also recognized in 2014 as instructor of the year by Sail Nova Scotia.
According to Taylor, the world of competitive sailing is mostly male-dominated, although that might not be clear if you look only at youth participation. She said it is not until around the teenage years that the gender ratio becomes noticeably skewed, and it becomes worse if you look at competitive one-design keelboat racing.
Taylor pointed to the crew numbers at Chester Race Week — the largest keelboat sailing event in North America — as an example of sailing’s lack of diversity.
“I looked at the previous three years of Chester Race Week — ’15, ’16 and ’17 — and I think I counted over 200 unique individual male skippers and less than 20 female.”
The key factor in encouraging gender equality, said Taylor, begins with acceptance and mentorship. She credits her own mentor, Craig Guthrie, for taking her coaching skills to the next level.
“You need someone to help you become a better coach,” she said.
Taylor advocates women leading by example but also welcomes male role models who are willing to have females on their boats and in their programs.
“Somehow, that can be pretty difficult to find.”
For her part, Taylor said she is enjoying her experiences, both coaching and sailing competitively, citing that she is at home on the water and it all began with her grandmother’s sense of independence.
“Everything else they owned was Grammy and Grampy’s, but Grammy had a sailboat.”
Lesley Taylor, who won Sail Nova Scotia’s Female Sailor of the Year Award, says that she hopes more women become involved in the sport.