Sail­ing Noire

Ayme Sin­clair wants to change the face of sail­ing

SAIL - - Under Sail -

New York na­tive Ayme Sin­clair didn’t grow up sail­ing but she’d al­ways loved the wa­ter, so when a friend of­fered to take her out on a Sonar, she didn’t have to think twice about agree­ing. She was in­stantly hooked and sailed on ev­ery boat she could get on, even­tu­ally find­ing a per­ma­nent po­si­tion on the J/109 Sweet Caro­line.

Ayme soon no­ticed that she didn’t see any teams on the wa­ter that looked like hers—di­verse, co-ed mil­len­ni­als—so she cre­ated an In­sta­gram to share Sweet Caro­line’s ad­ven­tures. This In­sta­gram proved such a suc­cess that Ayme de­cided to make a career change and be­come her own boss, work­ing in so­cial me­dia man­age­ment. “It al­lowed me the free­dom to travel and sail as much as pos­si­ble,” she says.

When pre­par­ing for one of these trips, she re­al­ized that her stay in Lamu, Kenya, would co­in­cide with the area’s cel­e­brated dhow race. She knew she couldn’t pass up the op­por­tu­nity to sail and set to work putting to­gether a team, de­spite the fact that the race had his­tor­i­cally been lim­ited to men. A Kenyan tele­vi­sion sta­tion caught wind of the Amye’s all-fe­male team and sent a crew to cover them. The crew in­cluded not only a few friends from the United States, but women from Ethiopia, Kenya and Liberia.

There was just one prob­lem. “We had one day to prac­tice, and I was the only one who knew how to sail,” she says. To com­pli­cate mat­ters, the names of ev­ery­thing on the boat were in Swahili. Then there was the woman she met in Lamu who told her to quit be­cause it was dan­ger­ous, and women weren’t strong enough to han­dle the dhows (which don’t have winches). She in­sisted they’d flip the boat and risk drown­ing.

Un­de­terred, the team used their one day of prac­tice well, so that a few hours in, as Ayme puts it, “There was this mo­ment where it just clicked like a light switch. I felt this im­mense sense of pride, like ‘we can do this.’”

The day of the race came and so did a huge crowd (in­clud­ing the woman who’d dis­cour­aged them from tak­ing part).

“We beat her hus­band, and he ended up be­ing the one who flipped his boat. Twice!” Ayme re­calls. “The best part was after­ward, the men told us that their sis­ters and cousins and wives who’d seen us sail were ask­ing the men to teach them.” See­ing the all-fe­male team com­pete, Ayme says, made the women watch­ing re­al­ize what was pos­si­ble for them. “The idea that you can change the way peo­ple see them­selves with sail­ing is so em­pow­er­ing.”

Af­ter her suc­cess in the dhow race, Amye was in­spired to con­tinue push­ing for di­ver­sity in sail­ing. “Sail­ing changed my life. I have this re­newed pas­sion to spread that be­yond me and our team.” And so she started Sail­ing Noire, a move­ment aimed at chang­ing the face of sail­ing by bring­ing new peo­ple to the sport.

“There are re­ally three things the sail­ing com­mu­nity can do to be­come more in­clu­sive,” she says. “They can reg­is­ter with Go Sail­ing, which is an app that helps peo­ple look­ing for crew get con­nected with peo­ple they don’t know who want to sail. They can ask their sail­ing cen­ter or club to host pro­grams that get young kids in their com­mu­nity in­volved, like Ad­ven­ture Sail. And fi­nally, they can just in­vite peo­ple who don’t look like the peo­ple you nor­mally see sail­ing to come sail­ing with them.”

As for Ayme, she’s al­ready plan­ning her next trip back to Africa where she’ll visit com­mu­ni­ties all over the con­ti­nent to help set up sail­ing pro­grams. To keep up with Ayme, fol­low sail­ing­noire on In­sta­gram. —Ly­dia Mul­lan

Ayme (left) had just one day to train her crew once she ar­ried in Kenya

The dhow race is among Lamu’s great­est at­trac­tions

Ayme’s goal is to em­power com­mu­ni­ties with sail­ing

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