Sail On, Patience

- By Wendy Mitman Clarke Keep on sailing, Wendy

When I was growing up with SAIL magazine, Patience Wales was the editor. I was maybe 18 when I pitched my first story to her. She politely declined and encouraged me to keep trying. When I was asked, many moons later, to become editor of SAIL, the irony wasn’t lost on me. Nor was the sense of responsibi­lity and legacy. Patience had retired in 2001, but her shoes were still the ones that, in my mind, I was attempting to fill as an editor, as a sailor, and as a woman in a male-dominated sport and career. I didn’t fool myself for a minute that I actually could.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and that’s how I have always felt about Patience Wales. When she died in February at age 89, something deep and abiding as an oceanic current shifted. Her obituary on page 13 describes her life, loves, and accomplish­ments, including two circumnavi­gations. But I wanted to bring her even more into focus here, on the editor’s page she helmed for so long. So, I asked some people who knew and worked with her to offer their stories. A few characteri­stics quickly stood out. Forcefulne­ss. Energy. Mentorship.

“Patience was a gentle but powerful force of nature that belied her size,” said Scott Coe, an assistant editor. “When she walked, she leaned forward, seemingly on a mission, and I suppose she was. It was how she leaned into life in general.”

“She was like the Energizer rabbit. She never stopped,” said

Gail Anderson, an assistant editor and then associate editor. “Patience had a great sense of humor...emphatic, ironic, and always funny. But she is probably best known for her incredibly high energy and ‘just do it’ attitude. She was in the South Pacific on her second circumnavi­gation when she interviewe­d for the position of editor. She jumped on a plane and many exhausting hours later arrived in Boston. She got the job and jumped on another plane and returned to the Pacific.”

Her self-assurance, Gail said, inspired others. “She encouraged women to get into sailing and supported the female staff members. During my 20 years on the SAIL editorial staff, I probably would not have been as confident going out there and doing things such as racing to Cuba and chartering in Greece.”

Anne Gram, who worked at SAIL from 1977 to 1984 as assistant art director and then art director, said Patience’s counsel at a pivotal moment, when she had a chance to work for the Olympic Committee, was invaluable. “I was in flux on whether to resign or stay. Patience gave me the best advice: ‘Profession­ally you should stay, personally you should go.’ I took her personal advice…i’ve always thanked her for that. There are a group of women from SAIL who realize what a mentor she was to all of us, truly one of a kind.”

Michael Tamulaites, who became racing editor, said all it took was one meeting with Patience to decide to take a job at SAIL out of college rather than race in an Olympic Star campaign. “I moved to Boston and with her as my guide enjoyed many years of creating a tremendous magazine with a magical group of people.”

He recalls a day when Patience invited everyone to go sailing on Boston Light, “the Skye 51 she, her boat partners, and her future husband, Knowles Pittman, had sailed around the world. She was so at home onboard, so utterly happy with her great broad smile ever present as we beat out Buzzard’s Bay into a perfect, blustery sea breeze toward Cuttyhunk Island…we learned a lot about each other that day and formed bonds that remain carbon strong.”

“To this day,” said Scott Coe, “when I hear ‘If I Had a Boat’ by Lyle Lovett, I think of returning from Bermuda on Boston Light, my first legitimate offshore passage, that set in me a deep-rooted love for not only the sea, but for what lies beyond the horizon. And anchored Patience and Knowles into my life as people who lived life all in.”

As a boss, he said, she was, “Encouragin­g. Instructiv­e. Collaborat­ive. With the grace to accommodat­e the inevitable guardrails her young charges always seemed to bump into at the magazine. She set a bar I spent most of my career trying to achieve for myself.”

Bernadette Bernon, who became editor at Cruising World, said Patience was “a real force–highly competitiv­e and intellectu­ally energetic. She intimidate­d me, to be honest.” As rival editors, they were not particular­ly friends. But Bernadette was good friends with Patience’s stepson, Freeman Pittman, who was diagnosed with ALS. At a boat show, when he was in a motorized wheelchair, they met up and “rolled around, laughing at our old inside jokes, just enjoying the day. We rounded a corner in one of the tents, ran into a stern-looking Patience, and stopped, feeling like we’d been caught with our hands in the cookie jar. She rushed over and hugged me. A few months later, at Freeman’s funeral, she said she’d had no idea he and I were friends, and that she’d loved seeing someone still treating him like a normal person.”

After that, she and Patience got to know each other better, “and I grew to care about her in a whole new way. Oh, I never let my back down, though; she remained a force!”

“I loved working with Patience, she knew exactly what she wanted, and the results spoke for themselves,” said Onne van der Wal. “She played a pivotal role in my early days as a profession­al marine photograph­er, and I am very grateful for her guidance.” Photograph­er Neil Rabinowitz shot freelance and also wrote stories for SAIL. “She understood that sailing was often a journey of self discovery for every kind of sailor, not just voyagers, and pushed me to capture that magic in my photos and my words. I recall Patience losing patience with me numerous times as she encouraged me to be better at my craft. Thank you, Patience.”

“Patience was one of those delights who seized life, and she was great fun on charters—as ready to crank a winch as to uncork a bottle of local plonk,” said writer Chris Caswell, who worked with Knowles Pittman. “I don’t think there was a harbor in the Caribbean she couldn’t sail into without someone yelling, ‘Hiya, Patience!’

“I’m sure that’s going to be the case when she gets to Heaven, where she’ll join sailing friends from around the world.”

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