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Women & QCYC (Part 3 of 3)


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By Richard Slee (as published in August 2018 Issue of Clipper Magazine)

This is Part Three in a series of four articles that grew out of research I did at the request of Mark MacRae for historical articles for the Clipper. Part One, published in the May Clipper, gave a history of the first 105 years of women at QCYC. Part Two, published in June, profiled our three women commodores and two other women who, without holding the highest office, made especially notable contributions to the Club. This part will tell the story of the Women Skippers Race. Part Four will be about women who made significant contributions to the Club who have been nominated by members of the Club. It is fitting to reflect on the history of women at QCYC this year, as it marks 100 years of female emancipation in Canada beginning with women suffrage in 1918. It also commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Women Skippers Race.

The information in this article is drawn from club rosters and Clippers, supplemented from interviews and personal correspondence.

The Women Skippers Race is a long tradition at Queen City Yacht Club, though it struggled to be acknowledged as a legitimate club sailing race. As one long-time woman skipper stated when I bemoaned the difficulty in finding information on the race in the Club records said, “Well, you know it was a man’s club back then.” It of course was fine for the ladies of the Club to engage in fun aquatic frolics, as mentioned in the Research Timeline for the Club's Centenary: “JULY 14, 1946 QUEEN CITY YACHT CLUB AQUATIC DAY - SUNDAY There will be fun for everyone on this Annual event so come along and bring your friends. It includes a Sailing race for Ladies and a Tugboat Annie Race (Ladies).”

In the September 1975 Clipper under Racing was this cartoon. A premonition of things to come?Articles in the Clipper in the early 2000s had the race starting in the early 1970s, with Marlyn Macdonald as the founder. However, research indicates that that Norrie and Marlyn Macdonald did not join the Club until1986; the first mention in the Clipper of a "Lady Skippers' Race" was in the 1978 Year End Report of Rear Commodore Mark Loughborough in the November Clipper. “As if we didn't try enough new ideas this year," he wrote, "another one came up toward the end of the season, possessively called by the organizers — Lady Skippers Race. What was meant, I think, was a race in which the Skipper/captain/helmsman is a woman. A great idea which is hereby referred to next year's Sailing Committee for definitions of rules, proof of eligibility etc.” There was no mention of who the organizers were and there would not be until 1993.

Marlyn Macdonald has said that as far as she knows, the Lady Skippers Race was started by Inga Mayerhofer in the 70s. She also thought that Inga got the idea from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Apparently, they did something along the same lines. A thorough examination of the 1970s history of RCYC recorded in the Annals of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club Volume III: 1950-2000 by Lt. Col. Frank Ovens does not find anything like a lady skippers race. However, it does reveal that two of our current members were racing out of RCYC at that time, Doug Harvey and Joanna Kidd. I contacted them. Joanna could not remember such a race occurring at RCYC and Doug was not sure. So, there is a possibility that it was entirely Inga’s idea.

The October 1979 Clipper indicates that the 70th Anniversary Trophy was rededicated that year for the Lady Skippers Race and presented to Sue Grant of Fandango. In the September 1980 Clipper there is a simple announcement with the results of the Lady Skippers Race, first Marilyn Belisle in Tecumseh, second Inga Mayerhofer in Running Free and third Lynn Noack in Time Passage. Marilyn Fife, formerly Belisle, fondly remembers, “It was lots of fun. I really do not remember the details. That was the year I joined the club and it was very exciting for me to win the race. I had lots of encouragement and direction from my crew !!!”

In the December 1981 Clipper the Rear Commodore Klaus Noack announces that the Lady Skippers Race trophy will not be awarded as the race had to be cancelled due to the lack of wind. He is also the first Rear Commodore to announce the Lady Skippers Race as part of his plans in the May 1982 Clipper. The Entertainment Calendar in the July 1982 Clipper shows the Lady Skippers’ Race to be held on August 29, 1982 which was a Sunday but no report on the race or results are announced in the Clipper. In the May 1983 Clipper the Lady Skippers’ Race and dinner is in the club calendar on Sunday August 28, 1983. Debbie Noack on Time Passage won the race.

In the January 1984 Clipper the new Entertainment Chair, Tom Egan announces the “Women” Skippers Race to be held on Sunday, August 26, 1984. I wonder if he was spoken to by some male members as there was some backlash in 1993 when the race was named the “Women Skippers Race” by Marlyn Macdonald? The winner of race in 1984 and the 70th Anniversary cup was Anthea Burden in Tecumseh.

In the May 1985 Clipper the Lady Skippers Race and dinner is schedule for Sunday August 16, 1985. In the June Clipper the race is changed to Pig Roast on September 1st and it is noted that ladies from other clubs can participate but only ladies from QCYC will be awarded flags. The race was rescheduled to September 8 the week after pig roast. There is no further mention in the Clipper of whether it was held, or the trophy awarded.

A review of the 1986 and 1987 Clippers has no mention of the Lady Skippers Race. Finally, in the October Clipper in 1988 the winners of the Lady Skippers’ Race are announced. First Angela Weldon in Commotion, Debbie Ashby in Candy Cane and Dale Sturgess in Time Passage.

In the Club’s Centenary year in 1989 the April 1989 Clipper says the Lady Skippers’ Race is scheduled very early in our Centennial Year on June 4. In the August Clipper the Rear Commodore Ian Douglas thanks Kay Walker “for getting the race off and running”. But no mention as to who won it.

Marlyn Macdonald remembers that previously, the Lady Skippers Race had been held on a Sunday and did not generate a lot of interest; generally, about five boats went out and nothing happened after the race. She won it on their Shark Meltemi one year, which delighted Norrie (Past Commodore 1999-2000) and her to no end, but she felt there was something missing about the event. Her win is recorded in the Clipper “1990 Lady Skippers Race, August 25th, Marlyn Macdonald showed her mettle as she raced to victory in record time. A beautiful day, but we could have used a little more wind especially for the tail enders who we at first thought had decided to sail to Youngstown. Thanks to Marg Shawyer and Kay Walker for their hard work.”

In 1991 the race in not recorded in the March club events calendar. In the 1991 September Clipper the Lady Skippers Race is scheduled for September 15, 1991. This is confirmed in the Rear Commodore report in the November Clipper but no record of who won it. 1992 is not mentioned in the main schedule in May but the Rear Commodore’s report shows it scheduled Saturday July 26, 1992 as the Lady Skippers’ Race but there is nothing stating it was held or who won it.

The March 1993 Clipper announced that the Lady Skippers Race would be held on August 21. Then, in a big change, it was renamed mid-year as the Women Skippers Race. According to Marlyn Macdonald, in 1993 the QCYC Sailing Committee approached her to take over the event and run it, to which she heartily agreed. She had some conditions, though; she said she would only do this if they allowed her to change the name of the event to the Women Skippers Race. She says she felt that there were many women at QCYC "but not all of us were 'ladies.'" Marlyn also wanted to run it on a Saturday so that we could have a party afterwards, and the committee agreed.

In the October 1993 Clipper the Commodore, Wayne Smith, reported that “Marlyn Macdonald did an exceptional job organizing and promoting the Women Skippers Race. There was a significant turnout, over 20 boats, great weather and lots of fun.” In the same issue Ron Mazza, the Rear Commodore, wrote, “Marlyn Macdonald this year organized the best Ladies', make that 'Women Skippers' Race ever in the living memory of Queen City Yacht Club! With over 20 boats participating she also managed to organize a perfect day with great winds and many donated prizes for the winners and participants. Again, from my usually reliable sources, I gather everyone had lots of fun both during the race and at the Pot Luck Barbeque afterward. Keep an eye open for the collector item T-shirts sold to commemorate this historic event. Let's do it again next year, Marlyn.” Marlyn, who was ecstatic about the results, reported in the same Clipper “GOD IS A WOMAN! . . . she must be; we had good winds (not quite Shark weather); a bright, clear day; we had lots of participants--24 boats in all; we had great prizes for everyone; and in keeping with Queen City tradition, we had a great cookout on the lawn followed by a super party.”

Marlyn has fond memories of that first year and shared them with me. “The idea of getting sponsors to put up prizes for the event seemed a logical next step so I approached several people in the sailing world and some non-sailing people who all agreed to supply merchandise. Next, we decided to provide each skipper with a T-shirt with a special QCYC logo and graphics kindly designed by a member, Myron Lasko. I advertised the event around the Club and after much cajoling and threatening, managed to get 17 boats [she got at least 20 according to the Rear Commodore or 24 according to her own report in the Clipper that year] out on the first Women Skippers Race held on a Saturday. We organized a cookout on the lawn following the race and afterwards we had one of the best parties QCYC has ever seen. Member Albert Botha put up the money for the band and brought an incredible bunch of musicians to the Club (he knew these guys through the film industry in which he worked), which made the party all the more successful.”

This success was not accomplished without some friction. In the June 1993 Clipper James McKinlay of Macwing, former Fleet Captain and Vice Commodore, wrote, “Sorry to hear that we no longer have a Lady Skippers Race; it has succumbed to the politically and gender correct mind-set of the present times. QCYC no longer has any ladies, therefore there are no longer any gentlemen in the Club. Too bad. I understand the correct description is: Women Skippers Race. Why?” His mate Eva Strunc would win third place in his boat in the Women Skippers Race run in 1998.

In 1994 Women Skippers Race with band is scheduled and held on August 20. 24 boats participate and Marlyn congratulated again. The Rear Commodore for the first time since 1988 announces the winners and awards the “70th Anniversary Trophy. 1st Lynn Noack on Time Passage, 2nd Beryl West on Enkidu and 3rd Sandy Hodgins on Gannet Cay.

1995 Women Skippers Race is scheduled and held on August 19. The winners of the Women Skippers Race and the 70th Anniversary Trophy were first, Mazzarati, Pam Mazza, second, Enkidu, Beryl West and third Flying Queens, Sari Bercovitch.

Pam Mazza at the helm - taken by Ron MazzaIn 1996 an Entertainment survey gave the Women Skippers’ Race a 7.1 out of 10 and a ranking of 6 out of 15 events. The Rear Commodore Graham Dougal in the July 1996 Clipper is referring to the “The famous Queen City Yacht Race, the Women Skippers is set for Saturday August 20th. I know that everyone is looking forward to it and will support Marlyn Macdonald and her committee.”

There were 29 boats in the race with the top three being 1st Flying Queens - Sari Bercovitch and Tracy Jones, second in Knots Jafs was Kim Noack and third Grasshopper was Franny Ford. They had 51 sponsors for fund raising for Breast Cancer. The Rear Commodore thanked the Women Skippers’ Race Committee, Marlyn Macdonald Chair, Andrea Clark, Carolyn Murray and Judith Poulin.

Twenty-five years later Marlyn shared some more memories with me. She believed that she had run the race for three years, when it was actually six (she must have been having fun). She remembers working well with her committee, "a very enthusiastic team of four, and by that point we were up to 40 participating boats and many sponsors. I decided at that point that it was time to do some charity work--I believe QCYC was not involved with any charity up to this point. I asked Sari Bercovitch to become involved at that time and Sari agreed that we needed to involve a charity and we decided on the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation--seemed logical.”

On July 19, 1997, the Women Skippers Race set a new record with 38 boats participating. thanks again to the hard work of Marlyn Macdonald, Judith Poulin, Andrea Clark and Dianne Taylor, Graham Dougall, Kay Walker and Enid Cridland. Winners first Chaje – Lisa Millen, second Flying Queens – Tracy Jones and third Grasshopper – Fran Ford. The event was televised on the Womens’ TV Network “Out of Bounds." (A video copy was used at the Boat Show to promote QCYC.) Karin Larson also agreed to an interview on the TV Show. Fifty-two companies and individuals had contributed prizes. Marlyn remembers “the race being televised on the Women's Network . . . was a very exciting experience. The TV crew arrived at the Club on the Saturday morning and did some interviews and came out on the water with us on an extremely windy day.”

July 18, 1998 was another record year for Marlyn and her crew. Winners overall Flying Queens, Mary Partridge, Division I first the Flying Queens - Mary Partridge, second Initram - Louise Shubat, third Abracadabra II - Carrie Jackson, Division II first Wiz Pat Whetung, second Rough Bounds - Irmgard Cameron and third Macwing Eva Strunc.

Marlyn said that “the format of the race evolved from the skippers receiving a bag of prizes to each skipper paying a minimum $20 fee to enter. The skippers were encouraged to seek sponsorship from anywhere and everywhere and the money they raised went to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Some of the skippers raised as much as $2,000! Special event T-shirts were provided by sponsors, usually a Club member, and generally the event was very well supported by the membership. Over the next couple of years, I believe we raised $30,000, it may have been more. And the parties got better and better.”

There were two significant developments in 1999, a change of leadership and a special tribute. In the words of the Clipper, "As usual, the Women Skippers Race proved one of the best organized and attended events in the calendar. Credit is due to Sari Bercovitch who took over the job from the race's founder, Marlyn Macdonald. In a tribute to Marlyn's efforts, a splendid Marlyn Macdonald Trophy was donated to the Club by Doug Ward. It will be awarded annually to the Women Skippers Race winner. This year there were 35 boats on the line at the start in ideal conditions for the run out and around the Gibraltar buoy. Overall winner this year was Amanda Karahanas on the Star Special K. Pam Mazza on Mazzarati was second. One of the loudest responses at the awards ceremony following the race was reserved for Inga Mayerhofer who sailed Running Free to third place. As usual, the prizes donated by sponsors would be the envy of any regatta."

Marlyn was ecstatic over “The trophy”: “I think it was the third year I was involved, (actually it was in the sixth year of her involvement and after her last year as Chair) when Doug Ward, a QCYC member, took me aside and informed me that he had bought a trophy and that my name would be engraved on it and it was to be the official Women Skippers Race Trophy. I was quite overwhelmed.”

July 22, 2000 the Women Skippers Race was organized by Sari Bercovitch with 32 boats competing. She was helped by race committee Kay Walker, Judith Poulin and Graham Dougall and the prize committee of Tracy Jones, Maria Araujo, Gerry Karahanas and Marlyn Macdonald. Winners in Division 1 were Special Kay Karahanas, Jade, McDonell, and Simooz, Jones. In Division II 1. Mazzarati, Pam Mazza, 2. Assignment Mary Partridge and One More Time Pat Whetung. They had 65 prize contributors.

The August 25, 2001 Women Skippers Race was for the second time designed to raise money for a charity--fittingly, breast cancer research. The initial idea was to charge each boat an entry fee of $20 and encourage each boat to obtain sponsors to further the donations. The final component was a silent auction of prizes donated by the current sponsors. They also continued the tradition of having a special T-Shirt for the race.

Sari Bercovitch remembers “that one year we held a silent auction and had a jazz concert in the evening. That was the year we raised $30,000. The committee members' husbands all complained because it was an all-consuming project. Then the idea of raising money for charity became less popular and subsequent chairs were unwilling to make the event their life's work, so the charity model was dropped.” Sari also remembers that in “the early years they had a single start, then when the event became more popular Graham (Rear Commodore) had us start according to division. It was a bit less intimidating for inexperienced racers.”

Sari raced for a couple of years as crew for Inga when she first joined the club in the early 80's. According to Sari she was one of the club's best female sailors.

Geri Karahanas also shared her memories of the race with me. She wrote, “We joined the Club in 1995; by then Marlyn Macdonald had taken over the chair for the Women Skippers Race. I personally helped in preparation for many years. In days gone by there was no internet, just the phone and personal visits to potential sponsors. We spent many weeks preparing for the event to happen, with many other women, so that each skipper would receive a special gift donated from individual people or companies. After Marlyn left it became a different chairwoman every year. We had everything from breast cancer donations to silent auctions. Amanda and I chaired it in 2014 and Amanda also with Sandi Chung in 2015.”

The Women Skippers Race is a memorial to the personal commitment of the women of this Club to sailing. It also testifies to a tenacious perseverance to overcome prejudice and to show that they could take their place in the Club's racing as well as leadership.

If any member knows where the 70th Anniversary Cup is I would love to photograph it and record the names of the women who won it.