Wednesday, March 17, 2010

International Women's Day Then and Now: Women Rocking the World in Their Own Way


This month I’m thinking of all the women in my life, because March 8 was, after all, International Women's Day and this is, by extension, International Women's Month.  The idea itself dates back to 1910. Its historical roots lay in the socialist movement of the late 19th century, and the international celebration of women was first put forth by German Socialist Clara Zetkin, a fervent fighter for workers' and women's rights in late 19th and early 20th century Europe. Zetkin started out as a member of the Socialist Democratic Party in Germany (the SPD – which is, incidentally, the oldest political party in Germany and still one of the major parties today, having governed most recently in a grand coalition with the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union, the CDU/CSU, until late 2009). But she took her fight to the streets early on, even joined the more radical KPD, the German Communist Party, in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the German Revolution of 1918. Unlike her contemporaries such as Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, whose fate came in the form of a bullet, Zetkin managed to keep her head and work within the framework of the German parliament, the Reichstag, most of her life. Her last act as political activist was to fight against National Socialism; she was forced into exile in 1933 when Hitler assumed power, and died later that year in Russia at the age of 76. the framework of the syuste syustearl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxu

But this is not about German politics or history or revolution. This is about how, from all the chaos of the early 20th century, a legacy was born for women. And so, I suggest, even if you don't agree with the politics of Clara Zetkin, you might agree that she was remarkable for her time.

And certainly you’d agree that the women who surround you today are remarkable, too.

Which leads me to reflect on women who have put meaning into my life.  They are not necessarily rebelling in the streets or founding political parties. But they are doing things that are nonetheless worth mentioning here.

I first met Dale in Redondo Beach, California, in the same harbor where we fell in love with Momo. At the time she lived down the dock aboard her Hardin Voyager 44, Estimated Prophet, with her dog Tonka. She was the fittest single mother and grandma I had ever met, a woman with her 100 ton Coast Guard captain's license who supported herself as a delivery skipper and teller of sailing yarns. We only knew each other a couple months as we outfitted Momo for offshore adventures, but it was the kind of friendship that grows out of mutual admiration and respect, and a lot of belly laughs. Dale was the last person we saw when we sailed out of that harbor forever: she stood on the pier with Tonka, waving energetically with her hearty smile.

Since then, Dale has sold her boat, moved back east, launched a yacht delivery business, fallen in love, bought a farm and several horses, and joined her husband in his jewelry design business. On any given day you might find her driving a cat between South America and California, picking menacing icicles from the rigging of another boat on a wintry east coast delivery, head-down in an engine compartment of yet another vessel, galloping through the hilly Pennsylvania countryside atop her horse Leif, baking cookies with her equally energetic grandkids, or choosing stones for the next line-up of designs at Purple Gem Jewelry. She is a force to be reckoned with, Dale is, and I can only say how glad I am that Momo was situated on that particular dock when we flew to Los Angeles to check her out that November day.

 Laura meanwhile is happily ensconced in life in Carlsbad, California, juggling her time between her job as contracting agent, soccer, softball, mother of two, and her expectations as a soon-to-be mother of three. When we first became friends she spent her days as an angler, diver, and sailor. She and her husband took off sailing in 2004 and did a two-year Pacific loop which took them through Mexico, French Polynesia, Niue, Tonga and New Zealand. She was not a sailor to begin with, however, but an avid diver. That passion was ignited when, at sixteen, she took a course which involved walking into the tempestuous surf off a San Diego beach fully loaded down with gear – a day she remembers well since it was predicted by the older, stronger men in the course that this thin-framed blonde would never make it. She, of course, made it all the way, while the tough guys rocked and dropped in the surf around her one by one.

 Laura shares her fondness for diving with her husband, and so they decided to sail the Pacific in search of some of the world’s greatest dive spots. Somewhere between re-rigging, painting, canvaswork, provisioning and in all other ways outfitting their Fantasia 35, Gunner Too, Laura learned how to sail – and sail well. Along the way they met us, and, over several months’ worth of meals and adventures and animated conversation, a permanent friendship formed.  Laura’s eyes light up when you ask her about fishing with her dad. And don’t get her started on lures. "Originally I had a mackerel lure with a wire leader on the line which was hit -- but that fish got away,” she recalls when I ask her about one particularly large wahoo she caught in the Marquesas while her husband was rigging the anchor to the bow in anticipation of landfall after a twenty-eight day passage. “Right afterwards, I tied a black rapala on the line, and that is what this wahoo was caught with -- we had to turn back out to sea in order to give us time to land the monster before we reached the harbor.”  No girl woops a wahoo like Laura. But she’s not just a fisher and diver. She can bleed an engine and serve up mouth-watering sushi all in an afternoon. Not to mention change the oil, take apart a winch, reef down sails, and manhandle any fish who happens to take an interest in her carefully chosen lure.

And then there’s Julia, whom you’ll find these days in Aden. She’s in the second half of her circumnavigation aboard her wooden boat, Macy. She built the boat herself in her home town of Jamestown, Rhode Island, after finding the new wood bare hull. It took nine years from the purchase of the hull to the launch. Julia knew since she was a young kid that she wanted to build her own wooden boat. And when she was ready to build it –  after years of working as crew and mate on schooners, skippering a 40-ton schooner one summer while in college, earning her 100 ton auxiliary sail Coast Guard license when she was 26, working as steward of a yacht club for nine years, and acquiring skills needed to build a boat by working as a finish carpenter over many years –  she did. "I knew I wanted a traditional looking boat made of wood," she says, and adds with her characteristic humor, “What is more romantic and impractical than that?”  But she is a generous soul, my Julia, and she gives credit all around: “The realization of this dream required a divorce, or independence, and the… kind support of my brother…”  In addition, half way through the project a man name Dave wandered into Julia’s life. Dave just happens to own a Rhode Island lumber yard; he soon fell in love with the boat project and became Julia’s friend and partner. He’s still with Julia and the boat, too, sailing toward Masawa Eretria and on the lookout for pirates even as I write.

And while her brother provided occasional hands-on help and financial support of the project, a man named Macy was the inspiration. An old friend and experienced woodworker, Macy was “the guiding light who gave direction during the overwhelming task of decision making…, especially early on." Macy died of cancer before the project was completed, but "he died knowing that he had passed the torch and we would complete the job,” says Julia fondly. And now Macy's namesake is tens of thousands of miles from his resting place, slowly making its way home.

Of course, once you start thinking about all the amazing women you know, you can’t stop. There's Shelly, who can scurry up the mast of her custom built cat faster than you can say Ebeneezer (the name of her boat). There's Jan, who got her Captain's ticket back in 2002 along with her husband Rich so they could start out on equal footing, who has sailed since then up and down both North American coasts, through the Panama Canal, all around the Caribbean.  There's Lisa, who learned to sail so she could take her two kids on a Pacific circumnavigation before they grew up too much.

There's adventurous Arran, calm Nelia, fearless Angie. There are many, many other women I’d love to mention here, in fact – sailors, teachers, artists, writers, divers, doctors, dentists, psychologists, computer scientists, musicians, engineers, mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, lovers, friends, captains, admirals, mates, crew – but this post has to stop somewhere, and I must send my daughters off to school now, so that they too might grow and impact the world, in their own fabulous way.

(this article also appeared in the Women and Cruising blog)