Commodore at the Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs and a Director of the Southern California Yachting Association
Kathy St Amant is a seasoned sailor from Southern California and is a director of the Southern California Yachting Association, where some of her duties include helping to oversee opening day activities, regattas, races and award committees. One of her initiatives is to get more women into boating, and to that end the Los Angeles Yacht Club hosts a unique clinic: the All Women Boaters SCYA Women’s Boating Clinic. It includes on-the-water and classroom instruction on sail- and powerboat topics, and everything is taught by the best women coaches in Southern California. This year’s event is Sept. 7, but International Women’s Day is March 8, so we decided to chat with St Amant this month.
Sea: How did you get into boating?
KSA: CSU Long Beach had the best sailing program, from a super active sailing club to a winning sailing team. I moved into the on-campus dorms in 1972 and was greeted by an excited group of new friends who introduced me to the club the very first night I was there. I didn’t graduate until 2000 because I was sailing too often to go to class.
Two of my buddies bought a Catalina 27 when it was the new hot boat. Hard to think of them like that, but they were. It was a tall rig, and we dominated the C27 class and PHRF, then known as the Pacific Handicap Racing Fleet. We raced all up and down the coast, including Newport to Ensenada (N2E). There was an article in the local Daily Breeze about me being one of the few women on that race course.
When I moved to Marina del Rey from Long Beach, I saved my money and bought a Santana 20, and raced and sailed it for 32 years. I was so hooked, and I still am today.
What’s your favorite area to go boating in Southern California?
I truly don’t have a favorite area. If we sail north, which we do every August to get up to Santa Barbara for the race down the coast, the scenery is phenomenal. The islands are picturesque, and the sailing is challenging, both up and down the coast during the trip. We usually are off Point Mugu around sunrise on the trip up and sliding down the coast with the sun setting behind Anacapa during the race back.
If we sail south, which we do every April for N2E, we have Catalina on one side and the ever-changing coastline to our left. Our stay in Newport Beach always makes us feel as if we are in some place far away, with the very active marina full of traffic.
Our race down to Ensenada is adventurous every year. I have done it approximately 40 times since those first trips in the C27, and every race has provided a story or two to remember. The coast, again, is dramatic, raw and beautiful. On this trip we have experienced blue, humpback, and sei whales, orcas, dolphins, basking sharks, other sharks, mola mola and more.
What do you do in your role as Commodore and director?
ASMBYC is an association of 10 yacht clubs around Santa Monica Bay. The association’s main goal is to provide assistance to all clubs to promote boating. Our main jobs are choosing local award winners, presenting three regattas each year, building and maintaining the racing calendar for the bay, and helping to coordinate opening days in the marinas. My job, by this point, is to oversee the work for the tasks I just mentioned. Getting to the Commodore’s position means that I lead meetings; as Rear Commodore, I sold advertising for the calendar, worked with the clubs to secure race dates, organized the artwork needed, and worked with the layout artist and printer. As Vice Commodore, the job moves toward the regattas.
The Commodore sets up the awards committees, becomes the tie-breaker at meetings and picks up on the jobs that don’t get done. The fun part is sitting with the gavel and watching the wonderful interaction between the club delegates. So much happens for our boating public through the planning done at these meetings. I am also the webmaster.
My next set of responsibilities will be managing the second Women’s Boating Clinic and serving as the chairperson for the 2020 Midwinters. Both of these are massive jobs, but there are many volunteers ready to jump in to help. The excitement for our second clinic is building, as we have a new location and much more time to prepare for the big day.
What kind of changes have you seen for women in boating?
When I started sailing, women were not welcome on boats. They still are not on some, and if they are on board with a mixed crew, it is still difficult to get respect. I was so very lucky that my buddies on the C27 welcomed me and taught me so much. Other girls were jealous of me being on that boat, as there were not many girls out there. From there, I realized that if I wanted to sail/race I had to have my own boat, so I got the S20. I was fairly successful on the local race course with the boat and through extreme luck was invited on board other boats that moved my local racing career forward.
I had male mentors who were lovely and shared their knowledge, the helm and their boat with me. I was privileged to sail on Reliance, a Nelson Marek 42, which was bought from Dennis Connor, who sold it to practice for what turned out to be the first U.S.-losing America’s Cup campaign. Everyone wanted to be on that boat, and I got to be the pit. That was the best spot, as I was in the middle of all the conversation on board between the best of the best at that time, such as Dick Deaver as tactician. I had so many ah hah moments in the middle. I was the only female on that boat.
How has the Women on the Water series helped?
I believe it’s been a big factor in getting women beyond sitting on the rail on boats. Women were crewing on the smaller boats, such as the S20 or the Martin 242. The smaller vessels allow for each crewmember to do more. There were some men who were just the best, and they loaned their boats to the women crews. Of the married couples whose man of the house was the captain every race, they stepped off the boat reluctantly and handed it over to their wives for the first time. Pretty soon the ladies were buying boats of their own and coming out to race and sail in general more often and in positions not generally held by females.
Pretty much each female sailor I know has had to fight off advances and prove they belonged on the helm and in main jobs on the boat — or just to be on the boat. There were times I had to ask the skipper on a boat in the middle of a race if he asked me aboard because he thought I was a good sailor or if it was to ask me to his bunk. That hurt quite a bit. I was so excited to do my best as a sailor when I was racing or cruising, I didn’t want to be seen in any other light.
These days it is getting quite common to step aboard a commercial vessel and find a female captain. I think this is huge. I got my 100-ton U.S. Coast Guard license 12 years ago; it took me so long to go through the study and tests because of intimidation. Then friends started calling me Capt. Kathy, so I figured I should actually be one. One way I used my license was teaching U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s classes at the California Sailing Academy/Coast Guard School in Marina del Rey. Capt. Paul Miller was my fabulous mentor and trusted me enough to put me in front of the classes. Again, I was blessed to have a male mentor who took me on and boosted my confidence and skills.
At that time, there were no women in my classes. Now, we are gaining ground in the field because women are feeling it is time to do whatever they want no matter who says what.
What are some new technologies that are making boating easier?
I started racing down the coast with a radio direction finder and dead reckoning as the main navigation tools. Our first big “where are we?” moment came on that first N2E race. One workup showed us 15 miles inland by the dead reckoning we recorded. We finally figured out that we had to stop dancing to the music we had pumping on deck from the speakers — each set right next to each of the two compasses — and move the speakers! Each compass was about 40 degrees apart from the other, so neither one was correct. We realized that we were really lost. We asked a passing boat for assistance, took down the speakers, quit dancing and began our dead reckoning all over again. We eventually made it to Ensenada a lot smarter.
GPS is another, of course, and I just love AIS. I believe AIS is a lifesaver. Back in the early 1980s, I sailed my Santana 20 down the coast from Santa Cruz Island in the thickest fog ever. All we had was a handheld VHF radio. The sound of a huge ship’s thumping propellers somewhere near us was numbingly scary. We never saw it, but we got hit by its wake pretty hard.
We now have our instruments set up with one window showing AIS, so we can check on tanker traffic every trip across. Day, night, clear or foggy, AIS is on and tracking. It saved us this last trip to Santa Barbara. We were in thick fog and AIS showed a tanker coming out of Point Mugu that was on a collision course with us. Thanks to the AIS and radar, we could determine the exact track of the mass, so we turned the boat around and slid down the side of the massive ship a very safe distance away.
What are the major intimidation factors for women when it comes to boating?
The intimidation factor for women starting in boating is still the male dominance of the sport. A strong guy who has no boating experience will get on board and be handed jobs to do. A female will be shown a chair or the rail on a sailboat. When knowledgeable women sailors — other than maybe one known for Olympic-class sailing — speak up, they are usually ignored or not given much attention. I have seen a female sailor state some pretty solid facts on what needed to happen only to have the person she related the facts to look directly over her and ask the male behind her the question she just answered.
How can they overcome these factors?
Anyone can get into sailing/boating. There are many women-led clinics, classes and clubs that are designed to be “gentle” on the female candidates. Unfortunately, women still have to be very dedicated and become better than the guys around them in order to move forward. It is always a situation where they have to prove themselves. So we have to work harder, learn all jobs and study more. We have to go out there and sail against the guys and win, or at least show knowledge and skill. There is a long road to mutual respect in our sport. Boats are not gender specific, but the culture is.
Women can begin to overcome their fears by joining a women’s boating organization. I am most familiar with the sailing community, and the Women’s Sailing Associations are fabulous ways to get involved and to learn how to get out and enjoy yourself on the water with confidence and knowledge. The SoCal WSAs have members who love to share and teach. WSA Marina del Rey has day clinics, meetings with speakers and day sails all year long. There are women there who started out from scratch and are now U.S. Coast Guard captains.
What can boaters look forward to at the SCYA Women’s Boating Clinic?
One of Southern California Yachting Association’s missions is to educate boaters, and it has always held a soft spot for educating women. The SCYA Women’s Sailing Convention had been a huge success for 43 years. It is now Gail Hine’s Sailing Convention for Women — no longer associated with SCYA — and is still a super success.
SCYA still wanted to provide a women’s educational clinic, and we wanted to include powerboating in the mix as well, so last year we ran our first Women’s Boating Clinic at Del Rey Yacht Club. It was a huge success for us and our attendees. We had wonderful feedback and tons of appreciation for doing this.
With that experience under our belt, the second annual clinic has been announced. We have much more time to prepare and to publicize the event this time. Both Gail’s Convention and SCYA’s Clinic depend on the volunteerism of knowledgeable women coaches. This fact alone shows the strength and respect that women have gained in this sport. The coaches cover topics all over the map and most are overqualified on their topics. I am so proud of all of them for getting to where they are in this sport, and especially for their propensity to give back.
This second rendition of the Women’s Boating Clinic is still in the workshop planning stages. The workshops provided will depend on the women who volunteer with ideas and knowledge they are ready to share. We have just started recruiting coaches and already have a wonderful slate of ladies ready to share and have begun developing their workshops for the clinic.
For me, it is quite easy to find and recruit sailors and sailboats and build out sailing topics for the clinic. I am not a part of the “powerboating scene” and need guidance in finding the ladies and power vessels for this event. We hope to provide more powerboating workshops, especially on the water. We feel this has been neglected in other venues.
The clinic will be held at Los Angeles Yacht Club on Sept. 7, 2019. We will host close to 200 ladies who should come ready to learn, gain confidence and have so much fun they won’t know which was the best part of the day. The camaraderie will be flowing and all will leave with new boating skills and friends.