A commodore’s plan to increase female sailing participation in Victoria

Victoria, Australia: Queenscliff Cruising Yacht Club’s (QCYC) Commodore Lee Renfree is on a mission to encourage more women to become active participants in keelboat sailing.

Elected as the Club’s first female commodore in October 2021, she acutely observed the low level of sailing participation of females who had connections to the club through their partners or families but lacked confidence and knowledge to get on board.

Lee at the the helm.
Lee at the the helm.

With support from the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria (ORCV) and She Sails Victoria, QCYC have launched the KISS (Keelboat Introduction for Sailing Savvy) to provide a supportive learning environment for female sailors and inspire them to take the opportunity to create their own sailing dreams.

The KISS program comprises a series of six webinars, one in-person workshop and an on-water passage from clubs around Port Phillip on 30 July 2022.  For the passage, women will take lead roles of helm, navigator and radio operator with the support of boat owners and mentors.

What drives Lee to introduce a new female focussed keelboat event?

“I’m passionate about sailing and as a woman I want other women to be able to experience the same joy. It is so important to get the most out of it. I have no choice – sailing is my passion!” Lee said.

Lee is a member not only at QCYC but also Royal Geelong Yacht Club (RGYC), and a Life Member of the Cruising Yacht Association of Victoria. Across Bass Strait, she is a committee member on the organising committee for the joint (Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania/RGYC) Van Diemen’s Land Circumnavigation (VDL-C) for some years. Recognising that women often feel ‘all at sea’ when ‘at sea’, Lee created the First Mates club to connect women in the fleet at anchoring destinations to share their experiences, create new friendships and find their joy in the cruising life.

Lee’s introduction to sailing started whilst on holiday in Vanuatu and got the bug. “My first yacht was a 20ft Sunmaid trailer sailer that my husband and I sailed at Queenscliff,” Lee said. “But we wanted to go further afield. So having completed an inshore and offshore Yachtmaster sailing course we purchased 37ft Duncanson Ketch cruising yacht called Nova Vida. We sailed her extensively for nine years until we fell in love with our beautiful Peterson 44, Pipe Dream.

“This love affair has continued for twenty years. Built as a world circumnavigation vessel, she is the most brilliant ocean vessel and can handle anything Bass Strait cares to throw at her. We have cruised to Tasmania several times, circumnavigating that pretty island twice. Future plans include cruising the East Coast of Australia.”

Reflecting on some of the challenges that can arise at sea, Lee recalls a Bass Strait crossing:

“A career highlight is surviving the loss of a forestay in the Strait with some quick thinking saving the rig from going over the side. From what could have been disaster, there was an enormous sense of pride in our achievement of having safely, successfully and independently navigated our way through the problem – that really built confidence!

“The rewards are many with the opportunity to voyage to places you can visit by boat and often only by boat. Arriving at a destination having sailed all night and seeing the new dawn never loses its wonder. On the other hand, the drawbacks pale into insignificance – packing up the boat at the end of a holiday or running out of BBQ Shapes in a remote location!”

Lee returning from foredeck on Pipe Dream.
Lee returning from foredeck on Pipe Dream.

Commodore Renfree will be leading off the first KISS webinar ‘Getting the Most Out of It’ on Tuesday 17 May 1900hrs focussing on personal preparation. A panel of female sailors from newbies to more experienced will join her to share their experiences and personal journeys in sailing, how they faced their fears and how they are building their own dreams.

Come and join us on the journey

All information about the program can be found in the KISS Program Schedule. Total cost for all six webinars plus the radio workshop is $130 per participant. Entry for the Passage Race and cost of the dinner and presentation are additional and will be billed closer to the event.

Register here now for the Training sessions – KISS Registration Form (jotform.com)

Pay here – KISS Webinar Series and Workshop Tickets

If you have any queries, email us at  kiss@qcyc.com.au.

We are also running a KISS Fundraising Raffle to defray the costs of the webinars and invite you to purchase tickets for three great prizes. Raffle closes 15 May.

We look forward to meeting you at the first webinar.

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