Crossing the Line – On the Good Ship Looney

By John Morris

You’ve come a long way, Looney

Wendy Loat discovered sailing via her ski club and went on to crew for her then boyfriend in the 1981 Thunderbird Worlds. When I first met Wendy, she was helping that bf – a knowledgeable instructor and fleet coach –  to demonstrate how flat sail cloth could be formed into curves at a racing clinic (we’ll skip the fine details, if you don’t mind.)

A year or two later, Wendy was without the boyfriend but was not going to be denied the enjoyment of sailing.  To the surprise of many, she purchased her own Thunderbird with a female pal who soon bailed leaving Wendy as owner, skipper and tactician. One of the reasons she acquired the boat inexpensively was its name at the time – Merry Melodies. It didn’t take too many ‘wascally wabbit’ comments to get her to re-name the boat Looney Tunes. A cartoon logo, a splash of yellow spar and purple trim added the decorator touch.

There were not a lot of female skippers around in those days. In 1980 – the boycotted Russian Olympics – there were 83 boats in six classes and zero females. At LA in ’84 the participant boats skyrocketed to 152 and …wait for it..two females participated.  Sailing was male.

Wendy was either oblivious or stubborn but she didn’t slow at all. At her first protest hearing she was met with very clearly sexist derision – “what does she know?” – but that only strengthened her resolve. Wendy went on to win the T-Bird Fleet and District Championships several times, the LORC (lake Ontario Racing Council – the GTA multi club federation) season in 1987, ’89, ’92 and five more times including last year.

Through it all she has been pretty low key about the feminist thing. “I didn’t set out to prove that women can sail,” she admits. “I just like to win.” And win she did – trophies in Youngstown Level Regattas and in many club and area regattas. Looney placed third in the 2001 Thunderbird Worlds and second in the 1995 Thunderbird Internationals. She races Lasers on most Wednesdays and won the club Laser trophy in 2009.

Wendy and her husband, Nick turned out to be a match made in both heaven and the boatyard! (Note of personal pride: they met on my boat)  Nick’s also a hard ass sailor and beyond his extensive foredeck abilities he knows and loves boat maintenance. ‘Boy with tool kit meets girl with aging wooden boat’ – now there’s a love story. Nick’s presence also slowed the volume of amorous advances from variously motivated dudes who assumed that Wendy sailed Looney Tunes to find a man.

Beyond participation, Wendy got involved in club life served as chair of the ABYC Sailing Committee for a dozen years. That was particularly ironic considering that only a couple of years earlier females were expected to join the happy Slipknots group, responsible for after race picnics. Today, female sailors are very much integrated into all aspects but not that very long ago Wendy was a rose among thorns.

Beyond her club, Wendy was three-time president of the International Thunderbird Class; she became the chair of LORC and has held that post for years.  Wendy had always claimed to know the rules and proved it in 2008 by becoming a National Sailing Judge, then a Gold Level Judge in 2011 (Author’s sour grapes note: I still think I was in the right on that mark rounding in 1992.) In 2009 she was named Chair, Ontario Sailing Judges’ Committee.

Today, of the ten Olympic sailing classes, four are for women. Women crew on all sorts of boats both in family and freelance scenarios.  Diane Reid, also a TBirder at the same club is crossing the Atlantic solo and there are many others.

This was never really an exercise in feminist rights. Wendy wanted to own a boat, promote her class, and keep the boat she loves on the water. She’s done all that and by doing that made a statement. Looking through her photo album for a shot to illustrate this column, photo after photo show Wendy sitting on various boats, beer in hand. You’d think she was one of the boys. But she isn’t!

Photo Caption: Wendy ignored the female stereotype often assigned in the sailing world to win championships and respect, as she sailed for the love of the sport.

Credit: Wendy Loat Archives

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