It’s been a while since my last update, not because of a lack in updates happening on the water around us, but because I ended up on a backpacking adventure in Asia. That, though, is a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother post.
Just before my adventures abroad, I interviewed four Coronado women residents who with a passion for sailing and the open ocean, just like myself. The story was published in the latest Coronado Lifestyle Magazine and hopefully after reading it you will pine for the salty sea just as we all do. We are surrounded by it, after all.
More updates, from the water, coming soon.
Women on the Water
There is something about sailing that is unlike anything else, out on the open water completely reliant on the wind and its variables. It takes a certain strength and a focused will to take on the unknown. Disregarding doubt and skepticism, Lauren Bernsen, Mary Youngman, Debbie Riddle and Karen Toogood are Coronado women sailors who actively pursue that unknown, all for different reasons and all with varying experiences, yet all for the complete satisfaction that takes place when your sail has filled and you are underway.
Lauren Bernsen learned to sail at age 8, just after her family moved to Coronado. They had arrived just in time for summer when Lauren was enrolled in the Coronado Junior Yacht Club Summer Sailing Program, despite her reluctance. “I wasn’t looking forward to getting salty and wet and coming home with a sunburn.” Though intimidated at first, Lauren became comfortable in the boat and began racing sabots by age 10. Today she credits her parents for the extra push, knowing she wouldn’t have gotten involved in the sport if it weren’t for them. “It turned out to be the best thing my parents ever did for me,” she said.
Once she began sailing competitively for the Coronado Yacht Club, Lauren was hooked. She began racing sabots at age 10, traveling up the west coast for various regattas. Lauren was sailing lasers competitively at age 14 and competing nationally by age 16. In the summer of 2001, Lauren’s sophomore year of high school, she became part of a US team and made it to the Youth Sailing World Championship in France where she sailed a “laser radial”, different from the standard laser sailboat due to its shorter mast and smaller size, allowing sailors to sail in heavy winds. The following year she traveled to Athens for the Olympic Test Event racing a European dinghy, designed specifically for an all-women fleet. Lauren was one of two girls from the US team to race, competing against girls from all over the globe. She placed 8th, qualifying herself for the Olympics. “Thinking back, it was the most incredible experience of my life, knowing that I had the opportunity to make sailing my career because of my success” she said. A career in sailing would have been tough as Lauren went on to explain, “It was already consuming all of my time. Right after school I would go sail, sometimes I would miss school to get in more hours on the boat. If I were to continue training for the Olympics-then what? Get a degree at 30? That would have been tough.”
At the height of her sailing career, just after successfully competing in the Olympic Trials, Lauren had a decision to make. Because she was about to graduate from Coronado High School and had just been awarded a full sailing scholarship to USC, “It was either begin to train night and day for the Olympics, or go to college.” On the flight home from Athens, Lauren made one of the most gut-wrenching decisions of her life. She would pursue college and sail for USC. Balancing time between afternoon practice and studying for exams, Lauren completed a year on the team then decided to focus solely on her major, Public Relations. She continued to stay involved in sailing, though, by working for the Coronado Yacht Club’s Junior Sailing Program as a sailing instructor, right in the very place she learned to sail just years previous.
After graduating in 2006, Lauren went on to work in various head positions, most recently as a Marketing Manager for Hewlett Packard’s MagCloud, which handles creative publishing for businesses. She also recently launched her own photography business, Hauteshoe studio, where she enjoys capturing portraits, particularly on a sailboat.
Originally from land-locked Dallas, Mary Youngman first climbed aboard a sailboat in the 70’s, when she was in her early 20’s, on a lake in Lubbock. Even then, she loved it. “I loved how quiet it was, no engine noise, just the sound of the boat over the water.” It wasn’t until she met her husband Frank Youngman in 1988 that she would be on a sailboat again, this time aboard his Hunter 290, a great sailboat to cruise around in due to its larger beam and comfortable salon space. “It’s just you, the water and the wind. You’re out there enjoying the stillness, the breeze, that’s what sailing’s all about.” Mary fell in love with sailing as Frank made headway teaching her the basics; how to see what direction the wind was coming from, how to get the most out of your sail, the tacking and jibing. Mary ended up renting a sailboat with her husband in 2010, sailing it for a week throughout the British Virgin Islands.
Though they have owned various sailboats throughout the years, they currently sail Miss Mary II, a ‘Hunter 290’ that they bought in 2000, which they take from the Coronado Cays, north through San Diego Bay. “It’s so peaceful to single tack to the bridge, sail under it, head past the USS Midway, and out to the Point,” Youngman said. “But it’s never about the destination; that’s the best part.”
Currently serving as Junior Staff Commodore at Coronado Cays Yacht Club after years on the board, Mary continues to be actively involved in all the club’s events whether it be Wednesday night beer can races or making sure all the details are in line for the Commodores’ Ball. “Being involved with the yacht club and all our friends is so much fun, everyone is so supportive and constructive when we go out to sail. ‘Your sails are too tight! Crank that moor in!’ We all help each other out. I love the days we anchor at Glorietta Bay, enjoying the sunshine for a raft-up.”
Since 1991, Debbie Riddle has been a mainstay at Lee Mather Company Realtors, the real estate firm founded by her father, Lee Mather, in 1953. She took over the helm of the company just after relinquishing the helm of a 38-foot Downeast sailboat when she and husband Tom Riddle returned home from a 15,000 mile, two-year odyssey.
A Coronado local since age four, Debbie had a membership at the Coronado Yacht Club when she was younger. Yet you wouldn’t find her hanging out at the club until, after college, she moved up to Orange County and met Tom. Tom lived aboard Pelican, the Downeast sailboat that would one day be their home away from home. But in the early days of their budding romance, Tom shared with Debbie that he planned to sail around the world as soon as he turned 50. When Debbie first met Tom, he was 44. If I want to date this guy I’d better learn to sail, Debbie thought. And so she did.
Tom began to show Debbie the ropes and rigs and soon she was behind the helm, steering the boat by means of a standard compass course, where she would map out their route and follow its sequence.
In January of 1989, five years after they married, the Riddles set sail. They enjoyed two winter seasons in Mexico, from January 1989-April of 1990 followed by a summer off the Sea of Cortez. They then made the 21-day voyage to the Marquesa Islands in French Polynesia, Ua Pu being Debbie’s favorite destination of their entire journey. “If you were to dream of the South Pacific, you would dream of Ua Pu. It was such an idyllic place; the beautiful bay, breadfruit trees everywhere, horses grazing on oceanfront property; it was so pastoral.” After eight months in French Polynesia, they left in November of 1990 for Honolulu, Hawaii; their final destination after a two year journey. It was six months later that they would finally head home to Coronado, just before 4th of July festivities would commence.
“It all happened because of wanderlust,” Debbie explained, “Tom caught the travel bug and I was soon to follow.” My favorite part about the journey was all the ‘hello’s, it’s simply protocol in the cruising community that you say hello and welcome the boat that just entered your port. People would come off their sailboats and dinghy over to us. When we arrived in French Polynesia, one couple handed us a French baguette and said ‘Welcome’. We made friends from all over the globe and we are still friends with many of them today.”
One night at sea off of French Polynesia, Debbie, using satellite navigation, was steering the boat when she found herself in a squall, which is when the wind increases velocity acting like a small hurricane. Debbie became disoriented and lost her bearing. “I panicked; it scared the hell out of me. It was the only time I was afraid on that trip.” With only a shortwave radio that allowed them to listen to conversation, Debbie yelled for Tom who came up, turned on the lights, and put her at ease.
“We were very much a team throughout the trip, I did the cooking, the navigating; Tom did all the repairs; his favorite part,” Debbie joked. Tom was always in the engine room, trying to remove the mysterious oil that found its way in their fresh water tank, or fixing the head.
Still in Coronado working as a team, the Riddles’ sailboat Pelican can be found at the Coronado Yacht Club and out on the water when wanderlust kicks in.
Karen Shears, now Karen Toogood, grew up in Torquay, a seaside town in Southwest England, not necessary to mention if you could hear her wonderful accent. Though her native waters were much colder, Karen used to go for leisurely sails through the English Channel with friends but only after an afternoon riding horses through the countryside. Karen grew up show jumping, an English style equestrian event seen at horse shows around the world, including the Olympics. She was 7 years old when she began to get involved in the sport, competing as an individual. It wasn’t until after meeting Chris Toogood in 2003, by a chance meeting as Karen was spending the day in Coronado with her friends, that she would get back on a sailboat, this time at the Coronado Yacht Club. “I’ve always loved sailing, especially when the wind is strong, you’re going fast and you’re heeling. It can be very exciting, especially when you’re racing.”
Because of her competitive nature, it only made sense that she would eventually race in a regatta. After taking a 2-day Sailing 101 course in July 2010 at Seaforth Boat Rentals in Coronado, Karen felt better equipped with some basic knowledge as she got behind the helm of a Capri 22’ sailboat. She also learned terms she would utilize in the future, “Tack to starboard! Furl the jib!”, the instructor would say. “We had to take a 100-question test at the end and pass, it was really informative,” Karen mentioned. She now felt more equipped to sail competitively if the opportunity presented itself.
Soon after, Wayne Strickland, Coronado Yacht Club’s Commodore, invited Karen and Chris on his sailboat Wayne’s World, a Catalina 320, where Karen’s skills continued to grow. In June 2011, Karen skippered Wayne’s World in the annual all-women Kitty Muhl Regatta, a race in South San Diego Bay. “That was my first real race,” Karen said. “I felt like I’d been thrown in the deep end!” To succeed on the water, she drew upon some of the same tenacity that helped her excel on land. “I love the competition of it all the most. I’m used to staying calm under the pressure. You’re moving quickly when you’re out on the water and it’s just really fun. If things get intense, you’ve got to hustle and make it work as a team.”
Karen and her crew won that race and she continues to sail today through her membership at the Coronado Yacht Club. “We usually go out once a week. I love the competitive part about it all and how everyone is so friendly and encouraging.”
Though the elements are always unpredictable, Lauren Bernsen, Mary Youngman, Debbie Riddle and Karen Toogood are all women who continue to pursue the adventure, wind or not, knowing that a day underway is the best kind of day, especially in Coronado.
Remember that you, too, can learn to sail!
Seaforth Boat Rentals Coronado offers various classes to help you get started.
You can check out their current schedule here: Seaforth Boat Rentals Coronado - Class Schedules
or call (888) 834-2628
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