Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Sail on


Gay and lesbian crews rock the boat

Sydney sailing: From left, Heather Stewart, Deb Jacobs,and skipper Sallie Lang after their 2002 Gay Games competition. Photo: DeanDaniels
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LGBT sailing enthusiasts have a variety of opportunities to compete and enjoy nautical sports, including Chicago's Gay Games. Two gay sailors have even taken their love of the sport to a global scale.

For the Gay Games, to be held July 15-22, Belmont Harbor near Lake Michigan will serve as the competition waters for 54 teams. Registration for sailing was among the first to be filled, as it was in the last Games, held in Sydney in 2002, where sailing premiered at the quadrennial multi-sport event.

Heather Stewart was on one of the 10 teams from the Bay Area that competed in Sydney's Gay Games VI. She'll also be competing in Chicago with the recently named Team Doll. Stewart, 42, works for the city of San Mateo, and docks her boat at Vallejo's California Maritime Academy.

Before Sydney, sailors trained at Oakland's Lake Merritt, and with the California Sailing Club. "We'll be going back to Cal Maritime every couple of weeks, but it'll increase in the last months before Chicago," said Stewart, who has sailed around the Bay Area, and prior to heading to Chicago, will be part of an eight-person crew on a 36-foot Islander rig touring the coast.

Chicago's Games will use J22 boats (a different size than at Sydney), and will observe different competition rules. Crewmembers can be three to four people, but their total weight must be less than 605 pounds.

"They weigh us on a big scale, kind of like in wrestling," said Stewart. "We have to go on diets. You want to be as heavy as possible and under weight. It makes it so nobody has any handicap more than any other."

Stewart will sail in the pit (in the middle, grinding the lines) with Rajat Dutta on foredeck, and Chris Bates as skipper (driving and tactics).

Stewart credits the San Francisco Sailing Team's former directors Katharine Holland (currently the Bay Area Reporter 's business columnist) and Kip Darcy for getting local sailors started toward the last Games two years in advance. This year, fewer sailors are headed to Chicago. "Sailing is probably the most expensive and equipment-intensive sport there is," said Stewart. "It limits how many teams you have."

For Oakland photographer/filmmaker Ann P. Meredith, whose team won a silver medal in Sydney, getting to Chicago may take a bit more work. While recovering from a hand injury, she's also seeking a new crew. Training with her left hand in a splint "will probably hurt, but it's getting stronger," said Meredith. Her crew, Swordfish – named after a film production company – won a silver medal in Sydney, so going for gold has importance to her.

The J22s in Chicago are easier boats than those used in Sydney, she said. "They're flat and fast, but not what we're used to." Meredith said that Bay Area sailors are used to sailing faster and at an angle in the swift currents. Of sailing itself, Meredith said, "It's like riding a bike; you never forget how to do it. If you're a good sailor, it comes back to you."

Jan Crosby-Taylor, 40, of San Leandro, is one of the SF Sailing Team's coaches. Also headed for Chicago, Crosby-Taylor skippered a team in Sydney. Crosby-Taylor also teaches the sport and has been racing for 10 years in the Bay Area.

Joining her crew this summer on Team Femme Fatale is her partner Dorothea Crosby, who is fairly new to sailing. The women married 11 years ago, and have been together 17 years.

The two other women on her crew include a woman Crosby-Taylor knew from sailing club 20 years ago when she worked at Camp Avalon in Massachusetts (Crosby-Taylor grew up for a time in the New England area).

She said that things have been very different this time around. "We only started meeting seriously 15 months out," she said. "Part of the early enthusiasm for the last Games was the allure of sailing in Sydney harbor. This year, 14 SF Sailing Team competitors represent "the true diehard racers who really want to go."

Crosby-Taylor has sailed on Lake Michigan. "It's such a large area that it can get choppy," she said. "Summertime in Chicago can have light winds, about five knots less than Sydney Harbor or San Francisco."

Included in their local training, SF Sailing Team members work with local yacht clubs to make sure their schedules don't conflict with the traffic lanes of big shipping freighters, and make a practice line with buoys.

"You want to approach the start with your bow hitting the imaginary starting line as close as possible," Crosby-Taylor explained. "If you're early, you have to turn around and start over. Being late is not great, but not as bad as starting early. Sailboats don't have brakes, so at the start, they pull in their sails to get as close to a fast starting speed as possible."

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Around the world

Two men are competing in another way, by making sailing history. Larry Jacobson and his partner Ken Smith are in the middle of a six-year journey around the world on their 50-foot 20-ton yacht Julia (named after Jacobson's mother). The Stevens Cutter rig sloop is completely outfitted for blue water (open sea) sailing, and includes a life raft.

"After our circumnavigation is complete, we'll be the first gay couple to complete such a journey," said Jacobson.

Having completed almost half of their trek, the two men docked their boat in Turkey in March, and took a break to return to Berkeley. They returned to their boat in April, and hope to finish where they started, at San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, in summer 2007.

Jacobson grew up racing sailboats in Long Beach, California, at age 13, and later on the varsity squad at the University of California, Irvine. "I was sure that I was the only gay sailor at the time," he said.

Jacobson, 51, who works in the travel industry, and his partner, Smith, 41 (a computer network engineer originally from Sacramento), now live on their boat when not staying with friends. They left San Francisco in December

Circumnavigators: Larry Jacobson, left, and his partnerKen Smith. Photo: Larry Jacobson
2001, after selling their Berkeley home.

Their first navigation was simple, Jacobson said. "We started by sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, then turned left."

Their journey then followed the California coast until they docked at Puerto Vallarta, followed by a daunting trek across 2750 miles of the Pacific Ocean, with stops at the Marquises Islands (French Polynesia).

The ship is equipped with a stove, a microwave, even a breadmaker, and they've often enjoyed incredibly fresh fish. The men took on two extra crewmembers for parts of their journey, including navigating across the Indian Ocean. This aided the problem of sleep deprivation. Said Jacobson, "One person has to be on watch to be aware of ship traffic."

Along their two-year Pacific sail, the crew visited Tonga, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, and Fiji. Just outside of Australia, they lost the boat's autopilot, and suffered damage of the boat's forestay (wired rigging).

Before they could dock and have repairs made, "we had to steer by hand late at night in pouring rain," said Jacobson. Another mishap included losing the engine's transmission while in Indonesia. "We had to wait three weeks for parts to be shipped," he added.

"Things break constantly," he said, from pumps to rigging. "There's also quite a bit of electronics to maintain." Although sails power the boat's movement, the engines need to pump water and charge equipment batteries.

Originally scheduled to dock in Phuket, Thailand only two weeks before the 2004 tsunami destroyed so much of Southeast Asian shores, the crew instead docked at Bopat, and were fortunately well out of those seas when the tsunami struck. Postponing their return, they flew to the U.S. for a few weeks, then flew back, and continued sailing past Sri Lanka and into the Middle East.

Although they missed the tsunami, weeks afterward they found remnants of its devastation. "There was no wind," said Jacobson. "We were a few hundred miles out [in the Indian Ocean], when we saw hundreds of uprooted trees floating by."

Jacobson said that visiting politically problematic countries [for U.S. visitors] proved less of a problem than might be expected. In Oman and Yemen, where they anchored, they were welcomed, he said, adding that he knows how to say a few phrases in several languages, but "Everybody you need to deal with knows enough English. When you say you're from California, they know you're different [from most pro-Bush Americans]. People around the world miss Bill Clinton. Besides, dockworkers don't want to create a problem or argue. They just want your tip."

Still, there were safety concerns. Near Yemen, pirates attacked two other yachts. Jacobson's crew doesn't carry guns.

Continuing through the Middle East through the Red Sea (where they encountered 20-foot waves), the crew saw Sudan and Egypt. After passing through the Suez Canal, they docked in Israel and happened upon the controversial World Pride parade in Tel Aviv.

"It was amazing," he said, "with snipers on rooftops as people celebrated in the streets." Thinking they'd dock for a few days, they stayed for three months. Jacobson, who is Jewish, found a special connection. As a child, he had donated money to help grow trees in Israel, and was happy to see so many trees throughout the country.

Jacobson and Smith will begin their return to Turkey via Amsterdam on April 19, and hope to set sail again in June. They'll travel across the Mediterranean Sea, visit Greece, Sicily (Italy), Spain, and by October, see Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, and the coast of Africa before venturing across 2,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.

Asked about the hazards, Jacobson said, "It's not the ocean that gets you. It's hitting a rock that's not on the charts. If you pay attention and don't take weather or the sea for granted, you should have a healthy fear."

Of course, there are pleasures that motivate this grand adventure, which, Jacobson said, has cost nearly all their life savings. Not only are they truly seeing the world, but making history for themselves, and for the sailing community. "No one knows gay people who are doing this," Jacobson said. "It's all about living your dream. But first, you have to untie the line from the dock."

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Upcoming events

Sailors' soirée

Meet gay and lesbian sailors, including Larry Jacobson and Ken Smith just days before they continue their global sail, at a special reception for SF Sailing Team members and other LGBT sailors and their friends. The reception is free and takes place Thursday, April 13, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the GLBT Historical Society, 657 Mission Street, Suite 300. Enjoy an evening viewing of the "Sporting Life" exhibit. Refreshments will be provided. Info:

Martina in San Francisco

Tennis legend and out athlete Martina Navratilova will be speaking and signing copies of her new book, Shape Your Self, at A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books, 601 Van Ness Avenue on Tuesday, April 11 at noon. Info: (415) 441-6670.

SAGA's last ski trip

Enjoy the last Northern California skiing opportunity with SAGA North, the local LGBT-friendly ski club at the Sierrawood Weekend at South Lake Tahoe, April 14-16. They'll be skiing and snowboarding at Heavenly and/or Kirkwood resorts. Cost of $110 per person includes lodging and meals. See more details and sign up at

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