The goal of Rainbow Races Inc. has always been to make the world a little smaller. To Connect the community, Inspire others to venture to the sea, and Motivate people to challenge themselves.
We are pleased to announce the beginning of the Sailor Spotlight series, telling the stories of LGBTQ sailors from around the world. If you would like to share your story, click the button below.
Tell us about yourself
First, I want to express my thanks to Charles Szymanski and the folks at Rainbow Races for inviting me to participate in the Spotlight Sailor section. I live in Milwaukee, WI, USA, am 56 years old, 6’ 5” tall, weigh 280 lbs., have hazel eyes, brown hair, and am a cis-gendered, white, male. I have a full beard and mustache, which I keep trimmed and have had throughout my adult life. I enjoy how my beard frames my face, in addition to how it feels pressed against another man’s body.
I have two jobs: I teach first grade special education for Milwaukee Public Schools and play the organ, direct the choir, and work with handbells at a church on Sundays.
How do you identify?
While the last time I dated a woman was 1988, I have considered myself gay since that time. Only recently, have I begun to identify as bisexual, in order to honor this history. While I remain attracted to some women, I have only dated men since that time. For many years now, I see my life being best spent alongside another man. My ex and I just broke up within this past year, so while I’d like a relationship, I’m currently not actively seeking one, but I’m open to one if it comes my way.
What do you like to do when ashore and not working on sailing things?
Before the COVID pandemic, I sang with Our Voice Milwaukee which is the choir for gay folks and allies in Milwaukee. I also played percussion in the University Wisconsin Milwaukee’s University Community Band. I hope to rejoin these ensembles soon.
I occasionally volunteer at the Brady East STD Clinic which is the clinic founded to serve gay men in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. They are similar but on a significantly smaller scale to the Howard Brown clinic in Chicago.. At BESTD, I counsell folks who are getting HIV tests and sometimes administer those tests.
In addition to sailing, I also enjoy other sports. I’m a fair weather bicyclist. While I bike for exercise, I also find it enjoyable and rejuvenating. For many years I played volleyball, both indoor and out, with the Milwaukee Gay Volleyball League. Until the COVID pandemic, I played softball with the Saturday Softball Bar League which is the league that serves queer folks and is sponsored by the queer bars. I weight lift three times a week. This routine has given me more confidence as I continue to change my body for the better. I am one of the founders of the MKE-PAH, Milwaukee Pets, Allies, and Handlers which serves those who enjoy pet play or are advocates for the kink. Currently, that group is pretty still. While Woody’s, the bar where we hold socials is open again, in general folks in the group aren’t comfortable going out. I’m looking forward to this spring when we can hold meetings outside.
I identify as both a pup and a handler. My ex and I had the opportunity in October last year to run the pet moshes and teach two workshops at World Bear Weekend. My nickname and pup name is Tigger. Like many a pup, I chose that for myself, but I’d had it as a nickname before. I know that like the character Tigger, I can sometimes ruin a Rabbit’s garden by bouncing through it unawares. However, I love the way Tigger’s joy is infectious. It seems that every character Tigger encounters becomes happier! I strive to be someone who can say as Tigger did, without sarcasm or arrogance, “Once in a while someone amazing comes along, and here I am.” (A. A. Milne) Even more importantly, I endeavor to recognize that all those I meet are Tigger-ific-ly wonderful in their own way. I seek to be Tigger-like, that my joy and confidence may bring others beyond their comfort level, so that they may experience new things.
What was the first boat you ever sailed? What was that experience like?
I learned to sail at the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center. This is a nonprofit on the Milwaukee lakefront with a fleet of boats. I took both their beginning and medium air classes. They teach on a fleet of Ensigns, also known as “bathtubs.” They also have Solings, which are great for hot days, when there’s been no rain, because you know you’re going to get wet on that boat! They have several other sailboats in the 20-30 foot range which you can use, provided you have a crew who can sail them.
I first started racing, when I attended the Crew Search party at the South Shore Yacht Club in Milwaukee, maybe in 2003. There, I learned that most skippers need crew. It was through the weekly buoy race series that I learned how to sail a racing boat. I started as foredeck and mast, because the skipper saw my size. I raced primarily with the same crew on both a Mumm and later on a Beneteau First 40.7. It was on those boats, where I learned to be an effective member of the pit.
What made you fall in love with the sport?
I absolutely love being on the water, especially being active on the water. While I’ve done my share of being “rail meat,” just like everybody else, I love being active on a boat and contributing to speed. It’s also great how almost all the jobs on a bigger boat take more than one person to accomplish efficiently and with speed. That sense that we’re all working together is fantastic.
Flying the chute (spinnaker) is my favorite position. Even though I’m the one controlling the curl and position of the sail, and thus the speed of the boat, I’m dependent on the foredeck for jibes and pole position and to the crew in the pet to control the guy. There have been a few times where I was so focused on the sail that I didn’t even realize we’d crossed the finish line.
What are your current activities and connections in sailing?
Right now in the winter, I’m not doing anything with sailing. I’ve always been simply a crew member, not a boat owner, nor a member of any of the local yacht clubs.
What’s your favorite boat to sail on?
Out of the boats I mentioned so far, the Beneteau was my favorite. It’s stable, goes through waves well, and is easy to steer. It’s kind of a cruising boat though, not a racing boat. The last several summers, I also raced with MAST (Milwaukee Area Sail and Trail). This organization serves as an alternative to the yacht clubs for folks who dock their boats elsewhere. The boat I’m on is a Frers 33, the crew is amazing. I love sailing with folks who are completely comfortable with themselves and their sexuality, so that even this queer guy joins in wherever the humor goes. It helps too, in that regard, that the crew is mixed gender. So, rather than a serious all business crew, which is often the norm on a racing boat, we’re a light hearted jovial boat which still manages to win the race regularly.
What’s your biggest achievement in sailing?
Because I generally work on Sunday mornings, finding distance races that fit my schedule can be tough. Out of the distance races I’ve done, my favorite win is The Hook. We took first in our division and sailed past bigger boats taking their sails down when a huge storm came at us. This race starts in Racine, WI, goes through the Port des Mort (Death’s Door – at the tip of the thumb of WI), to end in Menominee, MI. I drove the whole night and got much better at steering with a compass. In addition to the pride at the finish and the party the whole day afterwards, most importantly, I made some good friends on that race.
What would you like to tell inexperienced or younger sailors, or someone on the fence with trying?
Don’t be scared to ask to join a crew, especially if you identify as BIPoC or as a woman. While sailing, especially racing, is predominantly a straight (or DL), white, cisgendered male sport, I have yet to see folks who don’t fit that paradigm face negative consequences. As a gay man who can’t swish his way back into the closet, I can’t remember being discriminated against. I do remember making folks uncomfortable, but not so much that they took action against me. The only way we diversify sailing is for folks who don’t fit the typical sailor mode to join. In addition, don’t feel like you need money or a ton of equipment. Buy a reasonable PFD with a harness on it and you’re good to go! There are generally extra PFDs on racing boats, so until you become a regular you don’t even need to do that! The good news is that most skippers need a volunteer crew to race even more than you need to be out on the water. So, own that you’re an asset even with limited experience. As long as you appear willing to learn, you’ll always be welcome on most boats. Get your extrovert out! I’m not very good at striking up conversations out of the blue with sailors, but I’ve learned that that’s how you get on a boat. A friend of mine describes themselves as a “boat hoe.” They know the vast majority of our local sailing community and know where to go to hitch a ride on a boat. In addition, they’ve actually gone on vacation to other countries and talked themselves onto a boat. They make a concerted effort to do it and call it “sailing with strangers!” I’m generally jealous of that ability. But, the thing to learn in sailing is that communication is everything, both on and off the water!
What is something you’d like to impart to veteran sailors?
Just as in all forms of exclusion and oppression the burden of inclusion falls on those who are privileged. Thus, I say to white dudes like me who’ve been sailing for a while: We need to step up our act!
What type of sailor do you consider yourself?
I’m a hobbyist. I’ve never owned a boat. I do my best to get on the water as often as possible in the spring, summer, and fall, but it’s really a want, not a need, and I generally try to fit sailing among other activities, such as softball.
Anything else you’d like others to know about you?
Yes, if you’re sailing on Lake Michigan this summer and need crew, please reach out to me! I’d love to meet you and your crew, as well as, experience racing or cruising on a new boat!
#sailing #LGBTQ #connect #inspire #motivate #sailorspotlight #lgbtqsailing
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