The story about women on boats is my most popular blog post ever. It generated more unique visitors and views than all the other posts taken together and started a lively discussion on Reddit where, among other things, I was accused of being sexist and entitled, rebuked for not submitting my sailing resume and invited to sail in San Francisco and Maine. I got downvoted and then upvoted and then downvoted again. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that my story about dreaming of blueberry bagels while soaking wet offshore didn’t merit the same response.
The blog post about women and being a dick also started a few interesting conversations in real life. First, a sailing mate of mine pointed out that he is an excellent example of being serious about sailing and still avoiding sailing in bad weather. Of all the things I wrote, I would not have predicted that someone could be offended by that part. My sincere apologies, mate, we all know that you are an exceptional sailor, and I look forward to hearing more horror stories about sailing in the cold and miserable waters of the UK. As a person who grew up in Siberia, I am also familiar with the anguish of dashed expectations when Australia does not live up to its image of perpetually sunny land (it’s been raining for two days here in Sydney).
Second, I appreciated all the jokes that I heard once I got on a boat after that blog post. “I hope we will get real trimmers this time, not these girls!” – that was my first clue that someone read my blog. It was fun. I think I got to trim more than ever that day (we came third, not a bad result, considering that we crossed the start line early and had to go back). For the record, that was one of my regular boats. For some reason, a lot of people on Reddit think that I don’t stay on one boat long enough.
Third, the same helpful people who kept making fun of me for writing that story told me that there is an official name for those who do all these tiny and unglamorous jobs on the boat – “fluffers”. Fluffers coil ropes and generally tidy up the deck, they often take care of running backstays, they press buttons on boats with electric winches, they grind for people – you get the idea. “We don’t have fluffers on our Volvo 70 right now, and it’s a pain in the proverbial!” – they said (they might not have used the euphemism). The same day I heard that “fluffer” is also a porn term that should not be used lightly. My friends always teach me something new, even when I actively resist some of their expertise.
We also discussed that trimming on a bigger boat can be genuinely dangerous. Where a bigger guy flies three metres through the air, raising concerns about safety of the boat, a smaller person of any gender might seriously injure themselves. A girl showed me a fairly big scar – a rope burn from dropping a kite on a big boat. Not that I wasn’t aware that a big boat can be dangerous; not that I ever protested against sensible choices when it comes to physically and intellectually demanding jobs.
I realised that I am probably not ready to be a very popular blogger who writes about controversial issues. Anger in some people is astounding and quite depressing. The main message of my story was not even about women per se. It was about some people making unnecessary assumptions and acting like dicks, sometimes without even realising it. All I asked for is honesty and self-reflection. If you’ve never acted in a less than ideal way then you have no reason to worry; also, you are probably a robot (or completely lack self-awareness). Otherwise, it’s a good idea to stop and think about the way we act towards other people sometimes, regardless of their gender.