Woman on the Water: The Odyssey of Bria White

The sun was rising as Bria White dragged her 60-pound sail off the side of her boat and spread it on the dock. All the while, her male counterparts looked on in dismay.

“Imagine this…as a single woman on an all-male dock, I stunned the doubting onlookers. As the sun was rising, most boaters were preparing their boats to sail, but not me. I was taking down my sail, literally off the mast.”

After examining the rips and tears, she brought out her Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 and folding table and began repairing her sail. Everyone wondered how she could manage such a huge sewing project alone, but she wasn’t worried. Methodically, mending one section at a time, right on the dock, Bria worked until the sun was beginning to come down.

Putting the Ultrafeed to good use!

“Just as the doubting men returned, I was raising the finished sail. With much respect, one by one they came by to share their stories of disbelief.”  

The Journey Begins

As an adventurous woman who has traveled the world, Bria has a wealth of life experiences and is a true testament to the self-reliant sailor, a trait the folks here at Sailrite are well acquainted with.

Bria has had ample experience both sailing and sewing. Along with her four brothers, she was often out on the water growing up and was also taught to sew at a young age, a skill she excelled at. In early 2000, she acquired her first powerboat at Monroe Harbor in Chicago, but she secretly wished she’d gotten a sailboat instead.

With a successful career in information technology consulting, Bria was traveling often and ultimately ended up selling her first boat. Then, just last year, Bria decided to take a leap of faith and try something she had always dreamt of doing: traveling abroad. Enrolled in a unique work-travel program, she went on a yearlong excursion across the globe. This traveling experience spurred her dream of sailing.

“Somehow I got the courage to join a program and traveled the world for one year. It was a bold thing for a grandmother to do. During my travels, I fell in love with the sea again!”

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Enjoying life on the water.

Learning the Ropes

After returning home from her trek across the globe, Bria’s first goal was to get back out on the water. She eventually set her sights on a Columbia 28 sailboat in Marina Del Rey, California. It was there that she joined the Women’s Sailing Association of Santa Monica Bay and began connecting with other female sailors and sharing her love of the sea. The Women’s Sailing Association (WSA) is a nonprofit organization that promotes women in the sport of sailing but also offers sailing and social opportunities for both men and women. After gaining hours of sailing experience by offering herself up as a crew member for many trips on monohull and multihull vessels, Bria finally felt that she had enough experience to move onto a larger boat. She now owns and operates a Catalina 30 with hopes of someday upgrading up to a Hunter 37.

As the sole proprietor of her Catalina 30, Bria has a special place on the water and has regained her sea legs. While the other women who visit her dock are simply visiting their family, friends or husbands, Bria is a single female boat owner. In fact, she’s the only female captain on her dock.

“I am the captain of my ship and responsible for the maintenance, upgrades and operation of my vessel. This is rare!” Bria went on to explain that as a grandmother, people are often surprised to find her lifting, pulling, scrubbing, repairing and docking her own 30-foot boat.

Bria's Catalina 30 boat.
Bria’s Catalina 30 sailboat.

However, Bria is not alone in her adventures. As part of the Women’s Sailing Association, she has met many other members who share similar stories of “surprised looks” and shocked sailors who are simply not accustomed to women as part of the crew. Bria and her fellow female sailors are blazing the trail for like-minded independent spirits. Over time, she’s learned that sailing is all about teamwork and friendships, and she’s gathered quite a few stories from other women at the helm. She even plans to write a book capturing these incredible stories.

Sailing On

When Bria found her sail in need of repair, it was no question who would do it. Being a self-reliant sailor is simply part of her day-to-day routine. Bria has taken charge of her job as captain and set to work sewing even more projects. In addition to her sail, she has redone all the window coverings in her cabin, added privacy curtains for the staterooms and replaced weather-aged zippers on her biminis. Her next big project is to update her 1978 cushions, add trimmed floor mats and maybe even make covers for her external wood trim. On her ship, Bria’s ambitions are only limited by her determination and imagination. It also helps to have a handy sewing machine along for the journey.

Her largest sewing project yet, the sail!

“As you know, a small tear in a sail can grow very quickly. Having the portable LSZ-1, which can be manually operated without electricity…makes me feel safe like I can solve any problem when it arises. Besides, having one on the dock is a great way to make new friends! My fellow sailors, both men and women, give me a lot of respect for having and knowing how to use a Sailrite LSZ-1 machine!”

If you’d like to learn more about Bria White and her incredible life experiences, visit www.drbriawhite.com or read about her journey at www.remotelyodd.com.

To learn more about the Women’s Sailing Association of Santa Monica Bay, visit their website here.

The Second Life of Sails: Crafting a better future for the next generation

Life is full of discarded items. Things that have already served their purpose now sit, useless and used up, to be thrown away, recycled or forgotten. The beauty of sewing is that you have the opportunity to give new life to something that has already served its original purpose. Barbara Wetherington is this kind of sewer. She gives new life and special meaning to retired sailcloth by creating tote bags from the fabric. In doing so, she has also found a way to serve her Boston-area community and donate her time and talents to a worthy nonprofit organization.

Barbara has had an off-and-on relationship with sewing over the years. She learned to sew in Home Economics class in 7th grade, but wasn’t particularly passionate about the craft. In her mid-20s, a roommate who worked at a fabric store rekindled Barbara’s interest in sewing. She learned to make useful things like pillows, window treatments and bags. When she moved to a smaller apartment, she had to put away her sewing supplies and moved on to other hobbies. A few years ago, she came across her sewing machine tucked away in a closet and realized she hadn’t used it in almost 20 years. When she remembered how much she enjoyed sewing and making practical items like tote bags, she was determined to start up again. And she knew just how to do it. Enter, World Ocean School.

World Ocean School is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help underserved children by providing educational programs that challenge them academically, physically and emotionally. The school offers an alternative to traditional education methods, believing that involving kids in hands-on programs will combat apathy and disengagement in students of all ages to decrease dropout rates, substance abuse, crime and unemployment. In fact, 74 percent of the 2,200 students who participate in World Ocean School each year are from low-income households, the highest demographic for student dropout rates.

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World Ocean School students learning the ropes as they embark on an educational adventure.

The kids set sail aboard the historic schooner Roseway, a registered U.S. National Historic Landmark that splits its time between Boston, Massachusetts, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Roseway is one of only three original Grand Banks schooners left in operation today. The experiential programs offered aboard Roseway are as diverse as the students themselves, ranging from half-day programs to multi-week expeditions. The students are empowered to reach their full potential through sail training, team building, communication and leadership skills. Hands-on programs give the students the opportunity to participate in a richly rewarding learning atmosphere. They’re engaged and challenged in a way that traditional classrooms can’t offer.

When Barbara heard about World Ocean School’s mission, she was eager to lend a hand. She began volunteering on Roseway in 2006 doing whatever was needed, including painting, whipping lines and raising sails. She spent one summer as the onboard cook while the ship was docked in Boston Harbor and loved every minute of it. But her desire to help only grew.

A few years ago, she purchased a tote bag that a crew member had made using the Roseway’s old sails. And that sparked an idea. After receiving permission from the executive director of World Ocean School, she began sewing tote bags made from the Roseway’s distinctive tanbark sails, once they’re retired, of course, as a way to raise money for the school’s educational programs. She was looking to get back into sewing, and this cause was just the inspiration she needed.

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Barbara’s tote bags made from Roseway’s retired tanbark sails.

Barbara sews the tote bags with her Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 using V-92 thread, which she says gives the bags an industrial look that adds to the beauty of the sailcloth. She also has an embroidery sewing machine, which she uses to embroider the World Ocean School logo onto the front of the bags. She turned her sewing hobby into a way to serve her community and help at-risk youth, and that’s something we can all be inspired by.

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Barbara works on a tote bag for World Ocean School using her Ultrafeed® LSZ-1.

Here’s what Barbara had to say about her work with the organization: “I wholeheartedly back the mission of World Ocean School. As a small nonprofit, they run fairly lean in many aspects, except when it comes to programming for the kids. When I read the “Ship’s Logs” that are posted on the website, I’m so amazed at what the kids say about their experiences. You can see that it’s truly life-changing for them in a positive way. Many of the kids, both in Boston and St. Croix, live near the ocean but often don’t have any connection to it and its place in our world. The programming of World Ocean School makes that connection.”

In addition to the educational programs scheduled throughout the year, the Roseway is open to the public for special sailing trips and other events. These public events provide an opportunity for the school to spread public awareness of their mission and to raise money to keep the school going. It’s during these public events that Barbara’s unique tote bags are sold, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to World Ocean School’s ongoing educational programs.

Barbara has stayed connected to World Ocean School for 12 years now, helping out however she can, whether that’s sewing the tote bags, grocery shopping or standing in as a cook. She even served on a committee to organize a successful fundraiser called Walk the Plank. Through it all, she remains steadfast in her belief that World Ocean School changes kids’ lives for the better, opening them up to opportunities and experiences they would never have otherwise, and she’s grateful for the dedicated staff of employees and volunteers who keep the program alive.

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An educator aboard Roseway teaches a student about the inner workings of the ship.

“It is awe-inspiring to me how hard the crew works to keep the ship running, while at the same time acting as educators for these kids. I’m inspired by how World Ocean School touches the lives of so many young people, and I’m thrilled that I’m able to contribute, in a unique way, to their mission by making these bags for them to sell.”

 

If you’d like to learn more about World Ocean School, please visit www.worldoceanschool.org.