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Are Ireland’s Women Sailors LARPING About?

20th November 2023
You better believe it and you better say it – Sydney-Hobart veteran Steph Lyons of Kinsale YC is on the bow, she clearly says she’s the “bowman”, and that’s it – end of
You better believe it and you better say it – Sydney-Hobart veteran Steph Lyons of Kinsale YC is on the bow, she clearly says she’s the “bowman”, and that’s it – end of

Did you know that LARPING, or more accurately LARPing, means Live Action Role Playing? Me neither. But then, having tended to the opinion that historical re-enactments are really history for the feeble-minded or those of limited imagination, we’ve tended to blank anything that gives a warmly human dimension to such things, and try to ignore Star Trek LARPing, where people go to all the trouble of giving themselves pointy ears so that they can be Mr Spock.

But inevitably such activities soon find themselves overlapping with the Great Gender Wars, and we end up in a confusion as to what people should be seen as comfortable in which roles and so on, and what term should be used to describe them.

This in turn quickly strays into denigrations of “mere play-acting”. But recently, when we reported that Steph Lyons of Sydney, ex-Pat of Kinsale YC, was to be the bowman – arguably the most dangerous position on any boat except maybe the Keeper of the Crew Kitty - for the fourth time in the upcoming Sydney-Hobart Race, we simply quoted her own role-definition in our story about her having yet another bite at the big Bass Strait cherry.


For otherwise, we’ve become gender blind as regards sailing. We once started to compile a list of the Irish women helms who have knocked the tar out of us in many decades of racing, but gave up once the tabulation was starting to soar comfortably above the twenty mark. So in order to simply avoid the issue altogether, we’d normally refer to Steph as being “on the bow” in the same way as, with a woman driver down aft, she’d be “on the helm”, and that’s that.

Is she just LARPing about? World Champion Eve McMahon in seriously competitive modeIs she just LARPing about? World Champion Eve McMahon in seriously competitive mode

But since then, we’ve had an intriguing time with The Sisterhood and the use of “bowman” in this context. As we’d directly quoted Steph, we referred it to her, and she has reinforced that with another photo, this time showing that even when going to windward in events like the Hamilton Island Race Week, she’s clearly in line to be the bowman as she firmly states, right on the pointy end when things gets hectic with the more colourful sails.


This suggests a level of female sailing commitment that exceeds that of many - indeed most – men. But this (Monday) morning’s American Scuttlebutt comes up with a real gem from a recent New York Times which suggests a level of devotion to sailing which starts to go off the scale. We re-publish it without further comment, other than to say not only does it re-introduce us to LARPing in a way that might make the notion mean something in future, but gives such a lyrical yet droll description of our sport that it suggests Judge John Hodgman may be a sailing person himself.


Judge John Hodgman's weekly column for The New York Times doesn't deliver advice - he delivers justice. The topic in this edition is sailing:

Sarah writes: My mother sails every weekend and often throughout the week. It's not uncommon to try to plan a family event, only for her to ask that it be rescheduled to a time she wouldn't prefer to be sailing, like nighttime or during a storm. Such events include my brother's 40th birthday, baby showers, and even my wedding. Please ask her to stop this.

John responds: I'm sorry your mother is married to the sea. But please understand: Sailing is a meditative puzzle for the hands and the mind that frees you, briefly and semi-literally, from the bonds of Earth and attunes you to the wordless language of nature. It's such a magical experience that it's easy for sailors to forget it's just a hobby like any other: essentially yoga with the world's most expensive mat. Explain to your mother that pretty days exist for other people's happiness as well. If that doesn't persuade her to stop asking, skip her next birthday and go LARPING.

Published in Women in Sailing
WM Nixon

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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