This post was written by Melanie Neale. Melanie is a published author, one of the leading yacht broker’s on the East Coast, and holds an MFA in creative writing. Her book, Boat Girl: A Memoir of Youth, Love, and Fiberglass, is about coming of age while living aboard and sailing full time on her family’s sailboat. Boat Girl takes you to the Bahamas every season with her family and eventually to life as a young woman living on her own boat. Melanie’s work has also appeared in Cruising World, Practical Sailor, and more! Melanie has gone on to own several boats including a Columbia, a C&C, and a Morgan. She also holds her 100 Ton USCG Captain’s License and the title of conch blowing champion on more than one Bahamian Island. She is basically royalty in the marine industry, and best of all is she endorses ME!
There are some bad bitches out there. Once a boy referred to me as “the baddest bitch in the sea,” which I took as a tremendous compliment. Whether we’re bad or good, I kind of feel like we have an obligation to each other. I’ve tried to promote women working in the marine industry as much as I can, and I believe very much in the “collaborate don’t compete” mantra. My Facebook group, Women Working in the Marine Industry, joined Women Who Sail and other female-only groups about a year ago in the social media world, and the stories and profiles of the women on there are crazy-inspiring to me.
So when Emily passed through my home-town earlier in the year, blogging about this dinghy she built with Kourtney Patterson, another local badass boat girl, I took notice. Then my daughter and I ran into them while they were launching the dinghy, and things went from there. I sent her a book, she reached out on her way back through town, and then we became roommates.
The roommate thing was kind of funny. Like I do with all my cruising friends, I offered her a place to do laundry, my truck for provisioning, warm showers, and a meal. “So, um, I’m looking for a place to stay for a little while,” she said when my daughter and I picked her up from the City Marina for laundry and a meal. That was months ago. Now she’s got her boat out of the water at a local boat yard and she’s killing it on the repairs and refit so that she can head for the Bahamas when she’s ready.
In a lot of ways, I envy her. I went through a pivotal time in my life in my late teens during which I could have gone in one of two directions: get the little sailboat and start a life cruising or do what my parents wanted me to do and get a college education. I chose the latter, thinking that the education would earn me money to buy a bigger boat sometime down the road. We all know where that kind of thinking got my generation (oh, how I admire millennials and their hesitation to join the rat race!). So now, I pay my mortgage and send my kid to elementary school and pay my student loans (as little as I can…) and live vicariously through the girls like Emily who are doing what I wish I had done.
But maybe my role as a Boat Girl is a little different than Emily’s. She earned my respect even more with her recent response to Sailing Anarchy’s sexist photo SCOTW (Sailing Chick of the Week) photo. I studied creative writing; she studied journalism. I admire ballsy writing. What if my role is to support and champion other boat girls?
Some of the smartest people I know are millennials. Watching them take over the marine industry is immensely satisfying. If my role is to help launch them or help just one or two get on their feet and achieve their dreams, then I am doing what I was meant to do. It’s code. Boat Girl Code. It’s a beautiful thing.
Keep collaborating, friends. We’re all in this together.