**This article featured in the Summer 2019 Edition – there was no social distancing at the time!**
In the series, Who I met at the Bar, SPINNAKER has a chat with Catherine Halpin, one of the few regular female sailors to take part in Club competitions, mostly in the Sport Boats Class.
SPINNAKER | Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do for a living?
I am quite a competitive person by nature and have always been pretty career focused. I have a Masters in Engineering, but most of my working life has been involved in managing large infrastructure projects. Currently I am working as CEO for The Quad Business Towers, a new commercial development in Central Business District in Mrieħel.
SPINNAKER | What brought you to Malta?
My (now) husband had already moved to Malta, primarily for a lifestyle change as he is a very keen sailor, but also for work. After about a year of commuting to see him here while working back in Ireland, I decided to take the plunge and move here myself. Neither of us have really looked back since. I think sailing and the Royal Malta Yacht Club have been a large part of the reason we are so happy in Malta, as we have met many of our friends here through the Club or on the water.
SPINNAKER | How long have you been sailing?
I actually only started sailing when I was in my mid–twenties. But I have always been involved in water sports since I was a kid, and I think that helped me to pick up sailing when I finally decided to give it a try.
SPINNAKER | We have seen you mostly competing in the SB20 Class, but you have raced on keelboats before – Do you prefer the SB20’s to keelboats or is it a matter of SB20’s being more accessible for the time being?
I love sailing no matter what. Be it cruising our own boat around the Mediterranean, or racing short courses in Sport Boats. Back in Ireland I used to race cruiser/racers twice a week. I have also taken part in some of the longer offshore races such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. These days my work schedule does prevent me from taking part in some of the longer races, so for me the SB20 is the perfect thing right now. It’s fun, it’s close to the water, the boats are quite forgiving and with the fleet increasing we can have some close racing. It’s also a nice bunch of people so you get that banter before and after the races. Hopefully the Class will continue to grow and improve, and we shall all become better and more competitive sailors as a result.
SPINNAKER | How does it feel to be just one of a handful of women who sail regularly in the Club’s Races?
I would love to see more females out on the racecourse and really getting involved. Getting enough women out racing is an issue everywhere I have sailed, but I have to say in Malta there really are very few. One of the things I miss about sailing in Ireland in fact is the chat in the dressing room before and after races, and the teasing and joking that goes with it! It also helps your own sailing I find, to be surrounded by other women who are going out there and racing hard.
SPINNAKER | Do you have any suggestions for any budding female sailors?
Just to get out there, to love the sport and give it everything. Don’t let your head down after a bad day (or a bad manoeuvre), just focus on the next one and the one after that. Sailing is so much a head game. In fact the ability to keep a positive mindset, something you learn from sailing, will stand to you whatever you do in life.
SPINNAKER | What do you think holds females from taking up sailing? Do you think it is a man’s world?
I think part of it is keeping the Juniors involved as they get older , taking exams or starting university. That’s where I think regular, shorter races (even evening races) combined with a social gathering in the Club afterwards really works. For me the social aspect is really important as well as having a regular slot that doesn’t take the whole day away.
Is it a man’s world? There is definitely a macho aspect to parts of the sport the world over, but initiatives like The Maiden Factor are pushing the agenda and getting a lot of visibility for women’s sailing. In Malta, for me the men can be a huge part of the solution of getting women sailing, by inviting female crew and then letting them be an actual active part of the team. Lets face it, the loads on some of the larger boats do require strength for some crew positions, but attitude, speed, being a good technical sailor and loving sailing are all part of the make-up of any successful sailor too, so it is not just a strength game.
SPINNAKER | Who is Catherine outside of sailing? Any other hobbies? Do you have time to practice them?
Haha. I need more than 24 hours in every day for sure! I also enjoy cycling, running, pilates and swimming. I use sport to clear my head after a day at work, and I enjoy sports of all kinds, so it is important for me to make time for them. If I am not doing sport of some sort, then I am generally spending time with family or friends, or out having cruising adventures with Lily, our cat, who loves sailing too!
Editor’s Note – In the meantime, a few months later Catherine was elected as President of the SB20 Malta Class Association.