We read the admiring obituaries of Bobbie Jean O’Boyle after her death earlier this year. She was a pioneer for women in boating journalism and, by extension, for women in the whole boating ecosystem.
O’Boyle’s passing has sharpened our awareness of a historical novelty of our time: that women not only write and edit about sailing, yachts, and motorboats: in the 21st century women own them, design them, race them, and earn gold medals for doing so. So this is our salute to all the women in the boating world today, in the confidence there will be more in the near future doing all of those things than at present. The salute begins with O’Boyle and proceeds by way of an entirely arbitrary, subjective all-star team of some who have flourished since her heyday in the field.
Bonnie Jean O’Boyle RIP
O’Boyle passed away on March 18, 2018. She was the first woman ever to serve as the editor-in-chief of a boating magazine. She co-founded Power and Motoryacht (PMY) in 1984, taking the title of editor-in-chief as the other founder, Jeff Hammond, took on for himself the title of publisher. O’Boyle retained the e-in-c post there until 1990. During this tenure she may have coined the term “megayacht.”
One of the novelties of PMY was its content. The material in boating magazines then was generally aimed at a broad audience, taking in aficionados of both sail and power. But Hammond and O’Boyle wanted to differentiate themselves. Their magazine would be exclusively about powerboats and for those who loved them.
How (aside from the name of the magazine) could they quickly and decisively make that point? Well … by ticking off the sailors, of course. As Hammond recently told the story, it was O’Boyle who hired Tom Fexas as a humor columnist and it was Fexus who wrote a piece for the first issue that got things off with a bang.Titled “Sailing is Silly,” the column include jibes like “who wants to sit on the side of a boat? So slow, so boring.” Sailors wrote furious letters, but -- or consequently -- PMY had an instantly high profile as the motorboat mag willing to stick it to the slowpokes.
It turned out there was a market for motoring-only content after all: PMY earned more advertising revenue in its first four years than any of its rivals.
For the August 1985 issue, O’Boyle inaugurated the PMY 400 World’s Largest Yachts, with its arresting collection of megayachts (it is a useful word) along with intriguing information about their owners. Both readers and advertisers loved the idea and its execution. The idea of such a catalog was destined to be widely copied: with varied results as to execution.
The magazine focused in those early years on what one writer, an admirer of O’Boyle’s, has called a “burgeoning fleet of almost inconceivably immense … megayachts, high-end naval architects with very prestigious, European-sounding names, fishing tournaments with rollers so high they’d make your nose bleed, and a vast, overall milieu that stretched opulently from Mexico to Monaco.”
Prominent among the women who have made their impact on the boating world in the decades since O’Boyle’s heyday in the ‘70 and ‘80s, one might think first of Pascale Reymond, who co-founded the design company Reymond Langton (with Andrew Langton) in 2001.
Reymond has been educated at Kingston University in London, the Universite de Haute Bretagne Rennes, in Rennes, France, and La Sorbonne, in Paris. She absorbed by her own account “a strong knowledge in art history and fine art,” and became “confident with all aspects of the design process.”
She had a decade of designing behind her before she struck off on her own with Langton. The firm’s website says that their goal was the design of yachts “that are as beautiful as they are functional whilst, at the same time, ensuring own clients’ expectations are not only met but exceeded.”
In an interview with MegaYacht News that ran in early 2016, Reymond explained that she never gets her own aesthetics confused with those of a client. “For your information, my personal taste is contemporary interior with strong antique Asian accents [but] I have not done quite this style on a yacht so far.”
The MegaYacht interviewers tried to draw her out on the differences between her European and her American clients. She refused to speak in such generalities, saying that the firm designs for individuals and their desires are extremely varied.
Power boat racer Shelley Jory-Leigh came to wide public attention when she won the 2005 Honda Formula 4-Stroke Championship. Three years later she became the first woman ever to compete in the Evolution class of Powerboat P1.
Within a couple of years after that, by the spring of 2010, she was one of the elite boaters in this class, one that involves multiple races each season in challenging open-sea waters.
Unfortunately, she sustained two serious accidents in competition one quickly after the other. The first came about in June of 2010, during the final of the Malta Grand Prix of the Sea. Jory-Leigh was traveling at 87 miles an hour and got hooked by what she has called a “very unusual wave.” She was “tossed around like a rag doll.” Her injuries required immediate hospital attention but didn’t keep her from the open sea for long.
Then in July, the second accident. She and her partner Patrick Huybreghts were training off Sardinia when their boat suddenly malfunctioned, indeed when it exploded. This left both Huybreghts (at the throttle) with head injuries and a dislocated shoulder, Jory-Leigh (piloting) with head injuries and a broken nose. Press accounts of the time deemed it a miracle neither boater was killed.
Jory-Leigh was out of competition for the remainder of that season, but she was back into it a year later, telling a BBC reporter in June 2011 that she had tried in the intervening months to live “like normal people do,” a more pedestrian onshore life, but that she missed the adrenaline.
Nowadays, she continues to race and she works for the BBC as a presenter, conveying her knowledge and love of the sport to a broad audience.
Meanwhile, in the Sailing World
Our salute to women in boating will conclude with two sailors: Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze, who between them won a gold medal for host country Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Racing the 49er, a two-handed skiff-type high performance craft, has been an Olympic event (for men) since 2000. The Rio Olympics was the first in which there was a woman’s event for a modified form of this craft, the 49er FX: and this is the competition Grael and Kunze won.
Martine Grael has a surname familiar to the Brazilian public: familiar, indeed, to admirers of competitive sailing everywhere. She is the daughter of Torben Grael, who has won five Olympic golds in the sport. Also, in October 2008, Torben Grael established the 24-hour monohull record, sailing the yacht Ericsson 4 an amazing 596.6 nautical miles in that time frame.
Martine’s brother Marco and her uncle Lars are also competitive sailors.
Upon entering the family business, Martine teamed up with Kahena Kunze. Indeed, Martine and Kahena knew each other from childhood and had first teamed up at 2009 at the ISAF [International Sailing Federation] Youth Worlds event in Buzios, Brazil. They won the ISAF Youth World title that year in the 4200 class.
Five years later, in 2014, Grael and Kunze won a world title in the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Santander. The 2016 victory in Rio, then, was a culmination of a partnership. One hopes that it is but an early jewel is the crowns these women are creating for themselves.