Last year the world shuddered at the news of Dictator First Lady in Exile Imelda Marcos’ tragic loss of her entire collection of 3,000 shoes. Among the lost soles are a pair of white Pierre Cardin heels. Termites ate them and mold rotted their perky little heels. Her fame was due less than her role as Dictator First Lady than her reputation as the epitome of excess in the Philippines. In her words, “I really had no great love for shoes. I was a working First Lady; I was always in canvas shoes. I did nurture the shoes industry of the Philippines, and so every time there was a shoe fair, I would receive a pair of shoes as a token of gratitude.”
I understand. Every time I go to a boat show, a ship’s chandlery, or pass a Sperry Topsiders’ store, I seem to acquire a new pair of boat shoes. My collection is up to 46 shoes. Less than Imelda’s but 44 more than Mary Ellen’s and she’s a live aboard sailor. I have seasonal favorites, beginning with my spring bamboo woven pink flowers on tan, pink & pale pink two-eyes, darker pink three-eyes, and preppy one-eyed pink, white, and emerald green. When hot weather comes and I’m not wearing flip flops (two pair are Topsiders) the seasonal fare includes yellow, light blue, tan, and light blue, Nantucket red, and madras canvass. Fall brings on the hounds tooth and corduroy, camouflage green, Black Watch canvass and cordovan (cute little anchors tooled in the leather). By winter I’m ready to slip into sturdy Blue Fish standards, a snugly pair with furry lining, or my new Navy blue boots with the really cool medallions.
I went to a Women on Water seminar (St. Louis Sail & Paddle) last Saturday (they don’t stock boat shoes). The theme was that women are from Venus, Men are from Mars, and most sail boats are Captained by human beings that pee standing up. Women were encouraged that it was not necessary to “grow a pair” to command a vessel. However, they should learn all aspects of sailing so that if Captain Bligh is knocked over board by a rogue boom that the woman may or may not have been responsible for securing, said woman will have options. Well, the presenter might not have said or implied this but my take away is: confident sailing women who know the ropes (and sails, and navigation, etc) can and should take charge when they want to because they can. For example, if a woman practices how to do a Man Overboard maneuver; she knows how to conduct a rescue. She’s also got the chutzpah to toss a life ring and circle around the sodden, misogynic, control freak a couple of times reminding the soaking Captain Testosterone that a woman’s independence is a strength and if he doesn’t get it he can swim to shore.
The Ex Libris is docked in a gender-balanced harbor, probably more Uranus than Mars or Venus. All of my female dock friends are on their first marriages and can sail. Most are proficient at the helm or as crew. Crew is anyone saddled with the job of hoisting and tuning the sails, taming the wind, yanking the lines every time the wind changes or you want to change course. Frankly, lugging a huge sail up a 50’ mast is not my idea of recreation – hence, George serves as the crew or, Deck Monkey. We women eschew being, smelling like or working as hard as a Deck Monkey. We like taking the helm and we don’t bark orders. That’s what’s different about River Rat Winch Wenches – we don’t ask any man for power– we take it.
We also like fashion and accessories (custom embroidered shirts, hatbands, and jackets) to embellish the jargon laden sport of sailing. Some women decorate their cabins with nautical tchotchkes and wear nautical styles of jewelry. I decorate my feet. Deck shoes serve as a function, an amusement, a fashion (lack there of), and a secure platform to walk on slippery decks. My collection is probably 25 years old. By rotating through the seasons and flip flopping most of the summer – deck shoes really don’t wear out. And, like my jeans, striped shirts, patch madras Bermuda shorts, embroidered caps, emerald green slacks, and pink oxford Polo shirts – they never really go out of style. The thing is my shoes fit me and acknowledge my passion for the sea and all things boats. George just smiles and compliments my shoe-thing and is content to be First Mate. He’s pretty confident that should he ever fall overboard his Captain wouldn’t circle three times before hauling him back on board.