Sheila McCurdy

Friday, 17 January 2014 /

Hometown: Middletown, RI/
Smith College, B.A.; University of Rhode Island, Master of Marine Affairs

Sailing Biography and US Sailing Experience:

  • Won the 1973 U.S. Women’s Sailing Championship for the Adams Cup, crewing for Timmy Larr.
  • Competed in 15 Newport Bermuda Races, a Fastnet Race, and several other coastal races on both sides of the Atlantic in small and big boats.
  • Compiled over 100,000 miles sailing over four decades, including nine transatlantic cruises.
  • As skipper and navigator in the Newport Bermuda Races of 1994 and 2008, she and her crew finished second overall in divisions of over 120 boats.
  • Her family’s cruiser/racer is SELKIE, a 38-footer designed by her late father Jim McCurdy.
  • She is a trustee of Mystic Seaport and the New York Yacht Club and past Commodore of the Cruising Club of America.
  • Experienced in boatbuilding, project management and strategic planning.
  • As a professional captain, she holds an U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton license.
  • She ran the Museum of Yachting in the late 1980s.
  • For seven years she lived and worked at SUNY Maritime College, where her husband was President.
  • Joined the 2002 New York Yacht Club Race Committee.
  • Serves on US Sailing’s Safety at Sea Committee and is one of seven moderators appointed to run Safety at Sea Seminars.
  • Vice Chair of the Training Committee and has chaired the National Faculty since 2000 during a time of successful growth.
  • Represents US Sailing on the ISAF Development and Youth Committee.
  • Recently joined the Board of the Offshore Racing Association (ORA) which supports and promotes the effective and fair use of rating rules, working closely with the US Sailing’s Offshore Department.

*Married to David Brown, USMS (ret.)

Words from the Director

US Sailing manages vital services and programs so that American sailors can enjoy their sport more, yet many members and non-members have difficulty equating the value they receive from US Sailing with the expense of the dues. While not a new issue, it is one that, when resolved, will make US Sailing stronger and more resilient.

I have experienced sailing from almost every angle. I have brought my understanding to all the volunteer work I have done for US Sailing for over 20 years. I continue to benefit from the many good times that sailing has brought me. I wish every member the same joy.

Why should sailors be members of US Sailing?

Sailors rely on wind in harbors, lakes and bays for recreation and sport. They think of those puffs and lulls as local, but the wind was generated by continental and oceanic systems. Sailors should understand the connection between their local sailing and the nationwide energy-generating system that is US Sailing. Supporting US Sailing and using its services and products should go hand-in-hand, but the ongoing value added to the local fleets by US Sailing can be as hard to grasp as the wind.

Racing rules, safety-at-sea training, learn-to-sail programs seem to exist whether one pays dues or not. Every sailing program and every sailor from beginner to champion benefits from the experience of US Sailing members, volunteers and professional staff who have expanded the sport with nationally consistent practices for one-design and big boats racers, windsurfers and casual sailors. A sailor of any age can go to large and small venues around the U.S. and compete under fair rules, benefit from high quality race management, and improve through insightful coaching. Every sailor who acknowledges that this doesn’t happen by magic, should be a member of US Sailing.

What can US Sailing do to support sailing organizations in their efforts to better serve their members and recruit sailors to participate in their events and programs?

US Sailing has an enormous amount of knowledge to present on topics of interest to sailing organizations. An example might be to refocus safety at sea material to apply to safety for coastal cruising couples. (i.e. how to even up the responsibilities; so both can react if something goes wrong.) This subject and others could be divided into one-hour presentations with standardized power points or hands-on drills. US Sailing certified trainers or local qualified volunteers could give the talks.

I have wondered why tennis and golf clubs have pros, but not sailing. A US Sailing certified trainer could be part of waterfront staff to help members with boat preparation for rating rules, boat handling on and off a race course, race tactics, rig tuning and sail trim questions, etc.

Each year there is a need to help coordinate classes and regattas looking for venues with organizations willing to host. US Sailing could follow up with an online standardized planning guide for new event venues and volunteers.

Several organizations I belong to are concerned with making a larger number of their members active and engaged. US Sailing might consider online training for developing effective volunteer corps.

What ideas do you have on keeping current sailors active in our sport?

Sailing can be a life-long sport, but often the ways to enjoy it change. Those transitions should be easy: college sailing to club sailing; small boat to big boat; PHRF to ORR, IRC and HPR; racing to cruising; competitor to race official – and sometimes back again. Each form of sailing has some esoteric knowledge and skills needed by those in charge or following instructions as crew. The more self-study resources that US Sailing can provide easy access to, the better off our sailors will be.

There are disincentives to continuing in the sport, but each has available resolutions. Access to the water is restricted in many places, but parks and community boating is expanding recreational opportunities. The equipment is expensive, but community boating and some clubs maintain fleets for members’ use.

Sailing is a sport as well as a social activity. Having friends and family to sail with is a huge incentive to continue in the sport. So is the camaraderie of getting together after sailing. The fleets and classes that seem to last the longest are those who actively encourage participation and assist newcomers to become involved, improve and be part of the social group.

What ideas do you have on reinvigorating and energizing our volunteer base?

We celebrate sailing for its self-reliance, but it is hard to get individualists to volunteer; however, sailing is social as well. The gifts of time and effort by volunteers need to be recognized and reinforced by all in the communities who benefit. Older adults tend to have more time and desire to volunteer. We have a continuing supply of aging adults. Each volunteer should be prepared to welcome and engage new volunteers at local, regional and national levels. That said, there is no reason not to include volunteering as part of junior sailing, college sailing and beyond. Clubs could include juniors on race committees and event assistance. We can teach sailors to volunteer.

There is a resistance by productive volunteers to recruit new volunteers because it is awkward and time wasted if they do not work out. Not every volunteer will be a success, but the success rate goes up if the expectations are clear and the goals include having fun.

US Sailing tracks sailing student and instructor certification levels. Perhaps volunteer time/title should be tracked, as well, and posted online to appreciate those making a difference locally, regionally or nationally. It would show potential volunteers the contributions the unpaid supporters have made to our sport.