The Milwaukee Bay Women’s Sailing Organization Gives Women a Place to Race

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — Sailboats float along Milwaukee’s lakefront all summer long. It can be a relaxing way to be out on the water. For those looking to race– there’s competitions at every level. There’s one racing fleet doing things a little differently, though. They’re encouraging women to take the helm.

“Alright, are we ready on the bow? Ready,” women on the sailboat, Te Fiti, call back and forth as they leave Milwaukee’s South Shore Yacht Club.

From bow to stern, every position on Te Fiti is manned by a woman.

“We unfurl the jib, we put up the main and we are gone,” said sailor, Susie Rieck.

Most Mondays, nine boats head out onto Lake Michigan to race.

“It’s always different. You’re always learning something new,” explained Fran Aring.

Fran Aring is fleet captain of the Milwaukee Bay Women’s Sailing Organization and has been sailing with many of these women for 30 years.

“It’s nice because there’s no expectations. You’re out there as a team. You’re working together. And everybody helps everybody. It’s a different feeling,” she said.

The teams sail out to a course marked out on the lake.

“Our races are generally windward, leeward, twice around,” she said.

Aring can be found on Bacchus. She’s a life-long sailor.

“I started sailing as a little kid. In Optimus prams, up in Sturgeon Bay, where I’m from,” she recalled.

Others, like Cheryl Kelly, picked it up later in life, finding more than a new hobby.

“I think, for us, many of our crew are now family. Which is, I’m not from Wisconsin. So, for me, that’s how I found my family here,” Kelly said.

Milwaukee’s all-women racing fleet is unusual, there’s nothing else like it in the area.

So why just women?

“Women are late to come to sailing,” Rieck said.

Rieck has been with the fleet since the beginning. She said it’s important to give women the space to learn.

“The spirit of camaraderie that women are sailing, we are rough and tough enough to handle anything out there and do it with spirit and joy and competitiveness,” she said.

Kelly– who sails on Bounder– says this is sailing designed *for* women.

“When we started this fleet, the by-laws were how to create a platform for women where there’s no yelling,” Kelly said.

That’s kept it smooth sailing all these years and helped to bring in many new members.

“Sailing takes a day to learn, but it takes a lifetime to perfect,” Amy Cermak said with a smile.

Cermak has been with the all-women’s fleet from the start, too. Introducing people to the sport is a passion.

“I started sailing when I was 20. My husband and I learned together, but I am the commodore at Racine Yacht Club, and I oversee their youth sailing program,” she said.

The fleet is always looking to expand.

“We were down to seven boats in the fleet last year, and we’ve come to nine. We want to get back to the glory days of 20, when the competition was just magnificent,” Rieck said.

Kelly encourages anyone interested to come check it out.

“We started last year, a meet-up program, where anyone who was just interested in going out and sailing could come out on Bounder and if we were full, we’d hook them up with another crew,” she explained.

New members, adding a fresh perspective.

“We have our newbies who have learned and are agile. We have a multi-age team, too. From 20’s to the 70’s,” Rieck said.

Making space on-board for most everyone.

“I would say it’s super close knit. We all have a shared interest in keeping the sport alive,” said Kelly.

“This is a good place for everyone. We may even allow men in some day, but I doubt it,” Rieck added with a laugh.

For more information on the Milwaukee Bay Women’s Sailing Organization, visit Sailing Fleets (

If you’d like to nominate an Everyday Hero, send Natalie a message at [email protected].

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