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Johanne McInnis. Image: submitted

History-Making, All-Women Racing Yacht Comes To Saint John To Mentor Young Girls

By Jessica Saulnier Aug 3, 2022 | 7:15 AM

Johanne McInnis, a Saint John woman, has spent more than 20 years mentoring in different communities.

“I think my purpose is … to pass on that knowledge and ensure that they understand that it’s a baton that I’m passing on,” McInnis recently told Huddle. “It’s my turn, here I am, here’s what I know, here’s what I’m sharing with you. When it’s your turn, do the same in my memory.”

This week, an all-female ocean racing yacht called Maiden will come to Saint John. The boat is on a three-year world tour, raising money and awareness to get girls into education. McInnis is one of the Saint John community members who helped bring the yacht to the city.

McInnis, a sailor herself, has been a natural mentor her whole life. And her mentoring extends far beyond the deck of a boat.

She helped found the First Steps Housing Project Inc. program with other women in the Saint John area. The program is designed to help young, unwed mothers who have nowhere to go–an experience McInnis had when she was 17 and left her hometown to come to Saint John without knowing anyone.

Within the First Steps program’s first four-to-five years, McInnis mentored some of the women who came through. Just recently, the program celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Later, McInnis studied chemical engineering. She said there were only about six women in her class when she graduated. Since that point in her life, she has lived and worked in a male-dominated field.

Now working for the federal government, she mentors young adults through Next Generation, a federal program that helps young adults starting government jobs navigate their careers as public servants.

McInnis is also a member of Women on the Water Saint John (WoW), a local organization of around 50 women who teach and mentor each other in all things boat-related. A majority of the members in WoW are also some kind of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) field, and sailing is almost like a magnet that brings them together.

“It’s a women’s network, we’re like beacons, we find each other and next thing you know the connections are made,” she said.

McInnis said women who have been with the organization for a while all have their own strengths they bring to WoW. McInnis is often the person other women go to when they need help navigating their boat. She will go out on the water with them and help them until they are ready to go solo.

“Each one of us has our strengths and we rely on each other from a mentorship perspective,” said McInnis.

McInnis mentored one of WoW’s current members for a couple of years and told her to pass the knowledge on when it’s her turn to become a mentor. The woman has now been sailing for 10 years and is part of that mentorship program where she now brings new members to the organization and mentors them.

“Each generation leads to the next generation of mentorship which is really cool,” said McInnis.

Mentoring is McInnis’ commitment to the next generation. Bringing Maiden to Saint John is just her latest act. McInnis said WoW’s pledge is almost identical to what they feel Maiden’s is.

“We really feel that by allowing women that opportunity to get educated [and] to take courses to further their sailing experience [is] the whole point,” said McInnis. “We certainly emulate everything that amazing foundation is all about.”

The whole reason McInnis is invested in Maiden is because the racing yacht was the first ever all-women crew to sail in an around-the-world race, in 1989.

“For me now, later on in my life, they were truly the shoulders that my generation stood on and I guess when you see yourself … you realize there’s potential for, ‘yeah, we can do that too,’” said McInnis.

Maiden’s current skipper, Liz Wardley, grew up in Papua New Guinea around fishing boats and started sailing in her teenage years.

When she was 20, she sailed her first world race on an all-female team in the Volvo Ocean Race. She competed in another Volvo Ocean Race with an all-women team in 2014 and then a third with a mixed team.

Liz Wardley. Image: Submitted.

Wardley is a skipper for Maiden’s East Coast leg of the voyage. The racing yacht is set to sail into Saint John, its only Canadian stop, on August 3 and will depart for Martha’s Vineyard on August 13.

At most of their stops along the tour, the crew hosts “Maiden Days,” where the foundation reaches out to community hubs, schools, and lesson development areas to invite girls on the boat to offer mentorship.

The crew members share their individual stories of where they came from, what they are doing, and how they got into sailing.

“We just try to show them that things are possible,” said Wardley.

Apart from educating girls about the foundation, they also take on miles builders, apprentices, and guests. Wardley said the mile builders take a big leap of faith when coming on Maiden to join the crew for a leg of the trip.

“It’s really cool to be able to really just knuckle down and give them what they want and then they walk away feeling empowered or inspired,” said Wardley.

McInnis said Maiden’s 1989 all-women crew “opened a massive door,” and it was the realization that women had the stamina and strength to be yacht racers.

“It’s a massive crazy network around the world [and] it’s amazing to be [a] part of,” said McInnis. “Women lift each other up in the sailing community, that’s the big difference I think from a mentorship perspective.”

Jessica Saulnier is a summer intern for Huddle, an Acadia Broadcasting content partner.


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