A Lifelong Passion

Sailing with Lois Breen

November 2021 Feature Heather Magda Serrano

Lois Breen has cultivated a lifelong passion for sailing on the Great Lakes. Originally, it was her husband who introduced her to sailboat racing on his Hobie 18. Then he became involved in racing with a boat out of the Rochester Yacht Club in New York. They needed someone to fill in so they invited Lois to sail in a regatta.

“They really liked my aptitude,” explained Lois. “From there I never left the boat and they just kept me on.”

Eventually they bought their own Express 30 boat and began racing it. Lois and her husband had a wonderful crew of fun people who all knew what they were doing. For about 10 years they did very well competing at their club and at major regattas around Lake Ontario.

Joining Women’s Racing

Lois recalled going to a regatta called Level Regatta in Youngstown, N.Y. They raced on an Express 30 along with at least another 14 others, making it an impressive fleet of Express 30s. She remembers it as a regatta like no other since there was no other regatta that had enough Express 30s to make their own fleet.

Plus, they had bands every night and a Mount Gay Rum sponsored party on Saturday after racing which was a lot of fun for everyone. But no matter how fun these after parties were, the racing always remained the highlight for Lois and her team.

It was during this time that she realized she really enjoyed helming even though she didn’t have the opportunity to helm very often. Then someone at the club suggested she join the Women’s Racing Association (WRA) at Rochester Yacht Club.

In the end, they were very pleased to have Lois join since most of the women weren’t ready to helm yet, and she was able to helm the two-person boats used in their program. Additionally, she also found it to be a wonderful setting to create lasting friendships with other women who share her same passion for sailing.

“Some of the women I’ve met in Women’s Racing are my closest friends and I’ve remained friends with them for many years,” shared Lois. Now she has sailed with the WRA almost every year since starting with them.

Exploring Lake Ontario

Lois raced with her husband up until around 2004 when they sold their racing boat in order to do more cruising. One of their favorite things to do together is explore different areas on Lake Ontario. She loves the beauty of the Thousand Islands and it’s always fun to sail to Canada where they enjoy visiting some of the smaller towns on the shore.

“It’s like the Twilight Zone but not,” added Lois. “It’s as if time has stood still in some of the little towns. It’s cute and quaint and not built up the way it is here. The architecture is beautiful and I love going there.”

Now she and her husband have a Tartan 4100 named Key Lime for cruising and Lois has an Ideal 18 named Sublime for racing. “The Ideal 18 is the same boat currently used for the Women’s Racing Association,” noted Lois.

Additional Sailing Opportunities

She greatly enjoys the opportunities offered when it comes to helping women learn on WRA night and then being able to sail with others on Saturday. However, Lois is always on the lookout for other sailing opportunities and she was eventually asked to sail on the all-female J/24 team as well.

On the J/24 team, their boat is named Lady Minx which is named partly after the tenacious mink that they have running around the club and partly after the nickname for crafty, intelligent women.

Being on the all-female J/24 team has been a great deal of fun for Lois since they travel for regattas the way she used to on the Express 30. In 2019, they sailed 10 regattas away and at home and Lois was fortunate enough to be asked to sail on other boats in two additional regattas. In short, 2019 was an awesome year for Lois.

Home Sweet Home

Lois spoke fondly of her hometown as she described growing up in a suburb of Rochester. For her and the rest of the city, it’s all about freshwater sailing which she explained is quite different from the sailing on the East Coast in salt water. She feels like the Rochester area is very fortunate to have so many lakes to choose from. There are the Finger Lakes which are beautiful as well as Lake Ontario and many smaller lakes all over the state. 

“Unfortunately, sailing is seasonal,” sighed Lois. “A lot of people think that boating season is July, but I think it’s from May to October so, six months.”

Even though the water can be cold, especially in the spring, Lois explained that you simply learn to dress for it so you can get out and sail. A little cold weather never gets in her way of enjoying the lake.

“If you really love it then you just do what you have to do,” laughed Lois.

Special Training

Team Lady Minx has recently invested in training with J/24 expert and North Sails representative Mike Ingham. Over this past winter, the whole team did a sail trim seminar for four weeks.

Then Lois and Skipper Lee Ann Zaretsky both studied tactics and starting strategies for another four weeks each through Zoom conferences. With the COVID pandemic, many regattas got canceled and they had a late start to the season.

However, Lois and the rest of the team have no regrets in investing in their training because they know it will prove handy in future races.

Fond Memories

Over the years, Lois has made a lot of sailing memories. She remembers one time she was racing on a J/24 and the boat was actually knocked down on the water. She recalls her husband standing on the side of the mast while she was sitting on the side of the companion way of the boat.

“It was one of the craziest things that ever happened to me on a boat,” laughed Lois. “I actually told this story to one of my classes in college because we got extra credit points if you stood up in front of the group and told a story. One of the crew members actually jumped off the boat because they thought it would help right the boat. I’m not sure what he was thinking! All we really had to do was release the spinnaker halyard. So that was really crazy and fun.”

Then a couple of summers ago, the race committee set a gate for the Ideal 18 fleet in the surf where the waves were breaking. It was a day where there were 4-foot waves and as Lois and her companions were surfing down the waves, the waves were crashing through the gate, making it very challenging.

As everyone came off the water, everyone laughed about how fun it was despite the challenge. Lois remembers thinking it really was fun because they could handle it. Plus, she had the junior sailing coach crewing with her that day. She was never truly worried and she had the opportunity to learn from his direction.

“I wasn’t worried about bad stuff happening because he was there,” explained Lois. “So it was a lot of fun!”

Sailing With Women

There can be little doubt that Lois has fallen in love with sailing. Additionally, she feels it’s a great sport for women. “Men might be bigger and might be able to pull in a sail with less wraps on the winch, but we can do it too,” observed Lois. “And finesse, knowledge, and luck are all definitely factors in this sport.”

She explained that sometimes it all comes down to good fortune when you get a favorable wind shift. This is especially true on the Finger Lakes because you might have a finger of wind on one part of the course but then not get anything for the rest of the course. Lois emphasized that luck, equipment and experience all go in to how well sailors perform, making it an excellent sport for women and men alike.

When it comes to difference between sailing with women and men, Lois laughingly pointed out that with women there usually isn’t any beer on the boat since the girls tend to not like beer. Additionally, the food they bring on the boat is generally more than just a bag of pretzels.

“We bring great snacks,” shared Lois. “Going to regattas, it’s insane the amount of food we bring. Every now and then we throw a party so I guess we just like to be prepared for that.”

Perhaps the women sailors eat better on the boat than their male counterparts, but they also enjoy wearing matching outfits. After settling in to a hotel at one regatta, they went out for a drink and to look for a band. They wore their matching shirts and it was fun for them to be recognized as a team. Some people even asked if they were a bowling team. No, nothing so mundane for this group!

“Sailing with the girls is fun!” said Lois. “Sometimes you go out with your best friends and you go away on regatta and dance all night. There was one regatta last year where we played cards all evening and that’s stuff I don’t get to do at home.”

Lois has made some amazing memories through racing with her sailing teams and she still can’t get enough. She constantly looks for opportunities to sail on other boats at her club and is currently sailing four nights a week, Saturday mornings and sometimes Friday evenings. Through it all, her passion for sailing continues to be insatiable.


Rochester Yacht Club Women’s Racing Association

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