On Deck: Jen Peddlesden
February 8, 2022
Jen Peddlesden will turn 74 in February and she still sails at Lake Chestermere in Alberta. “On Deck” conversation with the veteran sailor who is a member of the Calgary Yacht Club.
For how long have you been sailing?
My husband and I have lived at Lake Chestermere for nearly 45 years but we only became members in 2015. Our family has owned a Laser since 1977, which we sailed occasionally. But as we got older, spent more time at home and did not travel and hike so much, we began volunteering at CYC on the Race Boat Committee.
My husband Bill got quite interested in racing so he did that right away. It took me a few years to get into that, but I didn’t start racing until 2018, when I bought the Optimist in the spring of 2016 after searching a long time for the right boat. I weigh about 112 lbs and am 5’1” tall so it fits perfectly. I try to come out to the summer race team training sessions on Wednesday nights and I find it to be very useful.
I also thought that the grandkids might like to sail it, and they did. They did not mind sailing a boat named “Gran-E Jen”. And I like to think that our getting back into sailing was significant to the success our grandkids have had in sailing and racing. One grandson will be training with his partner for the 2022 Canada Summer Games in a 29er… He used to sail and race my Opti!
You will soon be 74 and you still train and race with young Opti sailors in Alberta in the summer. How did your transition from Laser to Opti go?
The first time I did this in 2016, with coach Nick, I was so embarrassed. I had only ever sailed a Laser, and I had no idea how to control the little Opti. It looked so simple! He asked us to come in and gather around the coach boat. I did not know how to stop so I just sailed around the outside of the group! I’m much better now, but having never done a week of sailing lessons in an Opti, as most of these kids have, it was a slower process. The Alberta Sailing Association training weekends really helped me. I have done two of those, and I got to know the kids that way as well.
Why do you like the Opti boat so much?
I did quite a bit of research on what to buy, and though the learning curve was steeper than I thought, I am able to handle the boat, rig it myself, which I struggled with sailing the Laser that I had previously sailed. The boat was designed in the year before I was born, 1947, by a man who was an Optimist. He wanted to have a pattern for a boat that a dad could make with his son out of two sheets of plywood and a bedsheet for a sail. His friend, the designer, could not make the front pointy, so that is why the Opti has a flat front. For some reason that story really resonated.
How does it feel to train with these kids in Opti?
Mostly, it is just fun. But sometimes it is also discouraging because over the years, I haven’t gotten much better, though I did complete my CANSail 3 in my Opti through coach Brianna at the Calgary Yacht Club. The kids seem to learn so fast, and it is always exhilarating to be heading to the finish line in a race, neck and neck. I must admit that if there is ever a time when I should give way, whether I have right of way or not, I usually do — they are the ones who are to become the sailors of the future, I’m just living out my second childhood with them. It’s their future and I’m happy about it.
What do the kids say when they see you train and compete against you?
Oh! They are great, so cheery and encouraging. “Hi Jen!” or “Hi grannie!” Sometimes, I don’t think the younger ones realize I’m at the age of their grandparents. They just think of me as one of them as I’m about their size. As they get older, that changes. A few were a bit shy at first, but once we have been out on the water together a few times, they give me some shy smiles, and after a while we get to be sailing buddies. If I do well, they always say so, and are kind if I have a bad race. I try to always do the same, good modelling… If I see them out and about in Chestermere, they always come over and say hello — big smiles!
What does your husband say?
He enjoys that I’m also out sailing in a boat that I can handle. And some of the kids have gotten to know him too. We’re Grannie Jen and Grampa Bill — the sailors!
Do you sometimes win against these kids?
Very few times… But wow, what a rush to come in first! My husband says that this usually happens more often in September at our Thursday Night Races, because a lot of the kids are back at school so the competition is not as steep — but I don’t believe him!
Are the kids surprised by your performances?
If the kids are, they are kind to say so when it happens, and sympathetic if I have a very bad race!
How is your relationship with the kids? Do you share some of your wisdom with them?
I would say it is good. I know that I have had comments from the coaches that they appreciate me encouraging the kids, and having fun with them on the water. They say I’m a good role model. One girl said she wanted to still be sailing when she was a grannie too. Wisdom? Well, sometimes, if I’m out on the water and I see a new youth out there, I might give them some tips, but very basic stuff. I’m not their coach, so I am always hesitant to say too much, but I try to do it in a positive way with reasons… Mostly, I just try to be cheery and try to remember their names so I can hail them personally.
What kind of positive influence do the kids have on you?
It is so much fun to sail when there are lots of people sailing the same kind of boat. I think that is why I chose to buy an Optimist in 2016, after much searching for a small boat an adult could sail. For many other types of boats for smaller adults, there was no one at our sailing club in that kind of boat, and having grandkids, I knew that they could also use this boat. So the kids have provided me with a ‘fleet’ to sail with. And also a lot of joy and camaraderie — and you just feel a lot younger sailing with kids all around you!
As a “grandma”, do you bring them some cookies sometimes?
Oh yes, for sure. One boy whom I got to know quite well, I met him in 2017 at a Thursday Night Racing session; he was so discouraged, looking sad and teary. I had a chat with him and he said I reminded him of his grandma who was always cheering him up. I brought him some cookies and that was the beginning of lots of chats, more cookies, and he would always gravitate to me when we were doing club clean ups or events. He loves to tell the story of when I was painting the W and M letters on our newly-painted toilet doors in the changing room, that I almost put the W on the M door! He loves that he caught my mistake! He won’t be sailing in an Opti next summer, I’m sad. He’ll be in the Laser fleet.
Why do you like sailing?
I love to be out on the water, challenging myself if it is windy, enjoying the clouds, the sky, and sometimes just relaxing, watching the birds. My favourite time to sail is summer mornings when the little kids are out doing their sailing school at the sailing club just three doors south of my house. Quite often, I’ll just sail out with them, some of them might be kids who are also on the Race Team, doing their week of Opti Advanced, or Opti Fast. But there is nothing like a lovely blue bird day on Chestermere with the happy sounds of kids laughing and hailing each other, gulls winging overhead, the sun on your back… What could be better? And these last few years, two of my grandkids have worked at the club and they will often be the instructors out on these mornings.
What do you think about girls participating in the sport of sailing and how it has progressed over the years ?
I am very supportive of the young girls I encounter when sailing in the Opti fleet. Out of the 15 who sail with our sailing club, there are usually three or four girls. I often spend a bit of time visiting with them when they are rigging, or chat with them after the races, give them ‘high fives’ when we used to do that and maybe some hugs too if they had a bad race.