It was one of those crystal days after a cold front has moved through.
High on a grassy hill gentlewomen gathered around bowls of salad and marinated mushrooms, bottles of white wine and tiny dessert pastries at the Shearwater Sailing Club. Dogwood were in high bloom. Sunlight shimmered off Spa Creek.
A spring meeting of the Ladies' Auxiliary?
It was the kickoff luncheon for LUST. That's the wry acronym for Ladies Under Sail Together, a new sailing school "for women with a desire to learn." These ladies want anything but to be anybody's auxiliary.
"Women are the potato-salad queens of sailing and they are getting tired of it," said school founder Cathy Sippel.
Added Judy Lawson, one of Sippel's two partners: "One of our big objectives is to build confidence. We're aiming at women in particular because they have been traditionally put down and made to feel like buffoons abroad a sailboat."
There is no known sociological justification for the way men treat women when they share a sailboat. The mildest, gentlest husband is likely to emerge as a raging tyrant. One small thing goes wrong and a temperate, warm-hearted boyfriend dissolves into a seagoing Frankenstein.
Chuch Breed, resident manager at Shearwater, has had a long life with the sea and runs "a happy ship," he said. But he's seen women berated aboard every type of sailing vessel."
"I think it's partly a function of fear and lack of control," he said. "Here's a wealthy guy, he's bought a beautiful boat, he's goingh along nice and slow when all of a sudden something goes wrong.
"He says to himself, 'What the hell's going on? I know what I'm doing - just look at me. I'm a successful businessman.' Then he panics."
Whatever the reason, women seem to end up on the receiving end of someone's wrath.
LUSTwants to change that.
Sippel, Lawson and third partner Louise Burke are veteran blue-water sailors. Sippel has skippered a 44-foot racing yacht on the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit. Lawson will race singlehanded from Newport to Bermuda next month. Burke works for the Naval Academy sailing program, running cruises for midshipmen aboard a 66-foot schooner every summer. She's crossed the Atlantic with the mids.
"What we're offering," said Burke, "is patience and understanding with our teaching."
Lawson said there's another, broader mission: "Too often women who do well in a field separate themselves from other women and keep their success to themselves. We feel it's our obligation to share our knowledge with other women."
And, she added, "We know that the instructor's function is not to berate and beat, but to serve as an exemplar. We have to teach without destroying the self-respect and confidence of our students."
Confidence is something B.J. Blackistone could use.
Blackistone, who was at the luncheon, tried sailing a few years back with her husband and some friends.
"The first time I got hit in the head by the big thing that swings back and forth. What do you call it?"
"Yeah," she said, "I got bloomed by the boom. Well, after that I just felt like I was in the way. When I went sailing I sat back and let somebody else do the work."
Blackistone was aboard last Monday when LUST opened its summer schedule. She was taking the week-long course, which offers three-hour morning classroom sessions and three-hour afternoons on the water in a Tartan 33, a Stiletto catamaran or a tiny Laser.
The fee is $130. There's a cheaper working-sailor's weekend curriculum, as well.
If classes fill up, it'll be hard for LUST to keep going all summer, as its instructors go to sea.
Lawson will need two weeks plus for her Bermuda voyage, Burke is taking the mids off on an Atlantic jaunt and Sippel is orgainizing an all-women's entry in the Annapolis-to-Newport race next month.
So LUST is looking for substitute teachers.
Women, of course?
"Not necessarily," said Lawson. "We're not sexists. We might consider males. It has a lot more to do with outlook, philosophy and depth of knowledge than gender."
For information on LUST, write to 413 Fourth Street, Annapolis 21403. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By James M. Thresher