FAMOUS FEMALES: Remembering Patience Wales; Celebrating Cole Brauer


March 8/2024:  I’ve been AWOL on the boat for the past month, with an antique laptop that can’t wrangle posts here anymore, so I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting this space. I’ll catch you up on my own adventures in just a bit, but first we need to discuss a couple of recent events that strike me as significant. The first being that Patience Wales, former editor-in-chief of SAIL Magazine (see image up top), who both encouraged me as a freelancer and hired me on to the full-time staff back in 1999, shuffled off her mortal coil three weeks ago, on Friday, February 16, at the age of 89.

I’ve always told anyone who will listen (including Patience herself) that Patience was the best boss I ever had, and it is one of the great regrets of my career that I wasn’t able to work with her longer than I did. She was one of the first women to lead the editorial staff of a major sailing magazine and was an accomplished bluewater cruiser, having twice circumnavigated on two different boats. She had strong opinions, but also a superb sense of humor. It was fun disagreeing with her, and she was always open to a contrary argument. You could change her mind about something with a very good pitch, and even when she made a call against you, she’d make you laugh while doing it. And she always somehow made you want to do your best for her.

Though she freely admitted that much of what is published in sailing magazines cannot rise to the level of literature, or even serious journalism, Patience always took the relationship between writer and editor very seriously. Soon after she hired me, she handed me a long New York Times Magazine story on how important a role Knopf editor Gordon Lish had played in developing Raymond Carver’s early short stories and urged me to study it. She was very old school in that she really valued and cultivated writers she felt were talented and never saw them as faceless interchangeable contributors. I was both flattered and honored that when she retired she handed on to me certain writers she saw as particularly important and had worked with personally for years—Don Street, Lin and Larry Pardey, and Webb Chiles.

I remember in particular one exchange pertaining to how best to recruit writers. Not long after she hired me as the magazine’s technical editor, Patience called me in and told me it was very important that I improve our electronics coverage. I was even more of a Luddite then than I am now, and I replied that maybe we should help readers learn how to manage their boats without any electronics.

“Well, you can think that all you want,” she snapped back. “But I want you to come in here and crawl under my desk before you ever say it out loud again.”

I knew I wasn’t going to be concocting any of this new and improved electronics coverage myself, so I carefully studied the field and concluded the best electronics writer then working was Ben Ellison, who then published mostly in Ocean Navigator. It took some time, but finally I wooed him and had him writing almost exclusively for SAIL.

After Ben’s first few pieces ran in the magazine, Patience came to me and said, “This Ellison is very good! Where did you find him?”

“I stole him from Ocean Navigator,” I replied.

“That’s-s-s the way to do it,” she came back with her always distinctive sibilant hiss. “Good for you!”

It was my proudest moment as technical editor.

Patience retired just as the Internet was first beginning to transform not just sailing magazines, but all of print journalism. I’ve often thought she got out in the knick of time. I remember her coming back from one big meeting with the corporate suits, not too long before she left, with a look of horror on her face. She explained that they wanted to put all the magazine’s editorial content up online for free.

“I’ve been doing this long enough to know you have to be careful which fights you pick,” she told me. “But I sure had to pick this one. This is what we do! It’s what makes the magazine valuable to readers. We can’t just give it away!”

But, of course, that’s what we do now.

I think of Patience often, particularly when contemplating the sorry state of modern marine journalism. She is sorely missed, as is the magazine as it was in her day.

From left to right: Patience and her second husband, Knowles Pittman; boatbuilder Haydn Gozzard; Patience’s long-time “boat partners,” Bebe and Kenneth Wunderlich; and designer Robb Ladd. All standing together in 1997 in front of the hull of Boston Light, a custom build commissioned by Patience, Knowles, Bebe, and Kenneth. They previously had all circumnavigated together on the first Boston Light, a Skye 51, a stock Ladd design. Patience’s first circumnavigation, back in the 1960s, was aboard Kismet, a 42-foot wooden double-ender, also with Bebe and Kenneth, and with her first husband, Jim Wales. (Photo by Skip Brown)

The other big current event, of course, publicized much more virulently than the Passing of Patience, is Cole Brauer’s compelling second place finish in the Global Solo Challenge.

Patience would have been all over this.

What’s important here isn’t that a female came in second in a big singlehanded non-stop RTW race. Kristen Neuschafer, as previously noted, became the first female to actually win such a race just a few months ago. And, of course, Ellen MacArthur (a quite small human, just like Cole) made a huge splash in Britain coming second in the 2000-2001 Vendee Globe, sailing a bigger, more challenging boat (an IMOCA Open 60) compared to the Class 40 Cole has been driving.

The big thing here is that Cole is American and, thanks to her well-populated Instagram account, has busted out of the small circle of the sailing world and has hit mainstream American popular culture.

Like big time.

New York Times

Associated Press

ABC News

New York Post

Washington Post

NBC News

CBS News

USA Today

The Today Show

U.S. News and World Report

…and so on…

Could this be the sort of tipping point that makes solo long-distance ocean racing as popular in the U.S. as it is in France???

If only!

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2 Responses
  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Charlie! And it’s easy to add that you are the best editor I ever had. I always appreciated how carefully you read my draft pieces, and how adroitly you made them more engaging and useful even to semi-Luddite readers like yourself.

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