Goldie Joseph, 77, is known as a fast woman.
In fact, this year's official program for the Ensenada Yacht Race lists Joseph as "the fastest woman" in the 42-year history of the regatta. In 1983, Joseph won a first-place trophy in her class and set two records--fastest race ever by a female skipper and fastest wooden boat to finish in any race.
When Joseph accepted her trophy at the spry age of 70, she said: "Everybody kissed me because I was the token old lady."
On April 25, Joseph will be honored along with other female skippers, including Nancy Hutchinson, Carole Byrne and Peggy Slater.
The idea to turn the spotlight on the female sailors came from Lorin Weiss, president of the Newport Ocean Sailing Assn., sponsor of the race. "I felt that they deserved to be recognized in the sense that what women are doing today is not new," Weiss says. "There have been women in sailing for a long time."
Weiss revels the little-known fact that the first Ensenada Yacht Race was won by a woman, the late A.L. (Dennie) Barr, who skippered her husband's 46-foot sloop across the finish line. When the 43rd annual race sets sail April 27, Weiss estimates that women will make up about 15% of the 5,000 sailors aboard the 600 boats expected to compete in the event.
Although Goldie Joseph will not be among this year's competitors, she will be watching as the fleet takes off at noon near the Newport jetty. Joseph, who quit sailing about five years ago, says she has sailed in 12 to 15 Ensenada races. She can't remember the exact number, she says, because she's raced in so many different events.
She has won more than 100 racing trophies, all of them proudly displayed in her waterfront home on Lido Isle. Also on display in front of her home is Bonita, the 46-foot wooden sloop Joseph fell in love with and bought 27 years ago. Together, she and the boat have logged thousands of miles and have sailed in nearly every local race, becoming a legend among the Orange County sailing community. Coincidentally, Bonita is the sister ship to the boat sailed by the regatta's first winner, Dennie Barr.
Joseph, with her colorful wardrobe, twinkling eyes, wide smile and narrow-brimmed straw hat, may not look like a salty sea captain, but don't let appearances fool you. "Have sextant, will travel," she says and means it. She has traveled all the way to Scandinavia to race and has sailed across the Pacific to Hawaii.
Joseph, whose husband, Sam, does not sail, says she took up the sport in mid-life because it looked like fun. "Let's see, how old was I then?" she asks. "I was probably in my 40s."
She bought a small sailboat called a Snipe and taught herself how to sail it. "I fooled around with it until I figured out how to put up the sails and managed to figure out how to make the boat go with the wind," she says. "But I never figured out how to stop it. So if I wanted to stop, I'd just hit the dock."
Joseph figures she ran into a lot of docks before she decided to sign up for a Power Squadron boating course and learn how to sail the proper way. Since then she has become quite active in the boating organization and eventually went through all the courses, including the tough navigational course.
After completing all the Power Squadron courses, she began to receive invitations to crew on other people's boats and was in great demand, she says, because "I could cook without getting seasick." Eventually she wrote and published her own cookbook called "The Racing Galley," a spiral-bound book that she says is waterproofed for wet sailing. One of her books was aboard a boat that sank, Joseph says. When the boat was recovered the owner washed the cookbook off and it was as good as new.
In 1963, when Joseph thought she was ready to sail her own boat, she bought the Bonita. "I was 50 years old," she says. "When the women would see me out there sailing my boat, they'd look and say, 'What are you doing out there?' The men would just sort of look at me."
She recalls one friend who, after watching Joseph in action supervising a male crew, remarked: "I was surprised when Goldie told all those men what to do, but I was even more surprised when they did it."
Although Joseph no longer sails, she says she has no intention of selling her boat. "I'm going to keep her and look at her," she says, smiling broadly. "I love to look at her."
The reception honoring Joseph and other female racing skippers will be from 5 to 8 p.m. April 25 at the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, 1714 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach. The event is open to the public. For information, call (714) 673-3377.
Other Ensenada Race activities include a pre-race seminar at 7:30 p.m. April 20 at the Balboa Yacht Club, 1801 Bayside Drive and a pre-race fiesta at 5 p.m. April 26 at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club, 1601 Bayside Drive, Corona del Mar.