Luffing Lassies History

Lilly Kaighin, founder of the Luffing Lassies.  The following short article celebrates the spirit of the club she started in 1972 and that still thrives today.    

 “The Luffing Lassies of Sarasota” by Will White, author of The Sunfish Bible 

“On any Thursday morning from September through May, you can find a group of women congregating on the beach at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron to launch their Sunfish and Prams for a few hours of serious racing. 

They are the Luffing Lassies, and they range in age from the 30s to the 70s. The group was formed in 1972 by Lilly Kaighin and some friends as the Sarasota Sailing and Sinking Society, which had five Prams but a considerably larger number of women. The starting line was off the club dock because they had no race committee boat and they handled their own race committee duties on a rotation basis. 

Five Prams would race through the moored boats of the Squadron, finish, and head for shore: then another five would jump in the boats for the next race. 

“Once the wind got a little boisterous and most of the sailors dropped their sails,” Lilly Kaighin recalled. “They were getting swept towards the Gulf on the outgoing tide through New Pass. So I borrowed a rowboat and rounded them up. When I picked up the first boat, there was no place to tie the line, so I tied it around my waist, and we picked up the others in a string. When I look back on it, it was kind of dumb, but we made it back.”  After that, they negotiated the use of one of the Squadron’s committee boats and talked a group of husbands and male friends into handling race committee duties. They didn’t have to do much arm twisting – the women have fun and their fun is infectious. Soon the women began to buy their own boats and Sunfish were added to the fleet. Now, Sunfish outnumber Prams by about three to one. 

All of the Lassies are members of the Sarasota Sailing Squadron and most keep their boats there. They changed their name early on. “Sarasota Sailing and Sinking Society was just too long,” Lilly explains. The change was obviously not made for reasons of decorum. 

The first week of the season is devoted to sailing lessons and about a dozen women show up, drawn by the lure of sea and sun, wind and waves. Some fall by the wayside, finding the attractions outweighed by fear and ruined hairdos, but the rest soon become fanatics.  The experienced Lassies seem to get their biggest kicks out of helping the newcomers sharpen their skills. 

On any given Thursday, the hard core of dedicated sailors is almost always on hand along with those eager to learn. The top racers are good enough to hold their own in any competition, and they do. Several of the Sunfish sailors compete in class championships and finish well. 

These top sailors have worked their way up from Luffers to Salts and then Super Salts.  Season trophies are awarded in each category, so everyone has a chance at a prize.  Not all the sailors are pleased when they are promoted to Super Salts. “I’m not out here to win,” wails Nina McLean periodically since she made the top grade. She has blazing speed in her old red and yellow Sunfish, but she refuses to duke it out in close situations. “I’m here to sail!” 

Some Lassies are determined to get good enough to hang in there with the top three: Rita Steele, Ursula Olsen and Lilly Kaighin in Sunfish; Francie Jones, Jinny Martin and Loretta Garber in Prams. Others agree with Nina; they are there for the sailing and the camaraderie. They accept coaching and go-fast tips good-naturedly and keep right on doing what feels good and comfortable. 

All of the women love to sail, but they also enjoy other Luffing Lassies activities. A group will gather for lunch after the races at the Bait Shack near the Squadron. Was there ever a sailor who didn’t love to re-sail each race or cruise? And there are parties, picnics, and whacky special regattas. 

All up and down the Florida Sun Coast are similar groups of women who love to sail.  They don’t take themselves too seriously either. However, there are two big area-wide regattas – a Regional Regatta in the fall and the Rainbow Regatta in the spring. The Lassies make good or winning showings on a regular basis and have accumulated many trophies. “Among the trophies we brought back one year were lots of black-and-blue marks, a four-stitch cut over one eye, a badly sprained ankle and a knocked-out front tooth,” says Lilly. 

But the Lassies don’t confine their sailing to racing. Many of them go out together and day-sail after the Thursday races or on weekends. Sometimes they just head out toward the Gulf of Mexico, maybe landing at a stretch of beach for a swim. Or they head to one of the many eating spots dotting Sarasota Bay, have lunch, and sail back to the Squadron. Each sail is an adventure. 

I’ve been honored to run their races the last few years, and sometimes go with them on their adventures. They know what sailing is all about. It’s FUN!”

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