Lake Norman Women Sailors Feature Story
July 2012 issue of Today’s Charlotte Woman
Read On and ENJOY!!
Karen Dobbs Teaches Others To Set Sail
By Lee McCracken | Photos By Glenn Roberson
In 1980, Christopher Cross crooned about the feeling of freedom that came when the wind was in his sails. At the time, Karen Dobbs didn’t know that 20 years later she would launch her own voyage to help her simultaneously embrace midlife and embark on a new purpose.
Today, Dobbs sets sail single-handedly on Lake Norman aboard her Hunter 260, and shares her love of boating and the water with other women. Through Lake Norman Women Sailors, based at Kings Point/Morningstar Marinas in Cornelius, Dobbs offers three-hour sails and nine-hour instructional courses. Individuals, girlfriends in groups of three, and mother-daughter combinations are welcome aboard.
“This isn’t a tippy sailboat,” says Dobbs, noting it’s the first thing women want to know. “We aren’t going to capsize and get wet.”
Taking On The Boys’ Club
Certified as a US Sailing Small Boat Instructor, Dobbs didn’t always have a wealth of experience with sailboats. She grew up in Pittsburgh, and sailed over summer breaks during college with her roommate in upstate New York.
“My roommate’s family raced an antique 32-foot wooden sloop that leaked like a sieve,”she says. “And since I knew nothing about sailing, my job was to pump the water out of the boat faster than it was seeping in! I didn’t actually see a lot of the races, because my head was down in the bilge, but I loved everything about sailing from the get-go.”
Dobbs also loved music and excelled at playing trumpet, even though she took up the instrument to prove her music teacher wrong. “In 1960,girls just didn’t play trumpet,and that was that,”Dobbs says. “As I continued to play, I always was the only girl in the trumpet section … and that was fun!”
“I teach sailing to women the way they ‘get it.’ We’re concerned with safety, and we’re experiential. We learn the names of boat parts best when we see and handle them.” — Karen Dobbs
At Oberlin College Conservatory of Music in Ohio,Dobbs earned a degree in music education.Although interested in playing the trumpet professionally, she knew the competition for jobs was fierce. She landed an executive director position with the American Wind Symphony Orchestra in Pittsburgh,which was famous for performing on a nearly 200-foot-long vessel for audiences perched along waterfronts around the world. The position led to a 25-year career in managing orchestras, including a position with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra from 1976 to 1981.
Throughout her career, Dobbs never strayed too far from teaching. She gave private trumpet lessons to students,and also taught middle school and high school band classes.
Learning To Skipper
In 2000,Dobbs turned 50 and navigated her way into a newfound challenge: While at the Mid-Atlantic Boat Show at the Charlotte Convention Center in February, she charted a course straight to the sail-boats on display and wound up purchasing a 2-year-old vessel that was dry-docked in Raleigh, N.C.
Dobbs christened her sailboat “High C’s”— for the notes she tries to hit on her trumpet, the dollars she paid for her birthday gift to herself,and the waters she now sails. “I had it in Lake Norman by the end of March,”Dobbs says. “I first practiced skippering it by motor in and out of the marina, and, of course, learning how to dock.”
In April, she attended a racing club’s newcomers event. “A club member skippered my boat while I watched and learned,but we got broadsided,”she says. More than a month and a big repair bill later, the sailboat was back in the lake. Dobbs began taking classes, reading sailing books,and learning from every sailor she could.
“It wasn’t long before I was racing on my own,”she says,“but I was always last, or next to last.”
Dobbs also raced on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia.Since 2000,she has skippered High C’s nearly 3,000 miles. As she picked up speed,Dobbs also began teaching sailing to adults and youth with N.C. Community Sailing & Rowing. In addition, she has skippered several charters and multiday cruises out of Pamlico Sound in Oriental, affectionately known as North Carolina’s sailing capital.
Teaching music and maneuvering her boat’s main sail and jib in strong winds has given Dobbs lots of patience and problem-solving skills. She currently puts these to good use helping ladies learn to sail — whether it’s an experience they want to share with gal pals on a nice day or a skill they want to master and check off their bucket list. During the three-hour Sister-hood Sailing experience ($100 for individuals, or $210 for a group of three), women can be as involved (or not!) as they want.
“I teach sailing to women the way they ‘get it,’ ” Dobbs says. “We’re concerned with safety,and we’re experiential — we learn the names of boat parts best when we can see them and handle them. I’m tuned in with what women care about.”
Dobbs also offers the 3 Sheets to the Wind course for $250 per person. The nine-hour course is taught over two days, and includes food and beverages.Starting with how to get on a sailboat,Dobbs then takes her students below deck and works her way up, teaching them about the boat’s parts.
“Experiencing the serenity of being on the water and gaining that sense of accomplishment is invaluable,”says Dobbs. Sailing also is a lifelong sport … something that can be enjoyed way into the golden years, which is perfectly proven by this savvy sailor herself. [TCW]
For information about
Lake Norman Women Sailors,
|“Sailing, takes me away
to where I’ve always heard it
Just a dream and the
wind to carry me
Soon I will be free.”
— Christopher Cross,