Back in 2010, Fisher became the first female Commodore in the 120-year history of the Indian Harbor Yacht Club (IHYC) and currently presides over its 500 members. Ryan recently was named the first female commander of District 2 in the almost 100-year-old U.S Power Squadrons (USPS) Sail and Power Boating organization. She presides over 1,550 members in 16 squadrons from Westchester to the Canadian border.
Ryan and Fisher recently shared their experiences, speaking at "Women at the Helm," a talk at the Round Hill Community Church before an audience of mostly females. They came dressed in their official nautical uniforms -- but with a ruffle here and a gold necklace there.
Ryan was first up and told of her winning strategy of getting to the top. As first commander of the Greenwich district she was "aware of all these men," she said, and became determined to beef up her credentials. "So, I took a course in celestial navigation," she said. She now handily reads a sextant and is the first District commander to have a JN -- Junior Navigator -- added to her title.
But why did it take a woman so long to achieve this particular leadership position?
"It was the Captain Bligh syndrome," quipped the British-born Ryan. "There's something about the man behind the wheel, behind the helm of a boat. Women tend to shrink away."
Next up was Fisher, who moved up the ranks from Rear to Vice to Commodore of IHYC. She talked about her efforts to look for the elements of a uniform befitting a female commodore. It would prove difficult, because there just weren't many women commodores. She did discover a female regatta jacket in a catalog of the New York Yacht Club (that has yet to have a female commodore!) made to order by Brooks Brothers, but then had to contend with the tailors at that mostly male bastion. "They still don't know how to design a jacket for women," said Fisher.
Fisher's finished jacket design has now brought interest from other women flag officers she said, but she has one regret -- its lack of epaulets. (She was, however, warned that epaulets might give her the "Love Boat" look.)
Her hat is that of a female naval officer, which she had to procure through a retired naval officer, Fisher said. And perching it just so on her head took a bit of adjusting.
Ryan, who proudly wears her title on her jacket front, is intent on passing down her achievement to other women sailors. She noted how, in the corporate world, "women work well in teamwork," and said that that could be translated to the boating world. Toward that end, she started the Old Greenwich Women's Sailing program.
So just what does a commodore do? "I am captain of captains," said Fisher. "In the British Navy," she explained, "the commodore is head of the fleet. But this is not the British Navy -- I'm running a yacht club. I'm in charge of boat safety. When there is bad weather, I'm there at the Yacht Club watching over the boats."
But perhaps what Fisher has had to weather the most is a bit of that "Captain Bligh syndrome." She recalled the morning after her she was voted in as Commodore when she received a less than friendly note: "What does it feel like being the token woman? You don't know what you're doing."
Fisher's response to that note was, "Maybe you're right, but time will tell."
"I had not come through the ranks of the committee," she explains, "Nobody knew me."
But Fisher has been up to the challenge of being a woman leader in a boating world that she said "is essentially led by men."
"I bring clarity," she said, "and I'm able to think out of a box."
She also noted that her sailing credentials include a trans-ocean passage on a sailboat.
"I am," she said, "an experienced sailor."