Each quarter, Ontario Sailing aims to feature an organization, program, or member in our Ontario Sailing community. If you would like to discuss an upcoming future article, please email Andrea Miller, Communication and Community Engagement Coordinator.

LEAP Sailing: Leadership, Empowerment, Adventure Programming for Girls

Operating out of Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club in Toronto, LEAP Sailing is a pathway in sailing for self-identified girls and women that is fun, builds friendships, and builds resiliency and leadership skills through the sport of sailing. Founded in 2021 by Marjolyn van der Hart, Irene McNeill, Kelly Lyon, and Shona Moss-Lovshin, LEAP Sailing was motivated by the glaring inequity and attrition of girls in regattas and at sailing clubs, as evidenced in publicly-available Sail Canada registration data.  (Click here to read their full report.)

The data confirmed what van der Hart, McNeill, Lyon and Moss-Lovshin expected, based on their own experiences in sailing and the anecdontal data from others — that their experience of the lack of girls in sailing programming is real. COVID exacerbated the problem, as described in the 2021 Canadian Women and Sport report entitled: “COVID Alert: Pandemic Impact on Women and Girls in Sport” and the subsequent 2022 Rally Report. These reports highlight the inequity in who is returning to sport post-COVID, particularly amongst adolescents; in that age group, only 50% of self-identified girls are participating in sport.

LEAP Sailing aims to address several key issues, as identified by the data and reports, that act to deter girls from participating in the sport of sailing, by focusing on the following programming goals:

  • Programming is shared and fosters social belonging;
  • Boats are better sized to accommodate girls and others of a smaller build to encourage continued participation in junior sailing schools;
  • Quality female-led programming focused on fun, without competitiveness; and,
  • Coaches and instructors will complete unconscious bias training.

LEAP Sailing also identified the need for a central information resource for self-identified women and girls to access opportunities for participation in the sport: https://leapsailing.com/ was born!

Co-founder Marjolyn van der Hart sums up LEAP Sailing’s influence by saying,

“LEAP Sailing’s goal is to create a pathway in sailing for self-identified girls and women that is fun, builds friendships, and makes sailing a way to build resilience and leadership skills. We have created a blueprint for programming that that can be replicated in sailing clubs throughout Canada. This programming includes a female-led adventure sailing camp, a female regatta, and a sailing camp that promotes female leadership and participation.”

2023 Events (Hosted by ABYC)

August 26-27: Girl Regatta 

Notice of Race


August 28-September 2: Girl’s Sailing Camp

Throughout July & August: Adventure Sailing Weeks


Meet the Women Behind LEAP Sailing

Marjolyn van der Hart

For the past two years, Marjolyn has been the Rear Commodore at ABYC and is now the Vice Commodore for Community Programs. In this role, Marjolyn questioned lack of girls in regattas when she volunteered in Race Committee at various regattas. Looking at it closer, Marjolyn realized that the attrition of girls in sailing and lack of girls participating in racing was a result of a larger issue of unconscious bias and structural programming issues. Marjolyn has had two children participate in junior sailing school programs who eventually instructed and coached young sailors for several years. Acknowledging the value of sailing as a leadership skill development is at the core of her activation in developing LEAP Sailing.

Irene McNeill

As the solo International Race Officer in Canada since 2012, Irene McNeill has been a groundbreaking female race official. Her presence within the arenas of the Canadian and International Race environment has made the sport accountable for the lack of female participants both as racers and as officials. Irene began sailing after graduating from university.  Starting in keelboats and then catamarans, she crewed for many years.  As a racing sailor, she wanted to know how sailboat races were conducted which began her officiating career.  Being a founding member of LEAP Sailing has enabled Irene’s vision for equity to be a reality.

Kelly Lyon

An active volunteer and presenter for the Sail Canada Women in Wind program, she shares her great passion for providing opportunities for women and girls and transfeminine youth who wish to advance their skills in racing, cruising, coaching, and officiating, and is always looking for ways for clubs to share their training ideas and programs.

Through the span of a decade, Kelly served on the BYC Board of Directors as Flag Officer in the Role of Rear Commodore, Projects Director, and House & Grounds Director.  In 2021, she was appointed to the Sail Canada Board of Directors and now sits on the Sail Canada Inclusivity Diversity & Equity Committee.

She’s one of the founding members Leapsailing where her planning efforts have resulted in substantial grants from the Ontario Trillium Fund and Canadian Tire Jump Start Program.

Shona Moss-Lovshin

Shona grew up sailing and racing dinghies with her parents.  Everything from i420s, 505s, Lasers, Laser 2s, Bytes, Europe dinghies and sailboards.  Enjoying the competitive aspect of sailboat racing, Shona eventually represented Canada in the women’s singlehanded class in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.  Now with three teenage children, Shona is particularly proud this year of crewing for her 14 year old daughter at the 505 East Coast Champs in Kingston in gusting 20 knots.

As founding member of Leapsailing, Shona brings her extensive data analysis skills to evaluate the findings for understanding the reality of girls in sailing in Canada.