Lake Lotawana sailing group celebrates 50 years.
Every Wednesday morning for the past five decades the beautiful blue waters of Lake Lotawana have been painted with the colorful sails of the women’s Social Butterflies sailing fleet. This summer the marks the 50th anniversary since the founding of the organization, a testament to the group’s enduring legacy and multigenerational dynamic.
Those colorful sails are a distinguishing feature of the butterfly class of sailboats, a not-so-common vessel manufactured by Barnett Boats since 1961. The boat itself was new on the scene when the original women founded Lotawana’s fleet in 1965. The butterfly was created to be a small, fun boat for lakes, a mini version of a larger 20-foot scow-hulled boat with a single sail, called a C-Scow. The builder shrank the hull dimensions to 12 feet overall, and simplified the boat with a single centerboard and rudder. It is sailed by one or two people. Sailors had brought the butterfly to Lotawana back then as a junior sailing boat, and some moms of those young sailors liked it so much they decided to form their own fleet. Betty Clagett, Midge Robison and Babe Atha were three of those women; many of their progeny have participated in (and carried on) the program.
Today, there’s a lot about this group that makes them unusual, not the least of which is that they are the oldest and only women’s butterfly sailing fleet in the U.S., according to the research they’ve done to prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary this year.
The large size of their fleet also sets them apart. They have 23 sailors, and 50 members, many of whom are retired sailors. Social Butterflies has also cultivated generations of excellent sailors.
“Because our fleet doesn’t compete much off Lake Lotawana, it’s sort of a secret from the rest of the world,” explains Lisa Lala, fleet captain. “So many of the women who have sailed in this fleet throughout the years have gone on to compete in other classes. A lot of children of these women have also gone on to do impressive things in sailing beyond the lake shores of Lotawana.”
Amy Chinnery Valmassei is an example. She grew up sailing at Lotawana and had a sailing scholarship at Rollins College in Florida. She is now one of the fleet’s top sailors and helps teach new ones.
“It’s one of those timeless things. I remember my mom doing it, women old enough to be my grandmother sailing, it is part of the whole Lotawana family experience,” she recalls.
“Paulla Martin ran the junior butterflies program when I was a kid, now I’m her peer sailing with her. That’s the beauty of the whole sailing program at Lotawana,” Amy explains. The experienced, competitive sailors (some of whom have 20, 30, and even 60 years experience) are on the course with people who have never sailed before and because of the spirit of the group, it works. “We all cheer and celebrate together. When the top sailors cross the finish line, they go back to help coach along the sailors at the back. We try and take care of each other, coaching people along even though we’re competing against them.”
Sailing may be what brings them together, but it is the social element that has created such a vital, enduring program. The club’s format has remained the same since the beginning: Sailing first, socializing after at rotating luncheons hosted by members at their lake homes. The friendly camaraderie permeates the racecourse as well as the luncheons, which has become an integral part of building community for Lake Lotawana as women share life together.
“Because this group is so multigenerational, it offers something we need today – the voice of women from other generations,” Lisa says. Preparing and sharing lunch together—strictly women only—sitting at tables throughout someone’s home all provide the opportunity to talk about parenting, marriage and life. It is such a special and important experience that both working women and moms make arrangements for that time off in the summers.
Lisa’s words summarize this special group.
“This is a truly good-natured organization that does not take itself too seriously, except maybe those moments on the racecourse, but even then care and generosity almost always prevail. Sailing is a gentlemen’s sport; for women it’s definitely for the gracious and generous of spirit.
“The Social Butterflies is such an incredibly vital program that it has become a treasured tradition and institution that is incredibly rare and so special.”