The Harbor Report: Yacht club's first female commodore has boating in her blood

This week I had the opportunity to talk to a person whose family descended from the Mayflower. Named after her father's boat, Gale Nye Pickney has recently taken the helm of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club as its first female commodore.

Shortly after she was born in Chicago, her family moved to Newport Beach. She grew up on a Cal 40 that was kept back east and a 45-foot Stephens motor yacht here on the West Coast.

The family cruised from Northern California down to Mexico and spent quite of bit of time in Avalon on Catalina Island. Her father, Harry Nye, was a two-time world champion in the Star class in 1942 and 1949. The Nye family has a long history with the sea, with other descendants acting as sea-going ship captains.

As a child, Pickney grew up in the NHYC junior program sailing Sabots, Lasers and Lido 14s. She then became a sailing instructor at Balboa Yacht Club and later at NHYC before leaving for the University of Southern California, where she sailed FJs on the sailing team.

She moved away from the harbor, for a short time, completing her master's degree and taking a job in the Midwest.

On returning home she immediately returned to her yacht club and immersed herself into our harbor and boating activities. This is when she rekindled her friendship with Jon Pickney, and the two were later married.

Today the couple have a 9-year-old son, Morgan, who has also taken to our harbor and is in the NHYC junior program.

Gale and Jon have a Harbor 20 and a 35-foot lobster power boat called Blue Lobster. As a family they made more than 11 trips to Catalina over the summer. Most of their time in Catalina is spent at Moonstone Cove, with occasional trips around the island. When referring to their family time in Catalina, Gale Pickney describes it as "one of the best things that has happened to our family."

At home, in our harbor, the Pickneys are very active in the Harbor 20 fleet. Depending on the intensity of the regatta, Gale will helm in most of the fleet events and Jon will take the helm in the team racing events.

I asked Pickney what her favorite trophy is. She described an award that's in her mother's case that was given to her father for winning the 1942 Star Worlds. In 1963 her mother had this trophy replicated and reduced in size. These replications were made available to the winners of the Star Worlds.

"Now if you would like to know what my favorite trophy is in my case, that would have to be the two Ted Monroe awards for winning the NHYC Winter Series in B and A fleet in the Harbor 20 class," she explained with pride in her voice.

This led me to ask who some of her harbor mentors were.

"Well, Commodore Brad Avery is one — with all the work he has done over at the Orange Coast College Sailing Base and the amount of people these programs have introduced to our harbor. Commodore Ted Monroe was a friend of my father's and like Brad Avery played a big part in the yacht club," she said.

"We also purchased Commodore Monroe's Harbor 20 from his family after he passed away. Commodore Bill Crispin did so much for our club and race committees along with Commodore Phil Ramser making everyone feel so welcome to our harbor. These are just some of the people that come to mind," she explained with a type of pride and passion in her voice.

How she would like to be remembered?

"That's a humbling question and I hope I am not going anywhere soon," she said. "My focus has been getting people out on the water by giving a venue and being inclusive and igniting or re-igniting the passion or just advancing the passion to go boating."

Pickney has some of the best tools available, along with a long history, to take boating into the future. Boating and our harbor are at a turning point and like a crewmate hiking on the weather rail, I am glad to look back and see she has the helm.

Sea ya.

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