Membership doesn't get much more prestigious for gentleman sailors than the Royal Yacht Squadron. Closely associated with the British royal navy and officially sanctioned by the crown, it has counted princes and admirals among its members over the years, but not a single woman. At least, not until now.
Over the course of its nearly two-hundred-year history, membership in the Royal Yacht Squadron — originally known as The Yacht Club and then as the Royal Yacht Club after King George IV, a member of the club, ascended to the throne — has been limited exclusively to men. Even though Queen Elizabeth II herself acted as the body's official patron, with her husband Prince Philip a former club commodore, the club remained exclusive. But, as the organization has confirmed, the Regatta Meeting of Members convened on August 4 voted unanimously to open membership up to women as well. The move, which will be enacted by the organization's committee, is expected to be ratified at the next spring meeting, and further advances the status of Lady Associate Members which were initiated in the early 1960s.
The RYS, as it's known, dates back to 1815 and is located at Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight. Originally envisioned simply as a biannual gathering of gentlemen interested in sailing, over the past two centuries the organization has grown into the UK's most prestigious yacht club. Princes, dukes, earls and knights have served as its commodore over the years, and its member vessels are allowed to fly the flag of the royal navy.
The squadron was also the birthplace of the America's Cup — arguably the most prestigious sail race in the world — and continues to foster sailing competition with the Cowes Week Regatta it holds each year.
As our compatriots over at Yachting Magazine point out, the membership vote at the Royal Yacht Squadron follows a similar development at the Augusta National Golf Club, which admitted former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore as its first female members this time last year.