Wet Hens’ sailing classes create military spouse bonds

| April 29, 2016 | 0 Comments
The Wet Hens pose with “The Kochi” following a refit of the vessel, circa 1962, at Hickam Harbor.

The Wet Hens pose with “The Kochi” following a refit of the vessel, circa 1962, at Hickam Harbor.

Mary Irene Delamater

Contributing Writer
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM — It seems that birds of a feather definitely do flock together.

For the past 55 years, Hickam Harbor has been the home of a unique sailing program – the Wet Hens.

Located at Hickam Air Force Base, the harbor is the locale for one of the finest outdoor recreational facilities in the world. Blessed with a glorious blue sky, enticing turquoise water, a lush mountain backdrop and ideal wind conditions, the harbor is a sailor’s dream.

It was here, in 1961, that a group of Air Force wives learned to sail from the harbormaster, Lou Foster. Early in their relationship, he referred to his students as a bunch of “wet hens,” and the name stuck. After learning to sail, the women wanted to share their newfound skills with other women, and those first Wet Hens started a 55-year tradition.

Papa Lou SignatureThe group followed the philosophy of their longtime supporter, Lou Foster. (Foster’s Point at Hickam is named after him.) He believed in having strong Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen who kept their minds on their jobs, and it was up to Morale, Welfare and Recreation to keep their families happy even when their spouses were miles away from home.

The sailing classes were designed to do just that, improve the morale of our military families.

However, the group’s activities did not stop with teaching. The women took part in the beautification of the harbor. They found a rotting 22-foot Star sailboat, and in May of 1962, proudly launched their refurbished “Kochi” and began to make a name for themselves in the racing community.

Wet Hens, circa 1964-1967.

Wet Hens, circa 1964-1967.

Through the years, the Hens have participated in countless races, interisland cruises, hours of volunteering in community projects and enough adventures and misadventures to fill a book.

The primary function of this group remains as it has always been: to teach military spouses to sail. Students come from all branches, and many different backgrounds. At almost any base in the world, you will find someone who has benefited from the Wet Hen experience.

It is a place to make friends, have fun, overcome personal limits and build the confidence that comes from learning a challenging sport. It is also a place to find support when loved ones are deployed for far-away places.

Spouse instructors
The Wet Hen instructors are all wives of active duty men from all branches of the services. In addition to their volunteer-sailing instructing and raising families, many work outside the home or go to school.

In order to join the group, potential members must first pass the course as a student and undergo intensive training to become instructors. Since 1961, as each Hen leaves the island, she is replaced by a class graduate from the class.

These Wet Hens see themselves as not just sailing instructors, but a sisterhood, with friendships that span generations and last a lifetime. The group’s motto is “It’s a lifetime thing.”

Wet Hens 2016Many of the Hens have continued to sail long after leaving Oahu and have pioneered a path for women in this previously male-dominated sport. Some have taken their teaching skills to new harbors, some have become accomplished racers, and one original member contributed to the highly publicized “U.S. Sailing,” a training booklet.

The current Hens support philanthropic activities, such as the Wounded Warrior program, as well as the Hawaii Youth Sailing Association and many other community charity events.
This year marks the 55th-year anniversary of the group, and June 30 brings Wet Hen instructors, past and present, from all corners of the world, back to their beloved Hickam Harbor.

Some already know each other, and some will meet for the first time. However, their love of sailing and the special bond that automatically comes from being part of this special “flock” allows them to know that even though each new generation of instructors brings different faces, the same Hen spirit remains.

As one generation of Wet Hens is succeeded by the next, the group actually surpasses its motto of being “a lifetime thing.”

More Online
If you are moving to Oahu and want to know more about Wet Hen sailing class, see their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Wet-Hens-Sailing-111322528909365/.

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Category: Community, Community Relations

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