Women of the water

Playing or working, these gals can’t get enough of our local waterways


By Krysten L. Bennett, Resident Community News


You could say it’s water that runs through the veins of the women featured in this story. To a woman, they have a love affair with water, from dipping in an oar to powering ahead full throttle in a traditionally male-dominated industry.


I’ve been sailing since 1968. I joined a sailing club, then crewed on larger boats and finally bought my own. I sailed to Jacksonville from New York in 1989 and live in an apartment on the water and spend as much time on the water as I can. I have the greatest respect for women like [Lisa Rinaman] the Riverkeeper, and Jodi [Weinbecker], who works with kids. It’s important that we get the younger generation on the water.

Jacquie Welti, longtime sailor, multiple grand champion of the Light Boat Parade

Heather Surface, St. Johns River Taxi owner/operator

My family has worked on the water in Jacksonville for nearly four decades. It’s our waterways that define our city. The beaches, the St. Johns River and all of the small creeks and tributaries offer something for both residents and visitors. It’s been an honor to work with so many outstanding partners to promote river activation and to help educate people about the diversity of our waterways.

Heather Surface, St. Johns River Taxi owner/operator

Deb Fewell, St. Johns River Taxi director of operations

We are so fortunate to have a river in Jacksonville that can be enjoyed year-round. Since I was 10 years old, most of my leisure time has been spent on the water: sailing, water skiing, kayaking, taking photos at regattas or being in the yard enjoying the view. There are so many opportunities to expose children to boating: The Rudder Club and the Florida Yacht Club have fabulous sailing programs and safe boating courses. Working with Heather [Surface] on the River Taxi allows me to share the joys of being on the river with hundreds of new people every week, including Duval County 5th graders, tourists, residents that don’t have access to private boats, corporate groups, concert goers and football fans.

Deb Fewell, St. Johns River Taxi director of operations

Allison Perna, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission marine mammal biologist

A lot of times people view boaters as being in opposition to conservationists, or to the marine mammals I work with, but it’s actually the opposite. It’s those who love the water and are out in it who act as our eyes and ears. They’re the ones who call us about a manatee that may be injured or sick. It’s the people who consider the river their backyard that are most connected to it and will fight the hardest to conserve it.

Allison Perna, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission marine mammal biologist

Susan Fraser, Longtime sculler, member of the Jacksonville Rowing Club

Rowing is technically demanding exercise, and you have to be able to work as a group, but it’s not just the function and the activity of rowing, it’s partially the social aspect of connecting with my fellow rowers that I’m drawn to. I row because of the Zen nature of connecting to the wildlife and to the water.

Susan Fraser, Longtime sculler, member of the Jacksonville Rowing Club

Nadia and Peggy Sue Williams

Nadia and Peggy Sue Williams

I grew up on a creek. It was my backyard, and I was in it at a very young age. For me, the water is about freedom and adventure. When I was growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, we’d see sewage flush out into the river. We’ve come a long way since then. It’s great to be older now and see the positive changes, and to see more people have an appreciation for the water.

Peggy Sue Williams, Lambs Yacht Center owner/operator

Growing up around the river, we’d go for bike rides and then leave our bikes in the driveway and run down to the end of the dock to jump in the river. I learned how to drive a boat at a very young age, and I’d just put the dogs on board and cruise around. It’s peaceful for the mind.

Nadia Williams, Lambs Yacht Center owner/operator

Cindy Purcell, Huckins Yachts owner/operator and former barefoot water skier

I’ve been on the water all of my life. My grandfather was in this business, my father was in this business. He was an excellent craftsman and told me that if I could swim across the St. Johns River he would build me a boat, so I swam (at age 10, from Holly Point to Mandarin) across the river and he built me a boat! The St. Johns River is a great asset. It’s swimmable, it’s playable, we just need more people in it.

Cindy Purcell, Huckins Yachts owner/operator and former barefoot water skier

Barbara Burke, yacht broker

I’ve always been a boater, and have always loved the water and the wind. As a woman, I enjoy bringing artistic, visual and domestic components into a profession that’s male-dominated. I’m so proud of all of the women buyers I work with who are getting onto the water for themselves.

Barbara Burke, yacht broker

Ander, Kathryn, Hillary, Eric and Fenly Almond

Ander, Kathryn, Hillary, Eric and Fenly Almond

I hear so many people say that Jacksonville is boring or that it’s not very pretty, and they’ve obviously not been on the water. The St. Johns River is one of the most beautiful aspects of Jacksonville. It’s where the city shines. I hope to see better access to the river created and amenities developed along it so that more people can enjoy how life slows down when you’re on the water.

Hillary Almond, Epping Forest Yacht and Country Club Vice Commodore

Jodi Weinbecker, Florida Yacht Club Waterfront Director and Head Sailing Coach

I grew up water skiing, fishing, swimming and sailing, and just love being on the water, always have. My husband was in the Coast Guard and is a naval architect. We’re both water people. My kids have been on a sailboat since they were two weeks old. It’s what my family does. We have this beautiful river here, and we need more people on it. The more people we get on the water the more passionate they’re going to be about wanting to keep the river healthy and clean.

Jodi Weinbecker, Florida Yacht Club Waterfront Director and Head Sailing Coach

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