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World's 'most exclusive' club admits women for first time in 200 years

updated 6:48 AM EDT, Mon September 2, 2013
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to the Royal Yacht Squadron clubhouse last year. She might be a patron, but that doesn't mean she's a member. But all that could be about to change... Britain's Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to the Royal Yacht Squadron clubhouse last year. She might be a patron, but that doesn't mean she's a member. But all that could be about to change...
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Royal reception
Fit for a princess
Women on the waves
About time
Grand tradition
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Britain's Royal Yacht Squadron to admit female members
  • First time in nearly 200 years women allowed in prestigious sailing club
  • Queen Elizabeth II patron, but until now not a member
  • Elite club launched America's Cup and Cowes Week, which started Monday

MainSail is CNN's monthly sailing show, exploring the sport of sailing, luxury travel and the latest in design and technology.

(CNN) -- You know a club is exclusive when they won't even let the Queen in.

For almost 200 years Britain's Royal Yacht Squadron has had a strict men-only policy, meaning even its patron, Queen Elizabeth II, was denied entry.

But it seems the tide has finally turned for the world's most prestigious sailing club, after it voted in favor of allowing women to become members for the first time in its history.

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The elite club, based in the dramatic 16th century Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight in southern Britain, unanimously voted for the new rules this week.

Of its 475 members, 150 attended the meeting -- all agreeing to introduce the rules from Spring next year.

The membership changes require no further vote, but still need to be ratified by all members.

Founded in 1815, the yacht club has an illustrious place in British history, launching the first ever America's Cup -- so named after the New York Yacht Club beat their English rivals in their boat "America."

In 1826, the club also started the annual Cowes Week sailing regatta, which kicked off on Monday and features more than 8,000 sailors from across the world.

The squadron's grand castle marks the start line for Cowes Week races, firing cannons over the water.

While the prestigious club is currently open to "gentlemen actively interested in yachting," in reality usually people of the upper classes are invited to join.

To become a member, you must still be voted in through another member.

The Queen's husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, is the club's Admiral, while Queen Elizabeth II herself is a patron -- though not officially a member.

Read: Remembering Olympic champion Andrew Simpson

British sailor Dee Caffari, the only woman to have circumnavigated the globe three times, said the change in rules could encourage more women to join the sport.

"Making such bold changes to clubs with strong traditions and heritage takes time -- we've seen it take place at Lords in cricket, we have recently discussed female club members at Muirfield during the Golf Open and now we are seeing a change at the Royal Yacht Squadron," she told CNN.

"Many yachts have women amongst the team members so this now allows the club to better reflect the sport of sailing. It also highlights the uniqueness of our sport that it is one of the few sports that allow men and women to compete on a level playing field."

In the early 1960s, the club did allow Lady Associate Members, who were allowed to use facilities.

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