February Yachts & Yachting
The February 2014 edition of Yachts & Yachting magazine comes out today.
It includes one of my all-time favourite features: a chance to talk to some of the the incredible female sailors who are competing in the Volvo Ocean Race with Team SCA. Note not taking part, competing, really really give-it-all-they’ve-got competing.
It was one of those features where I had literally five times as much material as I needed, and all of it was interesting. Sam Davies and Annie Lush were very generous with their time – despite the interviews being crammed into the week they took delivery off their shiny pink SCA Volvo 65 – and frankly what they had to say was fascinating. Why would you want to go and sail in a crewed stopover race when you’ve made your name doing solo ocean events? And what on earth would possess you to switch the controlled environment of Olympic and match racing circuits for the anarchic Deep South?
For Annie, incredibly, her first trial sail – onboard the previous generation VO70 ex-‘Puma’ – was the longest offshore delivery she’d ever done. She explains: “It was really fun, I was quite nervous because out of all the girls – and I think there were 7 or us on that trial – I was the only non-ocean racer,. Most of the other girls had either done the Volvo or Sam had done the Vendee, I was the only one who didn’t really have a clue about offshore sailing.
‘My socks were wet within the first two hours, and I’d lost everything, and my head torch had water in it and got broken. So yeah, steep learning curve. But the girls were all really supportive and giving me tips. I guess in a way, I had nothing to lose, I’ve just got to go for it. Im not on here to prove my expertise at offshore, I’ve just got to prove that I’m willing to get involved and give it a go.”
Equally modestly, and unexpectedly, Sam admits that she had never expected to be able to compete in a Volvo Ocean Race. Instead, this superbly talented sailor – with both race result and media relations track records that would be the envy of many male skippers – had thought she might be better harnessing her media skills to access the event. “I did actually call Rick Dieppe because I suddenly realised the only way to get on a top-performing boat would be to be ‘media man’, and actually I thought, well if you really want to see how this race is done the best way for a girl, in fact the only way to get on a winning crew nowadays is as media crew,” she recalls.
“I got to that stage of realising if you want to get on a winning boat, that’s the only place you can do it in, not even as a navigator like Adrienne [Calahan] did a few years ago. They very quickly realised that they needed the physical strength even of the navigator and so I’d kind of ruled it out.”
One question I didn’t ask was how the mothers in the team felt about planning to leave their families. And I didn’t ask it for the simple reason that I would never ask it of a male sailor. I’m sure it will be asked plenty between now and the race start in October. All I really want to know is how long they can hold the advantages – of time, preparation, organisation and team structure – they have over every other male team. I certainly think I’m going to struggle to be impartial about this year’s Volvo.