By Richard Crockett
Okay all you landlubbers – here’s the inside story of my sail with the girl’s team aboard Team SCA on Saturday’s In-Port race.
Firstly, and let’s clear this up right now – I was chosen for my good looks and boyish charm!
Secondly. The jury is out as to whether pink really is my colour!
Thirdly. No disparaging remarks or insinuations here, as these are finely honed and exceptionally fit women sailors. I would hate to be dragged into a dark alley having said the wrong thing!
But seriously, what a special occasion to have had the honour of sailing with this team of women. Many scoff at a team of women aboard a sailing boat, but this team is focussed, united in their goals and come with some serious pedigree.
Let’s quickly look at some key crew to show their pedigree:
Sam Davies (Skipper) is a renowned single-handed sailor. She has competed in two Vendée Globe races, finishing 4th in 2008, and has sailed in the challenging Open 60 class for the past 10 years. She was part of the all-female Jules Verne Trophy attempt in 1998, sailing with Tracy Edwards.
Abby Ehler was boat captain and bowman on Amer Sports Too in 2001-02 under her maiden name of Seager.
Carolijn Brouwer is an accomplished multihull and Olympic sailor who competed in the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Games, with Volvo Ocean Race experience too. Carolijn was at the helm on Amer Sports Too in the 2001-02 edition. She won the ISAF World Sailor of the Year Awards in 1998.
Liz Wardley has won numerous Hobie 16 titles. In 1999 she became the first woman to win the Sydney-Hobart Race. The year before she was skipper in the same event at the age of just 19. She also has Volvo Ocean Race experience from 2001-02 with Amer Sports Too.
Sally Barkow is a skilled match racer and has been on and off the Olympic circuit for the past 10 years. She competed for the US team in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and was US Rolex Yachtswomen of the Year in 2005 and 2007.
Annie Lush is an Olympic match racer who competed at the London Games in the Elliott 6m class. She has been Women’s Match Race champion three times (2004, 2005, 2010) and topped the ISAF World Ranking in 2010. She competed in the World Match Race Tour, as well as racing on professional circuits.
Dee Caffari is a woman who knows her ocean racing. Dee has competed in the Vendée Globe, the Global Challenge, the Barcelona World Race and four transatlantic races. She is the only woman to have sailed solo around the world in both directions (east about and west about) as well as being the only female to have sailed around the world three times, non-stop. Dee also holds the female crewed monohull Round Britain and Ireland speed record, a record she established in June 2009, with her crewmate Sam Davies. Regrettably Dee was not onboard for the in-port race.
Other crew on board have equally impressive sailing CVs on top boats in top events around the world, and with impressive mileage on offshore boats that many men would be proud to have.
So having declared their credentials and shown that they have the qualifications to compete alongside the men, these women were looking to put on a good showing last Saturday as some felt disappointed in their leg 1 performance despite leading the fleet passed Gibraltar and into the Atlantic, and beating the MAPFRE team into Cape Town.
Diminutive Sam Davies takes control and issues the orders. Just before we left the dock she briefed her 3 guests. “Stay behind the helming station at all times, hold on to here, here and here, and don’t ever hold on to me!”
Everyone on board knows their role and performs it without any fuss or questions. These women know exactly what they are doing and can do it well as the result of the in-port race showed – as “we” were third overall and second for all but the final leg. That podium finish was very important to the crew.
I did notice that there is some exceptional talent on board when it comes to tactics- Sally Barkow was the one primarily calling the shots in collaboration with others, and her calls were generally good as she knows her stuff – of that there is no doubt. Tactically this team has very sound credentials.
In the very gusty conditions up to 30 knots and a rain squall too, these boats are tough to sail. Constant trimming and the correct sail combinations are vital – and these VOR65s respond to that – very quickly. There is very little under the water holding these boats back, so boat speed climbs rapidly on all points of the wind. The helm is sensitive and responsive – one just had to watch the helmswoman to see that. Off the wind we quickly eased up to 25-plus knots when water obstructed the speedo.
An area where I do think they would be at a disadvantage from the men is when it comes to winching. I noticed in some of the footage coming off the boats during leg 1 that at times they looked as if they may be battling. That came across again during the race – but hey, they don’t complain, they simply put their heads down and try a little harder. And, I was too cowardly to ask the question!
Being just one of three people invited onto that race was a privilege. The whole atmosphere surrounding the race was mind-blowing as not only was I sailing with some of the best women sailors on the planet, I was sailing against the best ocean racing sailors in the world. Being constantly buzzed by media boats and helicopters was something I can only assume the women are used to – and it can be distracting, but their focus was relentless and these side shows simply don’t phase them.
Their coach, Brad Jackson, a 6 time race veteran, was onboard as an observer only. He was not allowed to communicate with the crew in any way. He was pretty positive about their performance, but on occasions I could see him shaking his head and muttering to himself, so these girls still have more to learn. Jackson is one of those quiet, unassuming and confident guys who will get the best out of them.
We will see Team SCA on the podium before this race finishes – these women want that more than anything else.
In conclusion, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the girls looks, but I must admit having enjoyed watching Sophie Ciszek who has a very wicked smile (and hands as wide as her smile) – and more than 60,000 nautical miles and 4 Sydney Hobart races under her belt.
Go girls – you have won my utmost respect.