VOR Women Crew Initiative Gets Mainstream Traction
The positive discrimination strategy rule change implemented by Volvo Ocean Race this month has gained some traction outside of the sailing media. In the UK, Sky Sport's Sportswomen show featured a discussion with Team SCA watch leader Dee Caffari and Tracy Edwards, skipper of Maiden - the first ever all woman Whitbread Race entry.
The story was also picked up by Tim Gow, Sports News Editor at the Daily Express newspaper in the United Kingdom who wrote this piece for the paper's website after interviewing Caffari:
DEE CAFFARI has sailed around the world five times, and was the first women to have gone round both ways, a feat she achieved when finishing sixth in the single-handed Vendee Globe in 2009. Last year, the 43-year-old former PE teacher was a member of Team SCA, an all-women crew which set the female monohull record in the Round Britain Race, and went on to win two in-port races and one offshore leg in the Volvo Ocean Race.
When SCA withdrew their support Caffari and others launched the Magenta Project to advance women in professional sailing and promote inclusion, diversity and positive female role models in society at large.
Last week the Volvo Ocean Race’s new chief executive Mark Turner announced a rule change for next year’s edition that is a major boost to female sailing. Teams will be able to mix and match the make-up of their crew to their own advantage, with various combinations available – 7 men; 7 men and 1 or 2 women; 7 women and 1 or 2 men; 5 men and 5 women; or 11 women.
Here, Caffari tells TIM GOW why this is a major leap forward for her sport.
“For Mark Turner to come into a new role and be bold enough to make such big changes shows he’s fully supporting the female sailors and wants the action of Team SCA from the last edition to not be in vain. We should be encouraged by that support. After Amer Sports Too [the all-female crew in the 2001-2 edition] we had a 12-year gap of not being involved.
I was very much against a rule being made. We didn’t want to be on board because of a rule, to tick a box. We want to be there on merit, on our ability. But it’s about changing people’s perceptions and ways of thinking.
People are creatures of habit. Guys want to sail with people they know, people they trust. Why would you choose an 80kgs strong girl against a 95kgs strong guy? So it wasn’t happening naturally, the situation wasn’t evolving. As much as our peers had congratulated us and seen us as equals on the water, it hadn’t translated into the bigger picture. So it had to be contrived, a rule had to be brought in.
And Mark’s been very clever with this rule. It’s not forced on the teams, it’s incentivising. If they include girls they will get a benefit from it. Those that choose to go with a seven male crew, if they get beaten out on the water they’re going to look pretty arrogant – and I hope that comes to fruition should anyone choose it.
It’s been a real hot topic. Everyone understands why the rule has been put there. It’s a little bit like when the under-30 rule came in, and everybody pushed back against that because they wanted to sail with the salty sea dogs that they knew. But we weren’t getting any new blood into the sport. Now, as a result of the change, we’ve got some amazing sailors who go on to America’s Cup. People have changed their attitudes because of the rule change and I hope this emerges on similar lines.
It may take a few editions. It’s going to take time to get up to speed and competing at the same level. We knew that with SCA. Through the course of the race we knew we would get better and thankfully we demonstrated that. We had some great in-port results, won leg eight into Lorient, and finished having made a mark, not just in the media but with our performance on the water. We had talked about, we knew we could do it, but we had to deliver. And we did.
The initial reservation is that we would struggle on the in-port races with the manoeuvres being forced on you, and actually we did better than anyone anticipated and that boosted our confidence. In the offshore legs it was about not making mistakes and as the legs got shorter, the opportunity to make mistakes lessened and we had that great result into Lorient.
The advantage on the in-port races is the two extra pairs of hands. We were allowed 11 on board compared to nine on the guys’ boats, and it was up to us to make that numerical advantage count. We worked quite hard at that in training, and maybe because everyone doubted us we worked that little bit harder again. And because that’s where the public are, where the sponsors are, that’s where everybody can touch and feel the race rather than offshore when it’s just delivered on a digital platform, that was an important moment for us to make a statement.
Some guys are looking at seven plus two, thinking, ‘I’ll take two little girls and tick the box’. And then some are looking at who are the strongest two girls out there and will make them work. The girls are thinking five and five would give you an incredibly strong team and you would dominate the in-port race and be pretty awesome. And then some are thinking, ‘We’ve got enough rules to think about, we don’t need another set of problems out on the ocean so we’ll stick with seven guys’.
The fact that the make-up of the crew doesn’t have to be the same for every leg means it’s become a tactical decision. And that adds an extra element to the race. The in-port race has to be sailed with the crew list from the previous leg or the next one. If your sailing with just seven guys that’s not a lot of people to turn the handles to go round the corners on an in-port race. The disadvantage is blatantly obvious.
I don’t think there has been a big anti-female response. Maybe some of those that are against it, it’s because they know it’s put their position on the boat up for grabs. But I’d like to think they’re not saying, ‘Oh god, it’s a girl’.
The ones that are hesitant are the ones that have never tried sailing mixed before. They can’t imagine how it could work. Their arguments are rubbish because they’re trying to put in restrictions and barriers that don’t exist. Team SCA has proved that.
Those who have sailed with a mixed crew actually like it. They like the atmosphere it creates. It means the girls have to step up their game, it evens out the testosterone on board, and it’s a nice atmosphere to sail in. I’ve done quite a lot of mixed sailing. It creates a nice balance. I’ve seen huge successes. When Maiden [Tracey Edwards’ 110ft catamaran] sailed with a mixed crew they got millions of record doing that.
I’ve heard a few conversations of roles on board and one disturbed me, where they considered they would get small girls and one could be assistant navigator and just download the weather and send emails, and the other could be boat captain and they can charge the batteries and make fresh water and stack stuff. That’s not really going to work, is it?!
Most people are looking at how to make it work, finding the strong women who will drive it, seeing them as an extra pair of hands to be pro-active in sailing the boat. If you don’t use the number advantage the rule can give you, you’re wasting an opportunity.
It should broaden the opportunities for sponsorship too because if you look at your average boardroom, they’re having the same diversity arguments there, that they must provide opportunities for females at boardroom level. There’s a lot of push for balance. What we’re doing is reflecting the business model by having males and females out here on the water doing the same job.
It’s about high performance teams. Gender is irrelevant. It’s about bringing the strengths of every individual together to get the best team. There’s a great synergy with business, and a sponsor could really capitalise on that. Showcase the fact they support diversity and inclusion. The customer will support that, the employee will be inspired by that. It’s a winner.
We were determined not to let the impact Team SCA made just fade, especially when SCA did not sign up again, so the Magenta Project was formed to keep females sailing at the elite level of our sport. This rule change is a massive knock-on effect.
We’ve also had a rule change in the GC32 class after we had a team in the Extreme Sailing Series act in Lisbon recently, allowing an increase in numbers if you’re a female or youth team, and positively encouraging a mixed team. It’s a really exciting time. Rules are being opened up and people are responding to it. We just have to see it in action with a team putting the combination together.
If you look at women’s cricket and football and rugby, the successes they are having and the support they are generating, women’s sport is definitely on the up and becoming more attractive. The Magenta Project recognises this, and that as a sport sailing needs to keep up to speed with change. It feels positive. It feels like now is the time.
[Main image: Corinna Halloran/Team SCA]
Here is the link to the story on the Daily Express website:
Follow Tim on Twitter: @timgowexpress