Flexing the ‘Girl Power’ Muscle

Posted by Ann Key at 02:10PM - Comments: (6)

Photo courtesy of Team SCA
Photo courtesy of Team SCA

A victorious Team SCA sails into Lorient, France, to claim the top spot in the penultimate Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race.

They did it. Even though many said they couldn’t.

Whether you’re a cruiser or a racer, a man or a woman, an armchair captain or a PHRF vet—I’m betting you felt at least an inkling of pride and swelling happiness for Team SCA when the all-women crew won the penultimate Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race last week.

While I consider myself more of a cruiser—despite racing sailboats on and off for the last decade—I always enjoy following the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) action, stalking the VOR Dashboard and team-posted videos like the coverage is the latest reality-TV craze. This year—being a woman sailor myself, and mother to a budding girl sailor—my addiction was even more insatiable as I anxiously hoped for a Team SCA victory. And the last stretch of Leg 8, a hairy, upwind beating through the Bay of Biscay, found me gripping the edge of my seat.

After finishing in fifth or sixth place in the first seven legs of the around-the-globe race, Team SCA held on to its early lead to win Leg 8, a 647-mile sprint from Lisbon, Portugal to Lorient, France. Racing in this leg had some added intensity thanks to a short course that kept the pack in close quarters over three days. Conditions were all over the place, but the upwind leg through the Bay of Biscay offered the seven boats heinous seas and winds in excess of 30 knots, testing the seamanship of all the crews.

With a crew of mostly VOR rookies, the Team SCA women dominated one of the harshest legs of offshore racing’s toughest challenge, battling on an even playing field with their male counterparts—racing the same boats, with the same gear, in the same conditions. For Team SCA to win this leg—by 48 minutes—wasn’t just exciting; it was historic. The victory was the first by an all-women VOR crew in 25 years. And Team SCA is only the fourth all-women crew to compete in the Volvo’s 41 years.

All sailors share a kinship, but the sisterhood of women sailors is something I doubt most men can truly comprehend; non-sailors would not get it at all. It’s a network of mentors and cheerleaders always at the ready to dispense advice, lend a hand, or offer support.

So it’s easy to say that this wasn’t just a win for Team SCA. It was a win for women sailors. But I think (hope) it goes beyond that. The victory was a win for all women, all sailors, all women athletes, and all athletes.

Despite critics and naysayers, the 15 women of Team SCA, who started this grueling months-long race as a largely inexperienced crew, trained hard for two years and fought harder on the water to finally find their place on the podium. The moral of their story is that being female doesn’t mean being less; with hard work and an iron will, you can accomplish any goal, even when others say you can’t. Aim high. Work hard. The only limit to your success is yourself. This message holds truth no matter your gender, sport, or age—even if it does seem a bit cliché.

While this win is undoubtedly helping reshape professional competitive sailing, will it really change anything on the docks or at the club’s next race start? I certainly hope so. Perhaps that pride we all felt when Team SCA crossed the finish line in Lorient will lead to small changes in our collective thinking.

I hope the victory inspires younger sailors, showing them that big wins are possible for them too and that there is no disadvantage in being female.

Photo by Jerah Coviello
Photo by Jerah Coviello

PS Managing Editor Ann Key and her daughter, Kailee, aboard the Creekmore 41, Blue Heeler, in Sarasota, Fla.

I hope that it may give pause to that old salt in the anchorage before he makes a snide remark about the woman at the helm. I hope that it means the sales guy at the local chandlery won’t speak to the next woman shopper with a condescending tone.

But mostly, I hope that by the time my 10-month-old daughter takes the tiller, these types of posts will be outdated. I hope that rather than being heralded for winning a male-dominated race, women sailors will be judged on the same level as their peers and held to the same expectations, without the surprise that “girl power” prevailed.

Comments (6)

I LOVE This. This says it all: "I hope that rather than being heralded for winning a male-dominated race, women sailors will be judged on the same level as their peers and held to the same expectations, without the surprise that "girl power" prevailed." Great piece, keep up the good work!

Posted by: 12DegreesWest | June 19, 2015 1:38 PM    Report this comment

Great post on a ground breaking achievement by Team SCA. Women have been making amazing strides in sailing -- think Dame Ellen MacArthur and Jeanne Socrates -- and still not getting any respect. These ladies will be dancing the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. dance for a long time to come.

Posted by: CruisingKitty | June 19, 2015 12:51 PM    Report this comment

Totally agree. I've had my fair share of condescending sales persons, and snide comments from male sailors (for example, one day I was hove to and some guys in another sailboat told me that I'd have to move the jib to the other side if I wanted to make the boat go). But that was ages ago, and I've since gained the respect of both the chandlers and the community. It's all come a long way, but it is unfortunate that we are still a novelty and still talking about it.
Have a look at what one of my (male) crew wrote, completely unsolicited, on Sailing Anarchy. Search for "overqualified".
Unfortunately, the editor wrote a rather undermining lead-in, but the article was written entirely by my crew.

Posted by: CaptLauren | June 18, 2015 11:23 AM    Report this comment

This is fantastic news and congratulations to the women of the crew. I hope that this shows to everyone that anything is possiable.

Posted by: ShawnL357 | June 18, 2015 6:16 AM    Report this comment

fantastic! girls, women, LGBT, children, seniors... sailing brings beauty, joy, peace, self confidence, empowerment. thanks for telling us all about this wonderful achievement.

Posted by: nina | June 17, 2015 10:41 AM    Report this comment

This is totally awesome and should be celebrated by every sailor. We are in the 21st century and it is past time to get beyond the neanderthal gender politics and bias. Sailing needs and wants every person who can sail to be on the water to make this fabulous sport as vibrant and popular as it can be.

Posted by: lesliegb | June 17, 2015 10:39 AM    Report this comment

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