Dee Caffari, skipper of team Turn the Tide on Plastic, on encouraging women into professional sailing.
Seeing Tracy Edwards reunited with her Whitbread Round the World yacht Maiden, which she raced with an all-women crew in 1989, stirred some memories. The yacht has come full circle back to Hamble for a refit to start another adventure, with a similar theme.
Maiden illustrated what female sailors could do when given the opportunity. This opportunity came about with sponsorship from the King of Jordan. Now, his daughter, Princess Haya Bint Hussein, continues the legacy in supporting The Maiden Factor, trying to give the opportunity for girls in all countries to get an education.
I have been staggered by the engagement and support. So many people clearly remember seeing that yacht finish the Whitbread Round the World Race in Southampton Water, particularly as it was the first all-female team, that it made me start thinking about iconic images and events that create memories for future generations.
Who are the inspirational role models who will drive the dreams for sailors of the future?
The America’s Cup is providing those exciting dreams for many boys, but where are the inspirational female sailors for the girls?
There were no female sailors in the 35th America’s Cup – not in the race teams, tuning teams or the reserve sailors. But the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, set up to provide a clear career path to identify young sailors ultimately to take on the America’s Cup in the future, fills me with hope.
Aimed at sailors aged 18-24, this event took place in June 2017 with female sailors in the crew lists. To get time within a team environment like this, training alongside the guys, is a step in the right direction, developing the talent of female sailors physically, psychologically and in skills acquisition.
In the Olympic side of the sport, the ‘Three Blondes in a Boat’, Shirley Robertson, Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb, became one of the most famous images of the 2004 sailing Olympics. Rio delivered the smiling Saskia Clark and Hannah Mills.
Recent rule changes mean the Olympic movement is committed to equalise the number of men and women competing. Even more importantly now, female sailors are racing in skiff classes; it looks cool, exciting and something that new sailors dream of doing.
Hearing stories of their hard work and tenacity can be pivotal in encouraging young people to stay in the sport.
Xu Lijia, 2012 Laser Radial Olympic Gold Medallist, was recently speaking to junior Topper sailors in the UK. When female sailors who have achieved great things in the sport come back and share their experiences at the grass roots of the sport, it can make the difference between young sailors walking away from the sport, or being inspired to go on and do something special.
This year there are five female Figaro sailors working towards the pinnacle solo offshore event, La Solitaire Urgo de Figaro. This is hugely encouraging when the most recent edition of the Vendée Globe was raced with no female skippers for the first time in many years. I am sure future editions of the race will involve female participation and how exciting if it is one of these Figaro sailors rising through the ranks of solo offshore sailing.
In 2016, history was made with the M32 World Match Racing Tour. Skipper of Team Magenta 32, Sally Barkow, secured a tour card. This was the first time in history a female skipper had done so.
Also last year, a rule change in the GC32 class that changed crew numbers and crew weights produced the first ever all-female team entry in the Extreme Sailing Series.
But the biggest and probably most influential rule change to come last year was in the Volvo Ocean Race. This will incentivise teams to take a mixed crew and could provide opportunities for female sailors, creating female inspirational role models for youth sailors.
This really does fill me with confidence that we can create sailing icons that inspire and encourage the young girls of the future to achieve great things.