Every year one or two teams grab the limelight at Skandia Life Cowes Week for reasons other than sailing performance.

Every year one or two teams grab the limelight at Skandia Life Cowes Week for reasons other than sailing performance. Enter ‘GUST’ and ‘Bolly Dollies’. The first is billed as the first gay team to be entered in Skandia Life Cowes Week; the second is a bevy of girls wearing pink crew kit with a different but equally strong agenda.

GUST (Gay UK Sailing Team) has been formed to encourage gay and lesbian people of all abilities to train and participate in competitive sailing events. Spokesman Paul White says it’s all part of the build up to the Sydney, Australia-based Gay Games in November and he believes the team can be competitive, although so far results have been mixed. Paul summed up reaction from other sailors at Skandia Life Cowes Week as “ho hum and ha ha, but mostly favourable.”

When asked why the group were deliberately seeking attention by raising their profile, an exercise that in fact could marginalise them, White responded: “We think there always have been gay sailors out there racing and participating and we think it’s time they were able to become more visible. Also, we need to have a focal point for people to participate in the Gay Games where sailing is a brand-new sport. There are at least 30 other sporting groups for gay people to participate in, from football to rugby. We don’t feel we are marginalising ourselves – we’re just giving people an opportunity to compete with everyone else.”

Bolly Dollies is the brainchild of Londoner Anne O’Sullivan, the managing director of a newly formed company, Girlsforsail. She says sailing is renowned for having a predominantly male orientation and she wants to provide women with the confidence to compete and enjoy sailing. With modest sponsorship from a Champagne house and a couple of clothing companies, Anne’s objectives for this week are “to keep everyone happy, safe and to encourage more women to come back.” Some of them are experiencing life aboard a 38-footer for the first time whilst participating in Cowes Week.

In light of recent high-profile successes of women in sailing, it is catching some people by surprise to see an all-female team pushing the gender agenda. But Anne is emphatic there is a long way to go: “I totally believe there are not enough women (in sailing). You only have to look around the marina and see how few girls there are on the boats and I think it’s just sad, it’s such a great opportunity to have such a lot of fun. It’s a great sport and it should be for everyone.

When asked how the Bolly Dollies are responded to by other Skandia Life Cowes Week competitors Anne thinks they are well-received. “I’m not sure but my belief is they’re very supportive. I think the guys would like to have more women around.”