16 Mitala Street, Newport NSW 2106   Tel: 61 2 9998 3700


16 Mitala Street, Newport NSW 2106
Tel: 61 2 9998 3700

RPAYC's Stacey Jackson is one of two women on Vestas 11th Hour Racing, Volvo Ocean Race 1 Winners

Stacey Jackson is one of two women on a nine-person crew for Vestas 11th Hour Racing in the Volvo Ocean Race, which began last week.
OCTOBER 27, 2017

Sailing successfully around the world is no guarantee of gainful employment in the sport.

Stacey Jackson returned home to Australia in 2015 from the last Volvo Ocean Race short on sleep but long on experience. She applied for a job as a boat captain for a sailing team.

“I was turned down at the last minute when they realized Stacey Jackson was a female’s name,” she said. “They even said it to me over the phone, and I just thought, I don’t get more qualified for this job than this very minute.”

But Jackson did get a job offer in August because she was a qualified woman. It came from Charlie Enright, the skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, a team in the Volvo Ocean Race. It was late enough in the recruiting process for this year’s race that Jackson had lost hope.

“I had probably already given up a couple months previous,” she said. “It was a lay day of a regatta I was doing in Hamilton Island in Australia. And my phone rang at 7 a.m., and I was like, ‘Who rings someone at 7 a.m. on a lay day?’ But when I saw it said, ‘Charlie Enright,’ I picked up.”

She was soon part of the crew and part of a new initiative to make women an integral part of the Volvo Ocean Race, one of the world’s most extreme and prestigious sailing events. The move is also aimed at attracting more female fans to a sport whose base of support remains predominantly male.

The around-the-world race, formerly known as the Whitbread, was first held in 1973, but this is the first time the rules allow a team to race with a larger crew if it sails with a mixed-gender crew instead of an all-male one.

All seven teams that started the race last week in Alicante, Spain, have capitalized on the rule change, and Jackson, 34, is one of 16 women taking part in the first leg. Eight of them, including Jackson, were on the all-female Team SCA in the last race. Others are race rookies, including Martine Grael, the daughter of the former Volvo Ocean Race champion Torben Grael. Martine Grael was one of the Brazilian stars of the 2016 Olympics, where she won gold in the 49er FX class.

The women are playing a wide range of roles onboard in the first leg: steering, grinding, stacking and selecting sails and helping to plot strategy.

Jackson and Hannah Diamond of Britain are sailing on Vestas 11th Hour Racing with seven men, including Enright and Mark Towill, former Brown University teammates from the United States who are leading their second Volvo campaign.

“We feel the way the race went about creating the rule was really smart: They incentivized it, but didn’t mandate it,” Towill said in an interview from Alicante before the start. “And now look where it has ended up. Everyone has females on board, so clearly there’s a benefit there.”

Emily Nagel, front, and Martine Grael, back, are part of Team AkzoNobel in the Volvo Ocean Race. Grael is an Olympic gold medalist in sailing. KONRAD FROST / VOLVO OCEAN RACEEmily Nagel, front, and Martine Grael, back, are part of Team AkzoNobel in the Volvo Ocean Race. Grael is an Olympic gold medalist in sailing. KONRAD FROST / VOLVO OCEAN RACE

Some veteran skippers consider it more of an obligation, including Team Brunel’s Bouwe Bekking, a Dutchman who is taking part in his eighth race and was against the rule. Teams are permitted to sail with seven men; seven men and up to two women; five men and five women; or 11 women.

“It would have been very nice if we could have just chosen our own team,” Bekking said. “But as soon as the rules came out, I said straightaway, ‘We have to have two girls on board otherwise I’m shooting myself in the foot.’ ”

He also told the BBC: “We weren’t asked about the rule changes, but you just have to live with their decision and take it on the chin. For Volvo, they have to sell cars and trucks. Around half of the world’s population is female, so if you have more females in the race, they have more attention for their products. It’s a pure marketing thing.”

The race actually has a long history of female involvement. Three women completed all four legs of the first edition in 1973 and 1974. Clare Francis, a young Briton, became the first female skipper in 1978 and later became a successful novelist.


In 1989, another British sailor, Tracy Edwards, was the skipper of the first all-female team. There have been four such teams since then, but after the Australian navigator Adrienne Cahalan sailed in the first leg with Brasil 1 in the 2005-6 race, there were no women in the next two editions in part because of the increasing emphasis on strength with smaller crew limits.

Although there was an all-female team in the 2014-15 race, no female sailors were on any of the other six teams.

With SCA, a Swedish forest products company, declining to sponsor an entry in the 2017-18 race, it appeared likely there would again be no female sailors involved until Mark Turner, the race’s new chief executive, successfully pushed for the new rule before announcing his intent to resign last month.


“I would prefer not to put rules at all, but it was pretty clear to me what would happen if I did not,” Turner said in a recent interview. “We are a sport where we can have the very best males and females in one team. Not every sport has that option, and we should make the most of it.”

Enjoy your WinEnjoy your Win

Turner, who long worked with the British solo sailing star Ellen MacArthur, insisted he was “not on a crusade” but trying to play to his global event’s strengths.

“One of the things about the Volvo is how we mirror and amplify challenges businesses have today, and one of the big challenges is diversity and using it qualitatively,” he said. “We have different languages and different cultures involved in our race, and this really completes the picture.”

There were concerns about budget increases as well as weight increases on board by adding sailors. But the teams all have arrived at similar conclusions.

“On the boat we don’t really notice a difference, you know sailors are sailors,” Enright said of the mixed crew. “On land it’s a little different sometimes, but we’ll figure it out.”

Skippers have the option to change their crew lineups on a leg-by-leg basis, and for the first leg from Alicante to Lisbon — a sprint compared with the longer, more grueling Southern Ocean legs to come — the most popular configuration is seven men and two women.

One team, Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, is using seven men and one female sailor, trying to stay lighter than its competitors. Turn the Tide on Plastic is skippered by a woman, Dee Caffari of Britain, and is using five men and five women. Caffari, part of the SCA crew, was the first woman to sail solo nonstop around the world against the prevailing winds and currents.

That seems an apt metaphor for female ocean racers in general, and Caffari addressed the mixed-team initiative in a prerace news conference in Alicante.

“These are massive influences in the world of sailing,” she said, gesturing toward the six male skippers. “And if they say it’s not so bad, hopefully others will move forward and agree and sail mixed. I’d rather it be about sailors for their ability than gender-led discussions.”

SCA finished in sixth place out of the seven teams in the last race. Jackson said she treasured the experience in the last race but never felt SCA had a chance to win.

“There are females on every boat now, so the winning team will have female sailors,” she said. “So I hope that will prove that it should be standard.”

Still, she and Diamond know that there are no guarantees going forward.

“I think the women in this race have a real responsibility to take this opportunity and do as much with it as we can,” Diamond said. “Because it’s not certain there will be a rule next time around, so it’s up to us to put ourselves in a position where people want to take us rather than there being a rule that sort of forces the issue.”

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