Brian Hancock and Tracy Edwards rather thoroughly say what many of us are thinking…
There comes a time when it’s time to say something and I am going to say what’s been on the mind of many; why the heck are the women on Team SCA so far off the pace? Yes I know it’s a touchy subject but people are talking about it (amongst themselves) and many want to say something but they are scared of offending. Well forgive me I don’t want to offend either. I have been a major supporter of women in everything, not just sailing, for a very long time, but the performance by Team SCA has set women in sailing back decades. Before the barbs come out let me quickly interject that I think that the sailors on the boat have done an awesome job starting with the immensely talented Sam Davies who has led a great crew most of the way around the world. They are clearly a good team but unfortunately their results have been less than impressive, as I am sure they will agree.
There are a couple of things that account for this and none of it has to do with a woman’s ability to compete on equal terms with men. Indeed there have been some women sailors whose skill far exceeds that of almost all men. Florence Arthaud, Ellen MacArthur and Isabelle Autissier come to mind. Amazing sailors all, so the argument that women are not as good simply goes out the window. The main problem is that over the last four decades men have convinced themselves that they are superior and have excluded women from sailing at a top level. Not all men and not all sailing, but most women simply never got the chance to hone their skills at the top of the game. The pool of women that have the capability to compete on equal terms against men in a race such as the Volvo Ocean Race is tiny. Someone else can do the math but I bet there are a couple dozen collective circumnavigations among the male teams. You simply can’t compete when you don’t have the depth of talent. At the risk of alienating even more myself let me pose this hypothetical. I bet that Team SCA would beat a team made up solely of black men. Same reason; very few people of color have competed at this level.
So that’s one argument. The other is a bit trickier because none of the crew are willing to discuss it. SCA is a huge corporate entity that has carefully honed its message to maximize their exposure in the race, so much so that reading their press releases you would think that Team SCA was the first female team ever to compete. This is outrageous and is a complete disservice to others like Tracy Edwards and her all-female crew on Maiden (88/89), the women of Heineken (93/94), EF Education (97/98) and Amer Sports Two (01/02). Along with size comes politics and SCA as a corporate entity seem to be making decisions that would be best left to Sam Davies. Sam is the skipper and the buck stops with her but it’s general knowledge that Sam does not have the authority to hire and fire. I once did a Whitbread where that was the case and it was a disaster beyond measure. Ask Skip Novak who was the skipper without authority. There have been some bad tactical decisions made yet no one has been held accountable and no heads have rolled.
It’s time we get beyond this all-female and all-male nonsense. I agree with Skip in the article he wrote for Yachting World. If Volvo really wants to be progressive, and I assume that they do, then for future races let’s mandate an equal number of men and women on each boat and once and for all shut up this ridiculous debate about who is better. Although I am quite certain that would open up a completely different can of worms.
Those are my thoughts but I think it’s important to hear from someone whose entry in the 89/90 Whitbread had a huge impact on the event. Tracy Edwards skippered the first all-female crew to compete in a Whitbread, and with impressive results. Maiden won two legs of the race, finished second overall in class and 3rd in the Non-Maxi Division. I know that Tracy has been following this VOR with interest and probably with some dismay at how little recognition she and other all-women teams have received from corporate SCA. I think it’s time we got her take on the Team SCA situation so take it away Tracy…
When Team SCA was first announced and I saw the level of money, time and effort going into what looked like a very professional campaign I was ecstatic! Finally it looked as though there was going to be an all-female entry that was not an afterthought addition to a male campaign. There are so many incredible female sailors out there who have been let down by previous Whitbread and Volvo campaigns. I was so excited to see what they could do with enough funding, time and expertise. I began following their progress and this really reignited my interest and excitement in the Volvo which I have to admit had tailed off over the years.
And then someone posted the SCA promotional launch video. The voiceover told me that they were the first all-female crew to attempt to sail around the world. I was stunned and then horrified as I realised that it was Volvo who had released and promoted the video along with Scuttlebutt – both of whom should have known better (to expect the idiot from scuttlebutthole to know anything is a stretch – ed.). After a lengthy battle fought online and via email to the CEO of SCA, by me and many, many others, it was finally changed. The apology from the CEO was begrudging and trite. At first I was upset and then I was furious that Maiden was being treated in this way. The SCA media team then proceeded to announce that the girls were the first all-female crew to do the Volvo (originally the WRTWR). And so it was Dawn Riley’s turn to be forced to fight her corner and remind them that she skippered Heineken and that after Maiden, Heineken, EF Language and Amer Sports Two they were in fact the fifth all-female crew to sail to race around the world. Instead of apologizing profusely, the SCA media team announce on Twitter that SCA would be the BEST all-female crew to race around the world – to which someone replied that they needed to win then.
What was even more upsetting was that all of us who had so looked forward to supporting the women on SCA had been forced to defend our achievements instead of cheering our friends on. Two of the women on SCA actually emailed me to apologise and let me know how mortified they all were with the media.
Even so, with all that behind us, women sailors of the world looked forward to the start and watching SCA build upon our successes of the past 25 years. To say that we are all disappointed would be an understatement. But my disappointment is not with the women of the team who I know are all extraordinary sailors, much better than I ever was and definitely fitter! We all knew something was going terribly wrong, but we all kept quiet, afraid of being accused of being women bitching about other women. This could not be further from the truth for me and every woman I know who just wanted SCA to WIN! I gave Sam Davies her first break as a nipper on RSA when we attempted the Jules Verne and broke many world records, consequently we are good friends and I was desperate for her to do well. I have followed her career with pride and excitement.
I am gutted that they have not performed as we had all hoped, but on the plus side, they were building their knowledge and experience and that is what is needed for success next time. It is so difficult for women to gain experience of Ocean Racing so this could be used as a wonderful opportunity to build upon for the next event. What I have a real problem with is the media team and the way they are portraying the results as some sort of victory. It is toe curling. This is so damaging to women’s sailing and it lowers the bar for excellence and expectation. When Maiden did really badly on Leg 4 we were devastated to lose our overall lead which we had held at the half way mark. Our press conference and consequent press releases talked about what we had got wrong (my navigation) and how we could improve – because that is what sports teams do. They do not portray coming last as a victory and make themselves into a joke team which is humiliating to women’s sailing, dragging it back to the days before Maiden.
I know that the women have been uncomfortable about the way they are portrayed but cannot say so because it is not their campaign. And herein lies the problem I think. Team SCA is managed and run by Richard Brisius and Johan Salen of Atlant – not by the women themselves. Richard and Johan also ran the all-female EF Education which played second fiddle to Paul Cayard’s EF Language so I am astonished that more lessons were not learned.
All of us on Maiden (the actual first all-female crew) did everything ourselves. We raised the funding, we found a wreck and turned her into Maiden, we decided what training we would do, I chose the crew and we did our own press releases. We sweated blood and tears to get Maiden to the start line and we fought with every fibre of our being, every every inch of the way to prove that women could be as good as men. I am so proud of our Maiden’s performance and achievements, but when we crossed the finish line 25 years ago we all looked forward to the day when an all-female crew would win – and this discussion would no longer be necessary.
To think that even 15 years ago I put together and skippered Royal SunAlliance during which 11 women sailed one of the biggest, fastest multihuills in existence at the time and held broke a number of world records, including the fastest ocean record (Cowes to Dinard) for a number of years. And now we are cheering mediocrity.
There is no doubt in my mind that an all-female crew could win the Volvo but we have a whole generation of women sailors who were cut out of the Volvo when the Volvo 70s came into play. The men barely had the strength to control those ridiculous boats and so women were excluded. Until someone puts a campaign together which places the women at the centre and in charge at the very beginning I think we will fail. There are some amazing women out there such as Dawn Riley, Emma Westmacott and Adrianne Cahalan (to name a few) who could run an awesome campaign but none were approached by Atlant. Volvo have benefitted greatly from the SCA publicity which we, as women sailors, feel has all but wiped out our past achievements. No other sports team celebrates failure – why do they think its ok for women?
I am not sure I would want to see a mandate for equal men and women on each boat. That could cause its own problems. Maybe it would work. Whatever the outcome of this event; It’s time Volvo made a concerted effort to encourage more women to enter and to assist them in every way possible. I also think that the best way for SCA to redeem themselves is to sponsor Sam Davies (if she wishes to take part) for the next event but WITHOUT Atlant. Let Sam or whoever, pick her team and run her own campaign using the many lessons learned from this one and the past 25 years of women’s sailing. That would show that SCA are serious about supporting women’s sailing.
I will leave the final word to a 16 year old future Olympic sailor whom I met whilst speaking at a Yacht Club. I am paraphrasing what she said but in essence this is it: “Watching the ridiculous flag waving of SCA Media Team every time a team of women manage to sail from one Port to another, is to watch a Corporation aided by Volvo take women’s sailing back 25 years.” She finished by telling me that the boys in the Youth Squad now make fun of the girls and offer to cheer if ‘they make it from one side of the reservoir to the other’.
Well done Atlant.