PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) The first all-female team in the Volvo Ocean Race in over a decade, Team SCA is determined to break barriers in a male-dominated sport – and in what is widely considered the world’s most prestigious offshore sailing event.
Team SCA and its opponents are heading from Brazil to Rhode Island, the only North American stopover on the race, and are expected to arrive in Newport on Thursday. The teams left Oct. 11 from Alicante, Spain, and are making several stops before finishing in Gothenburg, Sweden, in June.
The all-female team was in last place Sunday, about 70 nautical miles off the lead, after being waylaid by Sargassum seaweed a few days earlier. But Team SCA was making fast gains in what might be the tightest leg finish of the race so far.
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The consensus among the team is that sailing in the race is an accomplishment in itself.
”Every new thing we experience is a big notch on our belt,” said Team SCA member Sally Barkow, of Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Though there aren’t any mixed-gender teams competing this year, most women have competed in the race on such teams, said a Volvo spokesman. This year, the members of Team SCA, sponsored by the Swedish paper products company of the same name, are the only women in the race.
”It just seems to be there aren’t opportunities for women in professional sailing. It’s an unwritten thing,” said Sara Hastreiter, who works the bow and pit for Team SCA. ”Often times, at the highest level, it’s based on experience, and women aren’t given opportunities to gain that experience, which is why this team started so early in the training process.”
Hastreiter, of Casper, Wyoming, has logged tens of thousands of offshore sailing and racing miles, doing much of her training in Newport, a mecca of sailing and the former home of the America’s Cup. Like most of her teammates, this is her first Volvo Ocean Race.
Nearly 400 women tried out for Team SCA, and only 50 applicants went on to train at the team’s base in Lanzarote, Spain, in a trial process that lasted over a year.
But fighting to get on a team is just the beginning. The race covers 44,580 miles over nine months, and can be both exhilarating and deadly. In 2006, Dutch sailor Hans Horrevoets died after being swept overboard about 1,500 miles west of England.
”We had welts on our cheeks from spray, and people’s eyes were swollen shut,” Hastreiter said of the race so far. ”I ended up with frostbite on my thumbs.”
Team SCA is allowed to have 11 sailors on board versus eight on the men’s teams, the logic being that the weight is therefore equal. Team SCA has 13 members total, but the team rotates the 11 who are on board for each leg.
”We early on realized that people will get hurt and will need to step off, and then we don’t have any reserves,” said Richard Brisius, managing director for Team SCA. ”If it’s a male team, you can get on the phone and there are hundreds of men who are up to it.”
Dawn Riley, a world-renowned sailor who competed in the Volvo Ocean Race twice but is sitting it out this year, noted that because of the rarity of women in the sport, they have less experience and are typically paid less than their male counterparts. (Team SCA emphasized that it pays its sailors based on experience, not gender.)
”I can say, absolutely, women in general in racing have to fight harder,” Riley said, ”and are always the last person picked for the team.”