SCA Skipper up for Sailor of the Year

Team SCA Skipper Sam Davies is up for the ISAF Sailor of the Year Award, but the sailors of the history-making campaign aren't finding offshore opportunities.

Team SCA in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race.Rick Tomilson

It's the most prestigious individual award a sailor can receive - a symbol of recognition for their outstanding achievements in this sport.

That's right: the ISAF World Sailor of the Year Award. And despite the Volvo Ocean Race being a massive team effort, it's only right that some of the race's outstanding leaders have been shortlisted for the prize.

In the female category, Sam Davies has been nominated for her campaign as skipper of Team SCA.

The first all-female crew to enter the race in over a decade, Sam and her teammates set out to inspire a new generation of women - and they certainly managed that, making history with a win of the pen-ultimate leg into Lorient in June.

But despite the presence the women brought to the race and the nomination of Sam Davies for Sailor of the Year, the opportunities for female sailors are still too few and far between.

After nine months in the spotlight and some 40,000 miles of hard-won offshore experience on the clock, you'd have thought that the phones of the Team SCA crew would be ringing off the hook with job offers since the 2014-15 race finished last June.

Well, so far it just isn't happening. The Volvo Ocean Race crew caught up with Sara Hastreiter, a straight-talking 31-year-old who didn’t let the fact that she hailed from land-locked Wyoming stop her from pursuing a sailing career and eventually contesting offshore sailing’s toughest team race.

Sure, Team SCA performed better than most had anticipated for the first all female team to compete in the Race for 12 years, Sara concedes, but there’s still plenty to learn for Sam Davies’ brigade who were, and still are, determined to blaze a new trail for round-the-world female sailors.

She's convinced that their chief handicap against Ian Walker, Charles Caudrelier, Bouwe Bekking and the rest of the guys in the 12th edition in 2014-15 was simply a lack of experience competing at that level, and they won’t begin to make that up unless they are given more chances to take on the men.

So far, the silence has been almost deafening for the majority of the team.

As Sara succinctly put it during last week’s Genoa Boat Show:

“We’re shocked that we’re still sitting on our thumbs waiting for the phone to ring after three years of seriously competitive training and racing, preparing for and contesting the race under the tough stewardship of Team SCA chief coach, Brad Jackson."

She continues: “Since the end of the Volvo Ocean Race, several of us have been trying find rides for the Sydney-Hobart Race, but it’s a brick wall. It’s like ‘oh yeah, this (project) isn’t happening after all, or this boat doesn’t feel comfortable bringing in women."

Sara went on to explain that they went on to offer themselves up in pairs or as smaller teams in an attempt to bring on a crew of experiences sailors rather than one individual.

"We thought maybe some people would feel more comfortable with having two of us instead of just one female in a team of men, but none of us have found a ride. One would think that we had proved ourselves, but I don’t know. Maybe there’s some kind of unspoken fear that by bringing a female on board it will change the dynamic or something. I don’t really think there’s a reasonable explanation for it.”

So far since the Volvo Ocean Race finished in Gothenburg, on June 27, Sara has contested a Transat against the top maxi programs: Comanche and Rambler, taken on Team Vestas Wind in Genoa, and in now racing in the Rolex Middle Sea Race taking place this week. And that's it.

“We still realise that when we finish one Volvo Ocean Race, we understand that the market is being flooded by the men that we’ve just competed with,” says Hastreiter, "at the end of the day, they’re still more experienced than we are. But the reason that experience gap continues to grow and continues to stay there, is because we don’t have the opportunities in between what's specifically created for us. I would put almost the whole difference between us and the men’s teams during the race down to experience. A very small percentage of it, I would say, is physicality. You’re talking like 99-1, 99% experience against 1% (physicality).”

The galling point for Sara and her crewmates is that all the experience they earned in blood, sweat, and (the occasional) tears, in 2014-15, is in danger of being wasted with the end of SCA’s backing.

“We have always known from the finish that we all want to continue in this sport and we want to continue at this level,” she says, "does it necessarily mean that we have to to do the next Volvo Ocean Race? It might mean that, but our biggest concern is that we want to keep women in grand prix racing. We want to see women doing these prestigious offshore races and we want to see women in important roles on boats and in the future. It can mean an America’s Cup team or another Volvo Ocean Race, but in between those things, we have to get better and we have to keep pushing those boundaries.”

Sara vows that she and her tight-knit group of friends forged on the round-the-world campaign have no intention of quitting in their dreams and will continue to work together to win new opportunities in offshore sailing.

“We’re hoping that if by sticking together it becomes more marketable for us. It’s not that we’re exclusive to any other women but it’s more that we’re trying to leave a legacy. So we’re picking ourselves up by the bootstraps again and realising that if we’re going to find opportunities we’re going to have to make them ourselves.”

A Sailor of the Year win for Sam Davies could provide a much needed boost for the crew of SCA and help create new opportunities to get the women back on the water.

The awards for will be presented on November 10 in Sanya, China, a city familiar to Davies as the location of Volvo Ocean Race stopover.