Sally Barkow: From inland lakes to open oceans

Published on September 27th, 2014

You could say that Sally Barkow has been taking steps toward the Volvo Ocean Race all her life. Now 34 years old, her road from learning to sail on scows in Wisconsin would take her to the international Olympic and match race circuit, with her successes earning her the US Rolex Yachtswomen of the Year award in 2005 and 2007.

After competing for the US team in the keelboat event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and missing out on the match racing event at the 2012 Games, the next step, albeit a big step, was offshore racing. When Team SCA proposed an all-women’s crew for the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race, Sally answered the call…

It was an opportunity of a lifetime which I couldn’t miss out on, made possible by this team forming, and I just knew I had to be a part of it. Coming from an Olympic background, it was a big decision to shift gears into offshore racing but it is such a new challenge for me and something I have wanted to do for a long time.

My roots are in lake sailing which is really good at preparing you for short course and unpredictable wind. And it also teaches an incredible level of patience. I was not sure how these skills were going to transform into ocean racing but I was surprised to learn that sometimes patience and the ability to read unpredictable winds are really valuable skills to have on the ocean, in offshore racing.

I knew the boat was going to be totally new to me as I had always sailed smaller boats, so coming with an open mind and trying to learn as fast as possible was my priority. I think it has also helped that the Volvo 65’s are completely new to everyone so we all had to start from scratch and work together in figuring out the most efficient ways to sail these boats.

There has been endless learning about the boat inside and out. Also working with such a large team makes it possible to focus on your specific role and trust that others are doing the same; that way we will be as strong as possible by the start of the race. The program managers took their time to be sure to sign the correct people and have the right mix of team players. I think we have come out with a very committed and strong team of people.

There have been countless lessons to get to where we are now, but I think the really exciting lessons are still to come once we begin racing!

Background: The 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race starts October 4 and will take the 7-boat fleet to 11 cities in 11 countries – Spain, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, China, New Zealand, Brazil, United States, Portugal, France, The Netherlands, and Sweden – and will require the teams to cover 38,739 nautical miles over nearly nine months. It will be the first edition using the new one design Volvo Ocean 65 racing boats. Race website:

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