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Team SCA: A floating vehicle for female empowerment

Published on October 14th, 2014

In the Volvo Ocean Race’s 41-year history, there have only been four female teams that came before Team SCA, and none of those have had the funding or training necessary to make them serious contenders. But two years ago global hygiene and forests products company SCA decided it wanted to create a team that wouldn’t just take part, but would actually be a threat to the boys.

More than 400 women applied for the 14 spots available on the team and 18 months ago training began in earnest. This early commitment to the project and the amount of time it gave the women together is, according to skipper Sam Davies, the team’s biggest advantage. Significantly less experienced than their rivals, just two of the women have competed in the VOR before, they knew they needed as much practice as they could get.

“For me personally, I’ve had to learn how to move from doing everything single-handedly to working in a team,” says Davies. “That means thinking about how we communicate and not trying to do everything myself. This [whole experience] has been a big lesson for all of us, we’ve all had to grow as a team”.

The tiny living space and three extra crew members (a provision within the race rules) means that conditions are cramped. Crew member Annie Lush admits it can be difficult but explains that a mix of remembering that everyone is doing the best they can and trying to be upbeat when it’s required is what gets them through.

Early on in training their original coach, Magnus Olsson, suffered a stroke and died. For Lush, trying to bring a bit of Olsson’s spirit onboard for the trip is important.

“He was really loud and always laughing. To him that was one of the most important things. I try to imagine what Magnus would do in those situations [when it’s particularly tough] and try to take on a bit of his character … I sailed with him and it was great to just be with him and learn how he was and how we handled things. He even made me sneak some wine onboard.”

So can they win it? The team behind them certainly believe they’re going to be in with a fighting chance. Both SCA CEO Jan Johansson and the team’s managing director, Richard Brisius, are keen to emphasise that this is the best-trained female team the race has ever seen.

For SCA, the sponsor relationship went beyond just putting their name on the boat and instead became about creating a floating vehicle for female empowerment. The women have received physical training, nutritional advice and worked with some of the best coaches in the sailing world. They’ve also taken a different approach to forming a team than the traditional male crewed boats.

Davies is a first-time skipper and, in fact, that’s not even her title. Typically, a boat taking part in the VOR would first appoint a skipper and then the skipper would put the team together. SCA all trained as a team to begin with, before appointing Davies as “the person in charge”. She’s more reticent when talking about the team’s chances: “It’s the team that progresses the most during the race that has the most potential to be on the podium at the end,” she says. “That’s our mentality going into the race – to learn and to improve.”

Excerpt from story in The Guardian.

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