Women Making Waves in Extreme Sailing
Published on October 8th, 2016
Nine laps of the planet, 11 Olympic Games, one gold medal and one silver, 13 world championship titles and 45 national event wins. As team CVs go, Thalassa Magenta Racing’s is up there with the best.
The 12-strong crew might be new to the Extreme Sailing Series™ but they’re already making waves as the first all-female team to compete on the global Stadium Racing tour in its 10-year history.
Despite coming into Act 7 in Lisbon with just a handful of training days under their belts Thalassa Magenta Racing have already notched up two podium finishes from 10 races, beating some of the Series’ most seasoned crews in the process.
It’s a realisation of a dream for skipper Sharon Ferris-Choat. A Canadian-born New Zealander who is one of the world’s most respected female sailors, Ferris-Choat was the first woman to race GC32 foiling catamarans.
After getting hooked on the sheer speeds and excitement offered by these super-fast ‘flying’ boats, the 42-year-old dedicated herself to forming a crew made entirely from female sailors capable of taking on the best teams in the Extreme Sailing Series.
“I took maternity leave from sailing when my daughter was born, but when she turned two and a half I decided to get back into the sport,” Ferris-Choat explained. “The GC32 class had just launched and when I saw them flying around I knew that was the way forward.
“I’ve been working for the last six months to put this team together. Two weeks ago we got the news that we were waiting for – confirmation that we’d be able to race in Lisbon as a wildcard. I knew it was really important that we got into these foiling boats now otherwise we’re going to be too far behind. It’s been a real rollercoaster but we’re here now out racing and it’s amazing.”
In putting together the team for its maiden outing Ferris-Choat has assembled some of the best female sailors in the world. Among the star-studded line-up are ocean racers Dee Caffari (GBR), Elodie Mettraux (SUI) and Abby Ehler (GBR); Olympians Sally Barkow (USA), Annie Lush (GBR) Annemieke Bes (NED) and Gemma Jones (NZL); Nacra 17 World Silver medallist Hannah Diamond (GBR) and 420 World and European champion Annabel Vose (GBR).
“We’ve got world champions, between us we’ve been around the world nine times and been to numerous Olympic Games,” Ferris-Choat said. “What’s more the girls are hungry – they’re working really hard to be on the boat, they all want to be part of it. We’re a squad of 12 here – six on the boat and six on shore – and we’re rotating every day. Every single member of the crew is equally important.”
The team are being backed by Extreme Sailing Series clothing supplier Marinepool in partnership with the Magenta Project, the not-for-profit organisation born from the legacy of Team SCA, the all-female crew that competed in the last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.
British sailor Caffari, the only woman ever to sail solo round the world in both directions and a former Team SCA crewmember, says it’s vital to keeping up the momentum as they search for a sponsor to support them in the 2017 Extreme Sailing Series.
“The first big step for us came this summer when we were able to get access to a GC32 in Cowes,” Caffari said. “Sharon was the only woman prior to that to have sailed a GC32 and she was able to give her time to coach us.
“We got 15 girls on the boat over a few days and it made us believe that we could make this happen. We created such momentum with Team SCA that we wanted to keep it going. Although competing in Lisbon is just the first step there’s a real feeling and excitement that we can make this work.
“We’ve not had long in the boat but already we’re surprising a few people, mixing it up with the regular teams and getting some good results. We’re hoping to make a big enough splash as a female team to show people that it can be done, and attract a sponsor for the 2017 season.”
For Ferris-Choat, Thalassa Magenta Racing’s debut is just the start of something massive.
“Imagine if there were a couple of girls’ teams out there racing?” she said. “There are loads of girls out there who are talented enough to make it a real possibility. The point of us being here is to showcase the team and what we’re capable of. We’re sailing really well, we’re competitive and we are showing we can beat these guys. There are exciting times ahead for Thalassa Magenta Racing.”
Background: The Extreme Sailing Series is in its tenth season, with this year’s eight event tour travelling through Asia, Europe, and Australia. The platform used is the one design foiling GC32 catamaran, with the format highlighting ‘stadium’ short-course racing in front of the public. ESS website: http://www.extremesailingseries.com