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Sarah Mecoy: What years at sea have taught her

Published on January 2nd, 2017

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Sarah Mecoy

The Cape 2 Rio Yacht Race, started in 1971, is the longest continent to continent yacht race in the southern hemisphere. The 2017 edition, with starts on December 26 and January 1, includes Sarah Niedswiecki-Mecoy bowman on the GP 42 Lion of Africa Vulcan.

Sarah’s been a full-time professional sailor for more than a decade and has a broad base of experience on Superyachts, Grand Prix and Classic yachts. Born in London, then raised in New York, she began sailing at age five and now competes in world-class regattas throughout the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and South Africa.

Here’s what her years at sea have taught her:

How were you introduced to the sport, and did you study anything to prepare for sailing?
I started sailing as a kid. It was more like a summer camp thing at first, really little kids just bobbing around in dinghies. As I got older it seemed like a pretty cool thing to do so I continued in high school and then at university. After university I sort of stumbled into it and I haven’t looked back since.

Sailing is a strange sport because so much of it is out of your hands. You’re relying on the weather for all your push! You can be a personally prepared as possible, but if the weather doesn’t want to play you can’t change it. Right now, I try and learn as much as I can from other team members, keep my head open to new ideas, new technology and try to anticipate what my team mates will be doing themselves.

If I can understand the steps to another person’s job, I can make a plan so we can weave our two jobs together or even cover for one another. If you’re in a team sport, you’ve got to work together, you’ve got to learn and listen to everyone, and before you know it, you’re sitting on the rail having a laugh and hopefully winning!

What’s it like being a female on a boat full of men, sailing from Cape Town to Rio?
I’m pretty used to being the only girl on the team. I like to think that I’m one of the boys, but I’m not and I think it’s important to recognize that. Having a sole female on any team, no matter how laid back and accepting everyone is, changes the dynamic of an all-male team. You’re fooling yourself if you think there isn’t a difference. That being said, it’s not a bad thing.

I’ve been lucky enough to sail with some really incredible men, who are just total alpha males, and just so good at their jobs, and I’ve found that the more confident the guys I sail with are with themselves, the better I am treated. The real pros just see me as a person doing the job, and if I can’t do it, they’ll find someone who can, be it a male or female. You have to remember you really are all ‘in the same boat’. It’s all about team work!

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Do the guys ever give you the “female” responsibilities, like cooking and cleaning?
It really all depends on the men you’re with. One thing I learnt early on is to accept that I’m not a guy! It sounds funny, but sometimes you have to step back and look at the big picture. Many hands make light work, but if five 6 foot, 90 kilo guys are moving a sail around, is my help really needed? Will I get in the way and trip someone up? You have to see it as plus, if we have to jump in the freezing cold water and clean the bottom of the boat, the guys don’t make me go as well, so I find something else to do, and sometimes it is cooking or cleaning.

How do you prepare physically for a race?
Being a bowman, I know going into it that my body is going to take a bit of a beating. At the gym I really work on balance and my core strength. Often times you find yourself trying to use all your strength in the oddest configuration.

I explain it as trying to lift weights on a trampoline. You need to be nimble, quick, and resilient as well as strong. Even when you are resting your body is still moving and adjusting to stay stable. So I do a lot of Pilates and stretching, just trying to make my back as strong as possible. Otherwise it’s your basic gym stuff, a bit of cycling, a bit of running, rowing machine.

This summer in Spain I started water aerobics with a friend, it’s no joke! We laughed our heads off for the first 5 mins and then we were totally out of breath with our arms and legs were burning!

VIDEO: Jeff Ayliffe spent the start of the 2017 Cape2Rio yacht race aboard the GP 42 Lion of Africa Vulcan, sailing with the crew for a few nautical miles into the 3500 mile trans-Atlantic race, before jumping overboard and being fetch by the team RIB.

Source: Women’s Health

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