Making it Happen for Women
Published on February 16th, 2017
The Magenta Project aims to advance women in the sport of professional sailing, and promote inclusion, diversity and positive female role models in society at large. Cressida Robson attended a clinic the organization hosted this month in Miami and provides this report.
The training event attracted 17 women from ages 17 to 58 from six countries across Europe and the Americas, with a variety of sailing backgrounds from college sailors and coaches; to veterans of offshore racing, Olympic campaigns and match racing.
The two-day clinic, using the M32 catamaran, was led by Sally Barkow (USA) and Annie Lush (GBR), both deep with Olympic, Volvo Ocean Race, and match race experience. Joining Sally and Annie running the clinic were Mariana Lobato (POR 2012 Match Racing) and Maggie Shea (USA 49er FX Olympic hopeful).
The clinic was blessed with perfect conditions, winds ranged from 8-12 knots on Biscayne Bay’s flat, sheltered waters. The teams could practice marginal upwind genneker conditions and flying the hulls on these impressive machines. Watching YouTube videos fails to show the fitness and teamwork needed to sail these highly integrated and technical boats.
Sally and Annie also presented their own personal journeys from club sailing to Olympic and professional offshore racing, for both women a lifelong focus on match racing formed a strong skills foundation into all types of sailing.
Learning from the session included the importance of building a sailing skills foundation and opportunities for women to have apprenticeships into some of the perceived traditionally male skills of yacht construction, engineering etc. Also emphasized was the importance of creating networks around professional women sailors of campaigns and teams, plus supporters.
The women in the clinic shared their perceptions of the current challenges around the pathway for all sailors into professional performance sailing and some barriers perceived to be specific to women in the sport. Sally and Annie along with Liz Shaw from Oakcliff Sailing sought new insights on how these could be overcome.
Afterwards, Sally was pleased with the improvement. “The goal was to give more women experience on high performance boats. A lot of girls came to this clinic not knowing if they could handle the boat, if they could drive the boat, and they sure left with the feeling that they are capable of getting out there and racing them.”
Progress is slow but measurable. Numbers of women sailing are steadily increasing in Junior and Collegiate sailing, the Olympics will have parity for the first time between male and female participants, and female instructors and boat captains are becoming a less rare phenomenon.
However, more work needs to be done in the pathway for women into professional performance sailing in shorthanded racing, round the world races like the Volvo Ocean Race, Vendee Globe, and emphatically in the America’s Cup – an event that will yet again see no female participation on the boats.
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