Sitting down with Sam Davies
Published on November 4th, 2019
British Double Olympic gold medalist and sailing broadcaster Shirley Robertson has launched her new monthly Sailing Podcast, and in her seventh episode she interviews fellow Brit Sam Davies as the two former team mates sit down to discuss the career of one of offshore sailing’s most admired competitors.
With a submarine commander as one grandfather and a boat builder as the other, it should be no surprise that Cambridge engineering graduate Sam Davies pursued a career that sees her racing around the planet. But as she reveals in this illuminating chat, offshore sailing’s loss was very nearly synchronized swimming’s gain, after an early passion for life in the pool almost saw her follow a very different career path.
Davies reveals how a determined but nervous start to her sailing career soon saw her running the bow for the ground breaking British yachtswoman Tracy Edwards. It was in those early days, chasing the illusive around the world record – the Jules Verne Trophy – that Sam glimpsed the potential, inspired by the pro-active spirit and determination of Edwards, as she realized that if she really dug in, anything could be possible.
“For me being an offshore sailor, I didn’t even want to do it, it was way too scary, and too far, to cross an ocean! I loved the boats, I wanted to design them, to be an engineer and be involved but to be on one of the boats was just beyond my dreams or anything!”
As her career blossomed it took an early deviation towards the Olympic arena, her remarkable seamanship quickly attracting Robertson’s attention.
Campaigning for Athens 2004 in the technical keel boat, the Yngling, Robertson was drawn to the can-do professionalism of the young bowman, but it was a collaboration that wouldn’t go the distance. The pair laugh over the early campaign days as Sam began to realize that the monotony of Olympic campaigning really wasn’t for her – that her sailing life lay further out to sea.
“I could see that all the time I’d been sailing with you, you wouldn’t win if I’d been with you. I thought ‘When you see Shirley on the Olympic podium with her gold medal are you going to regret not having been with her?” and I just thought ‘No!’.
“There’s no way you would have got there with me, I didn’t have that drive to be an Olympic sailor, I had to go offshore … I needed to go out and be away and not see land on the horizon! I just couldn’t survive without going offshore.”
Her offshore course now set, Davies’ career took the inevitable turn towards the solo marathon the Vendee Globe, and in 2008 she crossed the start line in one of the most recognizable boats the race has ever seen.
It was a performance that would rocket her to household name status in France, as she resolutely sailed Roxy nonstop around the planet in just over ninety five days, one of just eleven finishers from a field of thirty.
It was a remarkable achievement. Davies then reveals the cost of her disappointment in the following Vendee, after a hard fought campaign to get to the start line lasted just five days out on the race course. But very quickly, she was back at the helm, the Vendee forgotten, as she took on a very different role skippering the all female Team SCA in the Volvo Ocean Race.
“It was like I needed to get back out there as quickly as possible, to get back on the horse, and not scare myself away…I couldn’t bare sitting at home watching all the others sail the Vendee Globe, I needed to get back on a boat so I could forget about the Vendee.”
Sam is currently looking forward to her third Vendee Globe campaign, this time as skipper of the inspirational Initiative Coeur – a campaign actively saving the lives of disadvantaged children around the world – it’s an innovative approach to raising money, that Sam passionately explains, whereby the effect of her sponsors’ donations, achieved through Sam’s interaction with her fan base, reveals very tangible results.
Currently half way across the Atlantic racing in the Transat Jacques Vabre, the boat lies in seventh place, but has so far raised enough money to carry out life saving operations for one hundred and ninety nine children!
Enjoy the complete podcast here:
Shirley Robertson’s Sailing Podcast, produced and edited by Tim Butt of Vertigo Films, is available to listen on her website or via most popular podcast outlets, including iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcast, and aCast.