Mixed gender racing is the way forward

Published on June 29th, 2021

For sailing, eager to be more gender inclusive, attracting more women requires already having female participants. It is the irony of making progress, but trendsetters are always needed to offer examples of what is possible.

When a record fleet of 450 boats line up on the start line of the biennial Rolex Fastnet Race in August, the traditionally male-dominated sport will host just over 10% women for the 695 nm course.

Among the trendsetters are many of the world’s most accomplished female sailors, from Dee Caffari, the most capped female round the world sailor of all time and double Olympic gold medalist Shirley Robertson – both of whom are competing doublehanded.

Many of the world’s top offshore sailors are in the IMOCA class, such as Initiatives Coeur’s Sam Davies, who has competed in three Vendée Globes and skippered the all-women’s Team SCA entry in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race.

As a teenager, Corinne Migraine remembers being allowed to race inshore, but being excluded from offshores – even on her father’s boat! Today this position has changed: Migraine co-owns the J/133 Pintia with her father Gilles Fournier which they raced together to IRC Two victory in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race.

Currently Migraine is a VP of the French sailing federation, the FFV, and Vice-Chair of World Sailing’s Oceanic and Offshore Committee, while another woman, Anne Bagneaux-Savatier was recently elected President of the RORC’s sister club in France, the Union Nationale pour la Course au Large (UNCL).

“My feeling is that in any boat now it is not a problem to have women on board, which it was in the past,” observes Migraine, who for this year’s 49th edition, in addition to her two sons Victor and Ulysse, two more of their seven crew will be female.

“It is the first time we have had so many girls on board, but it is really good,” continues Migraine. “It makes quite a lot of difference to the atmosphere on board. It helps a lot to make the crew more efficient.”

One of the keenest campaigners for women’s sailing in the UK has been Susan Glenny whose five previous Rolex Fastnet Races have included two with an all-female crew. However back with her First 40 Olympia’s Tigress, this year Glenny is sailing with a mixed crew.

“I think to move forward mixed gender racing is the way,” says Glenny. “There is a place for all-women’s racing, but I feel that women progress better when they sail with a mixed crew, because it is real life. I will race with all-women crew again but my primary focus is now on getting crews to race competitively together.”

Perhaps most encouraging is the younger generation, for whom the gender issue is becoming less of an issue. This is thanks perhaps to the advent of mixed crews in the Olympics and The Ocean Race and incentives by many yacht clubs, including the RORC, to encourage more owners to take youth and female crew.

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Source: RORC, Scuttlebutt

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