A major rule change for the Volvo Ocean Race has significantly increased the chance for women to be competing in the 2017-18 edition. The rules of the race will limit all-male teams to seven sailors, one fewer than in 2014-15, and give mixed teams a significant numerical advantage.
The move follows the success of Team SCA’s 2014-15 campaign, which saw an all-female crew finish third in the In-Port Race series and become the first to win an offshore leg in 25 years – but still saw a ceiling in their offshore performance overall without being able to learn from the more experienced sailors once out on the ocean.
“The guys naturally will sail with their friends, who they trust, who they’ve sailed with before and who they know to be physically strong,” said Dee Caffari MBE, who raced onboard Team SCA in 2014-15 and, in 2006, became the first female to sail solo and non-stop the ‘wrong way’ around the world.
The possible crew combinations for 2017-18 will be:
• 7 men
• 7 men and 1 or 2 women
• 7 women and 1 or 2 men
• 5 men and 5 women
• 11 women
“Quite a lot of the sailors have never sailed in a mixed environment before so it’s the unknown for them,” notes Caffari. “Rather than put a hard-and-fast rule which could be a bit contrived and could be seen as ticking a box, it’s a very clever change because it incentives you to have a mixed crew. It’s now advantageous to have those extra pairs of hands and make them work for you.”
Caffari, who is expected to compete in the next Volvo Ocean Race, indicated the rule changes have not been met with universal approval by the sailing community.
“From what I’ve heard, I think the reaction has been mixed,” she said. “Some people have gone, ‘We have enough problems in the middle of the ocean. We don’t need women, so we’ll go with seven’. Those guys are probably going to look a little arrogant when it comes to racing and they are beaten by a mixed team, which is ultimately what we hope happens.”
Since the race’s inception in 1973, more than 100 women having competed in the race compared with over 2000 men during that span.