When the Volvo Ocean Race made a rule change to the crew limits for the 2017-18 edition, it was a reaction to a situation. The race wanted women involved, they were not confident it would occur, so they established crew combinations to insure it would.
Paul Cayard, who won the race in 1997-98 and was runner-up in 2005-6, comments in the January 2017 edition of Seahorse magazine on the crew rules.
“A rule requiring two sailors under the age of 30 has been in places since 2014. A more recent rule change now requires that teams choose the crew composition using one of seven options. Is this a political battleground or a high-level sports competition? Is equating 11 women to 7 men really helping women? I have worked with all-women teams in this event with success. I love to sail with young people. Crew composition has always been a team’s choice, not a mandate by the event. My guess is that teams may go with option 3, taking 7 experienced men and two women under 30, that way meeting both of these rules. Is that really helping top woman sailors or young men get into ocean racing?”
Also in this edition of Seahorse, Blue Robinson talked with 2014-15 race veterans Sam Davies and Sophie Ciszek of Team SCA and winner Ian Walker of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
Sam Davies, when asked how will the male crews respond: “To begin with there will be sacrifices and compromises. The guys will have to take a step backwards as they will have to understand they will be sailing with people who are less experienced than they are used to. Even though we raced the last VOR, we still have less experience than these guys, but they know they are going to have to select good women sailors to win the next race. So the more the guys help us progress the more it helps them win. Initially it will be tricky, and the guys will get frustrated at the start of this process, but soon this will be normal.”
Sophie Ciszek finds the new rule to have roots. “I see it as a bit like the under-30 rule – the more experienced guys have no choice but to take on these younger crew and try to teach them everything they know with their years of VOR experience. This is largely what has kept the race alive, with the younger generation coming through to then take lead roles onboard. I think that was an enforced rule that worked; and to get women more involved is another good solution with similarly beneficial prospects. There was only so much we could learn off each other in the last race, so to have the chance to be sailing alongside the guys will be awesome in fast-tracking female sailors to gain more serious offshore experience.”
Ian Walker believes the impact of this change will extend beyond opening doors for women. “Yes, it is to promote women’s sailing, but crucially most companies are now strongly equal opportunity and they want to be seen as such. If the sponsorship is coming from any sort of socially responsible corporate budget, there will be a very strong message to promote equal opportunities. That will help tick more boxes with potential corporate sponsorships than before.”
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