Volvo Ocean Race Women
Saturday 14 October 2017
The Volvo Ocean Race are in the midst of announcing a raft of rule changes and the first change is an interesting one. The gist of the rule is that you can have a maximum of seven men (one less than previously) or eleven women on a yacht if the crew is all of the same gender. This is similar to the 2014-15 race where Team SCA was an all woman team with more crew members than the male boats. Team SCA rotated a lot of their crew members between legs but despite this the came second last. When you consider that the yacht that came last grounded on the second leg this was a poor result despite being permitted more crew members.
Where the rule gets interesting is that a team of seven males are permitted to have two female crew members aboard as well. This can only be a benefit to the team so all the yachts would be likely to take along a couple of great female sailors. A team can take this further and have one more crew member if they are willing to have a team of five men and five women. As a result every team this year has at least one woman aboard. It will be interesting to see what roles are undertaken by these women. I would predict that many will undertake the more technical roles such as boat captain.
There are some very good female sailors out there. Perhaps the best known pioneer was Tracy Edwards who still remains the only skipper of an all female yacht to do well in a major ocean championship when Maiden came second in class in the 1989-90 race. That was at a time when the yachts had larger crews and were slightly less demanding to sail. In more recent times Ellen MacArthur, Dee Caffari and Samantha Davies have shown they are as capable as any man on gruelling ocean passages.
It will be interesting to see how the 'Turn the Tide On Plastic' team does this year. Their gender balance will be five men and five women including skipper Dee Caffari who was aboard the all women Team SCA in the last race.
It comes as no surprise that Mark Turner, the Volvo Ocean Race CEO is announcing further rules to encourage yachts to include more female crew members given that he worked extremely closely with Ellen MacArthur when she became the fastest person to sail alone around the world.
There is another reason that Volvo would want more women to participate in the race. It is good for business because the car women are most likely to buy is a Volvo. A Kelley Blue Book survey found females are 119% more likely to buy a Volvo than men.
Spectacular races like this would not exist without the generosity of the sponsors so let's not begrudge Volvo that. The new rule is great for women who sail and good for sales to women. There's nothing wrong with that.
Where next for women in sailing? It could be one of the most gender equal sports but as technology increases the horsepower of the yachts they require more grunt and so women are at a disadvantage. Could we have an America's Cup with women crew? It happened in the past with Dawn Riley and her all female crew. It is hard to imagine it happening under the latest design rules given that the majority of the crew are already running at 95% max heart rate for 20 minutes solid where most of their job is to power the systems rather than trim the boat. The cynics will predict it will happen because Louis Vuitton would sell more handbags. Let's wait and see.