Organisers of the Volvo Ocean Race are making a major rule change to give world-class female sailors a much clearer pathway to compete at the highest level of offshore sailing in the 2017-18 edition.
All-male teams competing in the 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race will now be limited to seven sailors – one fewer than in 2014-15.
Meanwhile, mixed crews will have a significant numerical advantage following the rule change announced by the race organisers.
The possible crew combinations for 2017-18 will be:
7 men and 1 or 2 women
7 women and 1 or 2 men
5 men and 5 women
The changes aim to increase the number of top-level female sailors participating in this level of offshore sailing.
It is the first in a series of ten announcements that will be made over the next two weeks.
Teams will be able to change their crew combinations from leg to leg in the race, which starts from Alicante in October 2017 and visits 11 cities around the globe.
But, as in previous editions, teams will be required have the same crewmembers on board for the In-Port Race as either the previous or the subsequent offshore leg – with the exception of a team that is racing offshore with 7 males who can add an additional female for the in-port racing.
Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 winning skipper, and Olympic silver medallist,Ian Walker, welcomed the move.
“If female offshore sailors ever want to compete at the same level as the best in the world then they need to train and race with the best,” he noted.
“It would be very hard to compete with only seven people on a Volvo Ocean 65 against teams of eight or nine. This new rule will almost certainly force teams to hire women and that will create a great platform for learning,” commented Walker.
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.
“This is not about lowering the standard as some in the sport will suggest – the reverse – it is giving more opportunity to the very best female sailors in the world to compete on equal terms,” stressed Volvo Ocean Race CEO, Mark Turner, who masterminded Briton Dame Ellen MacArthur’s successful Vendée Globe race in 2001, where she finished second.
“Sailing is one of the few sports where you can have mixed teams, and we want to take advantage of that, and also reflect the growing desire for greater diversity in businesses – in particular the kind who back the race teams today,” he continued.
“The Team SCA project in the last race did a great job to restart female participation, after 12 years with just one sailor getting a slot (Adrienne Cahalan, Brasil 1, Leg 1 2005-06). We’re determined to build on that momentum, and we want to guarantee that the Volvo Ocean Race continues to have the very best sailors competing in the race – both male and female,” said Turner.
He said the changes in crew rules were being used to “incentivise skippers to bring one or more female sailors onboard.”
“I really hope that it’s not necessary to have any rule at all in the future – but it seems it’s the only way today to ensure we can maintain progress,” added Turner.
The race, which celebrated its 43-year anniversary last month, has a long history of female sailors, with over 100 women having competed since its inception in 1973, compared with over 2,000 men.
“We’re determined to maintain our female presence in the Race – the proportion of women in sailing is growing all the time, and we think that it’s important that, as sailing’s leading offshore property, we maintain a representative demographic,” explained race director, Phil Lawrence.
And news of the move has already attracted a positive reaction from many female sailors.
“This is fantastic news for elite female athletes not just in sailing, but in sport as a whole,” 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.
“It was important to make a big impact with an all-female team last edition in order to change the perception of women in sailing, and we showed that we could compete on the same boats, in the same conditions,” she continued.
“I’m excited to see the concept of mixed teams evolve. I do believe that there are enough female sailors out there who can step up and prove that they can perform, deliver and earn a place onboard,” stressed Caffari, who is also part of the ground breaking Thalassa Magenta Racing crew who recently became the first all-female crew to compete in the Extreme Sailing Series.
The race has also reaffirmed the commitment to youth sailing, with a rule that two crew must be under the age of 30 at the end of the race in July 2018.