As you read these words on March 18th, 2015, 11 women from Team SCA are gliding through the Southern Ocean, sailing from Auckland, New Zealand en route to Itajai, Brazil.
Today is the start of Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race, a grueling and epic nine-month sailing race around the world.
Cyclone Pam has delayed the start of this notoriously tough leg for three days, but Team SCA is hoping to keep gaining ground while battling freezing temperatures and waves like cliffs. Representing five different nations, Team SCA is the only female team in the competition, and the first female team to enter the fray in more than a decade. You can meet the squad here to see just how phenomenal they are.
These are incredibly badass women, and we were thrilled when our missives reached them about an interview. We caught up with American sailor Sara Hastreiter before the team headed offshore again.
How did you first get into sailing?
I moved to the Caribbean in 2008/2009 and just started sailing around on friends’ boats there. Then I decided I wanted to cross an ocean—and I did it as a part of a rally/race for cruising boats in 2010.
What was the process of applying/being chosen for Team SCA?
Everyone had to apply—there were about 400 women that applied. Out of the 400 they probably narrowed it down to about 50 women, and in the course of just over a year they went through a trial process. So they picked five women initially and then they added another two probably six months later, and then another six months later another two…and they finalized the team in March of 2014.
Could you give a snapshot of daily life on the boat?
When we’re out sailing offshore, we never stop. So we don’t stop at night, we go 24 hours a day for 20+ days at a time to get from one place to another. We’re working in four hour shifts– four hours on, four hours off. In your on-deck time, you’re just concentrating purely on the performance side of things, whether that’s driving, trimming the sails, moving weight around the boat, or grinding the sails in. Then when you have your four hours off, that’s your time to eat, sleep, do any of your boat chores down below, and take care of yourself physically…you know, in terms of a bird bath, going to the bathroom, whatever else you need to do, brush your teeth.
Your four hours off can easily be interrupted by any kind of maneuver that needs to happen on deck—those require all of us. So sleep is very precious, and it doesn’t come easily or often enough on the boat.
What’s it like to sail with a crew of the world’s top sailors? All of you sound like all-stars, Olympians, amazing competitors …
Yeah, the women on my team are not just amazing female sailors, they’re amazing sailors in their own right. They’re world champions and really competitive in a lot of different arenas, not just the women’s arena of sailing. They’re well-respected, and everyone is really diverse and brings a lot of different skills to the team. A lot of the girls have really fantastic educations and amazing backgrounds, so it’s really just a group of extraordinary women.
Having that much time together in such close quarters, do you develop any kind of special language or quirks in that community?
It’s kind of like any small group that spends a lot of time together—you have a lot of inside jokes and understandings. It’s probably more of a family relationship than anything, because we are together because of our work, and we’re very like-minded females, but it’s not necessarily that all of us would be friends outside of this, it’s just that we’re a team. It is kind of a like a family—you know each other very well—the sleep patterns of each other, how people are woken up, their idiosyncrasies. Yeah, it’s a very very unique environment that we go through, but we all share the same passion and that’s really the most important thing.
As far as meal planning and organization, what sort of things are in the Day Bag and what sorts of things are contraband?
The Day Bag has our meals for the day—three freeze-dried meals a day. Then we also include things in there like dried fruit, nuts, trail mix…then we usually have things like one chocolate bar a day each. Then we’ll have some sort of other bars, like protein bars, fruit bars, nut bars, things like that. We’re trying to basically get in as many calories as we can. We need solid food to eat, you know, we can’t just be eating candy and crashing. We need to have things that can sustain us and give us real fuel. But yeah, we are allowed one chocolate bar each a day
How about the transition after each leg?
It’s just…utter chaos, really. We don’t have enough time, so we try to sit down and talk about the leg that just happened and we’ve got about three hours to do that because we need to start talking about the next leg. For our stopover in China we had four days off, so we’re really pushing the limits of what you can do in terms of rest time and turn-around time. I think it’d be a lot easier to just set out from one place, race around the world, and end up back at that one place. The stop-and-go thing is really what takes its toll.
[bctt tweet=”It’s just…utter chaos, really.”]
What do you all do to relax? Or do you get a chance to relax at all?
You know, some people think, “Wouldn’t you be bored?” But you just don’t have any time. There are times where you might not have enough time to sleep but you know you’re gonna be going on deck soon, but you need to rest. We generally just listen to music, some girls watch movies, or I read books on my iPod. That’s my big thing—I refuse to watch movies offshore. It’s like, your one chance in life to get away from technology and crap like that, so… (laughs) I try to use it. Although, we do have the opportunity to email back and forth with our families, so I find that very nice. It really means a lot to hear from them offshore.
Do you all communicate with other boats in the race?
No, not really. One of the girls, her brother is on another boat, and they email back and forth, just little bits and pieces, mostly making fun of each other. We’re not really supposed to communicate between the boats, and we don’t really have any reason to, either, other than it’s someone’s birthday or someone’s being obnoxious to someone else.
What it’s like to be the only women’s team competing against men?
I think the most frustrating thing right now for us is just that we’re the least experienced team. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the fact that, like, “Oh, we’re doing less well than the men because we’re women.” It’s that we’re doing less well than them because we’re the least experienced team. But it’s really frustrating because it plays into the cliché of women not being able to compete with the men… because we’ve come in sixth place in every one of the offshore legs right now. We’ve been doing well in the Inport races, but for the offshore legs we’ve been the last one in every time. It’s really frustrating, but we’ve been learning a lot and progressing and making that gap between us and the men smaller and smaller. So we can see where we’re going to have chances in the future.
Other than that, we’re all so competitive, I think they just look at us as competition. They want us to do well because we’re kind of the underdog here in a lot of ways, so the guys are really supportive in that way, for sure. They don’t really want us to be fighting in the back by ourselves, they want us to be up in the mix with them. So I think they’d actually appreciate it if we’d hurry up a bit.
In terms of weather, what have been some particularly bad weather conditions? What has been the roughest part of the world you’ve sailed in so far?
I didn’t do this last leg from China to New Zealand, but I think coming out of China was probably the roughest that we’ve seen so far in the race. They were going upwind in 30 knots in a place that had notoriously bad sea state.
So, sea state and the angle of the breeze really have a lot to do with the conditions on board. Going upwind in a bad sea state and a lot of breeze is actually one of the most miserable things to do on these boats.
So that’s been the most uncomfortable time we’ve had. Other than that, we’ve had very varied conditions. We started in the Southern Ocean out of Cape Town, kind of hot and lulling around for weeks on end going across the equator in the Doldrums up to Abu Dhabi. And then sailing from Abu Dhabi to China, at max six degrees away from the equator, so it’s really hot. That can also be just as miserable as some of the other conditions. It’s just dealing with the extremes.
Are those extremes the most challenging aspect? Or what other mental/emotional/physical things are challenging?
It’s a huge physical and mental challenge, which is why people are or are not interested in this race in particular. Just being at sea for that length of time, whether you’re cruising or racing, just being at sea for 28 days is tough. I usually find that I have a good week, and then a bad week, and then a good week. You’re really happy to be out there, happy to be away from everything, happy to be racing again…and then after a week, you’re like, “God, the food’s really bad.” Or, “I’m really tired… My hands hurt.” Or the physical side of stuff, that injuries come easily, especially in your back or with skin conditions…those are really painful. So it’s just kind of dealing with salt in the wound of different things that you’ve got. It’s funny—the cliché is, “It really is quite painful.”
What do you hope for in terms of inspiring other young sailors?
I would honestly like to make it a bit broader than that. The sailing world is very small, and trying to inspire young women to become offshore sailors, you’re looking at a handful, a few hundred women in the world who are ever going to want to do that. I think more importantly, it’s women battling it out in an arena that is designed around men. The sport in general is very male-dominated. The history is male-dominated. We’re trying to change the future of it to make it more diverse, the way that things should be.
Unfortunately the mentality that women don’t belong in certain areas is what holds us back in a lot of different ways. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be participating in literally everything—whether it’s sailing or cricket or upper level management in a corporation. I think it’s just trying to break through barriers and debunk stereotypes.
[bctt tweet=”There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be participating in literally everything…”]
I read about the Amazing Women Everywhere Project…could you tell me a bit more?
The AWE Mosaic is basically just asking people all around the world to nominate a female role model in their life, or just a woman that inspires them, and sending in a picture with a brief summary of that individual. Then they put it together in a big mosaic and for every submission they donate a euro to the World Wildlife Federation.
My job is to be a sailor, and Team SCA and all of our fantastic people working around us are a part of organizing all those things. As a sailor I can barely keep up with everything we have to do, let alone all of the projects they have going on around us (laughs). It’s something that our sponsor makes very clear—it’s not just about inspiring future sailors, it’s about empowering women everywhere, whether it’s women’s rights or women’s empowerment or safe hygiene conditions…it’s a lot of different things and they do a lot of amazing projects at each of the stopovers that we go to, and it comes from a very genuine place.
[bctt tweet=”…it’s not just about inspiring future sailors, it’s about empowering women everywhere….”]