Give us a break!

Text by Jon Bramley
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Man of the Mountains
Give us a break! Text by Jon Bramley
After nine months in the spotlight and some 40,000 miles of hard-won offshore experience on the clock, you'd have thought that the phones of the Team SCA crew would be ringing off the hook with job offers since the 2014-15 race finished last June.

Well, so far it just isn't happening. We caught up with Sara Hastreiter, a straight-talking 31-year-old who didn’t let the fact that she hailed from land-locked Wyoming stop her from pursuing a sailing career and eventually contesting offshore sailing’s toughest team race.

Team SCA performed more than creditably as the first all-women’s team to compete in the Race for 12 years, finishing third in the In-Port Race series and winning the penultimate leg into Lorient from Lisbon.

Sure, Sara concedes, there’s still plenty to learn for Sam Davies’ brigade who were, and still are, determined to blaze a new trail for round-the-world female sailors.

But she is convinced that their chief handicap against Ian Walker, Charles Caudrelier, Bouwe Bekking and the rest of the guys in the 12th edition in 2014-15 was simply a lack of experience at this level.

And they won’t begin to make that up unless they are given more chances taking on the men.

So far, the silence has been almost deafening for the majority of a team which kicked many of the male teams’ butts in terms of media coverage and value from the last race.

As Sara succinctly put it during last week’s Genoa Boat Show:

“We’re shocked that we’re still sitting on our thumbs waiting for the phone to ring.”

That is after “three years of seriously competitive training and racing” preparing for and contesting the race under the tough stewardship of Team SCA chief coach, Brad Jackson.

She continues: “Since the end of the Volvo Ocean Race, several of us have been trying find rides for the Sydney-Hobart Race, but it’s like a brick wall.

“It’s like ‘oh yeah, this (project) isn’t happening after all, or this boat doesn’t feel comfortable bringing in women’ so we thought ‘okay, let’s offer ourselves as a group or two at a time’.

“We thought maybe some people would feel more comfortable with having two of us instead of just one female in a team of men, but none of us have found a ride.

“One would think that we had proved ourselves, but I don’t know. Maybe there’s some kind of unspoken fear that by bringing a female on board it will change the dynamic or something.

“I don’t really think there’s a reasonable explanation for it.”

So far since the Volvo Ocean Race finished in Gothenburg, on June 27, Sara has contested a transat against those giant beasts, Comanche and Rambler, taken on Team Vestas Wind in Genoa, and has been signed up for the Middle Series taking place this week. And that’s it.

“We still realise that when we finish one Volvo Ocean Race, we understand that the market is being flooded by the men that we’ve just competed with,” she continues.

“At the end of the day, they’re still more experienced than we are. But the reason that experience gap continues to grow and continues to stay there, is because we don’t have the opportunities in between what’s specifically created for us.”

So it’s not simply that the women are not as good as the blokes – or at least have the potential to be? “I would put almost the whole difference between us and the men’s teams during the race down to experience,” she says.

“A very small percentage of it, I would say, is physicality. You’re talking like 99-1, 99% experience against 1% (physicality).”

The galling point for Sara and her buddies is that all the experience they earned in blood, sweat, and (the occasional) tears, in 2014-15, is in danger of being wasted with the end of SCA’s backing.

“We have always known from the finish that we all want to continue in this sport and we want to continue at this level,” she says.

“Does it necessarily mean that we have to to do the next Volvo Ocean Race? It might mean that, but our biggest concern is that we want to keep women in grand prix racing.

“We want to see women doing these prestigious offshore races and we want to see women in important roles on boats and in the future. It can mean an America’s Cup team or another Volvo Ocean Race.

“In between those things, we have to get better and we have to keep pushing those boundaries.”

Sara vows that she and her tight-knit group of compadres have no intention of quitting in their dreams and will continue to work together to win new opportunities such as SCA offered in 2012.

“We’re hoping that if by sticking together it becomes more marketable for us.

“It’s not that we’re exclusive to any other women but it’s more that we’re trying to leave a legacy.

“So we’re picking ourselves up by the bootstraps again and realising that if we’re going to find opportunities we’re going to have to make them ourselves.”