If you’re looking for some Fitspiration then Belle About Town has the perfect group of women for you. As if sailing around the world as part of the toughest ocean race going wasn’t impressive enough, Team SCA will be doing it as the ONLY female team. Girl power ahoy! The 11-strong crew have been training solidly for 18-months for the Volvo Ocean Race and they’re determined to prove that when it comes to fitness and sailing, they’re just as good as the men.
Not only will they be the first female team competing in 12 years, but they’re the first women’s team to be entered as an A team. British sailor Dee Caffari, 41, is the only woman to have sailed solo around the world in both directions, as well as being the only female to have sailed around the world three times, and fellow crew member Annie Lush, 34, has been racing full-time on the Olympic circuit since 2002. Add to that the fact that two of the other British crew members have toddlers to bring up alongside all of this, and you get the idea that this is a pretty inspirational group of women.
Speaking for the crew, Annie says: “We’re making a stand for the empowerment of women everywhere!” The team is sponsored by global hygiene brand SCA, parent company to TENA, Bodyform, Velvet, Cushelle and Plenty. It selected an all-female team to reflect the fact that 80 per cent of its products are purchased by women. Team SCA includes five Brits and will set off from Spain to compete in the big race in October.
Covering 39,379 nautical miles over nine months, they’ll stop at ports in ten countries around the world, including China, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil and, finally, Sweden. At full tilt, the 65ft boat they’ll call home can reach speeds up to 65km an hour, in conditions described as “like driving a convertible through a carwash”.
It will be an intense nine months – and they’ll often have no contact with anyone but each other. It’s a good job they get along so well. For the mums on board, being apart from their children will bring both heartache and an added determination to get the race finished in record time.
Sam Davies, 39, is mum to Ruben, aged two, and Abby Ehler, 40, is mum to Harley, also aged two. Sam says: “Ruben wants to come with me on the boat, and doesn’t like it when I go away. It’s hard to be away for a long time, but knowing he’s being loved and taken care of is important to me – and knowing he’ll be waiting for me on the dock makes me sail even faster.
“The boys call the boat ‘mamas boat’, but I think they’re too young to quite understand the whole thing and what we do. I hope when they do understand they’ll be proud of us for being a part of this project and in this team.”
The women will work in four hour shifts, rotating in a 24 hour cycle. While on deck they’ll sail for a full four hours, either helming (driving), trimming sails, grinding, lifting sails, or on the bow. The sleeping quarters are cramped to say the least, but in their four hours off the team will be exhausted enough to sleep blissfully in the tiny pull-down bunks beneath deck. In that time they’ll also eat a freeze-dried meal and take care of chores and cleaning jobs, as well as taking advantage of the personal hygiene products their sponsor provides.
Although beauty will be the last thing on their minds at this stage – the boat will be a make-up free zone. Sam says: “We don’t have much of a daily beauty routine onboard, it’s really all about skin protection from the harsh conditions we’re facing. We can only have showers infrequently so we use wet wipes to clean off salt, sunscreen and sweat from our face and bodies.”
So how to they feel about being the only female team in a male-dominated challenge? And what has the reaction been? Abby explains: “There’s no denying there’s a massive experience gap between us and the other teams, from the guys who’ve got numerous Volvo Ocean Race’s under their belts, to our team where only three have ever been involved in the race. I think you have to be realistic with your goals; sure we’re going to challenge them, find our strengths and play to them as best as possible.
“Like anything, you win some and you lose some – it’s like playing a game of chess and it’s just like any other sport. We’ve already shown we’re in the game and we’re a challenge. I think the fact we’re women is irrelevant – the end goal is the same as what the male teams are working towards to achieve and we tend to get more attention simply because we’re different.”
In recent training races in the UK Team SCA has competed against most of their Volvo Ocean Race rivals, and it’s left the team brimming with confidence. Abby says: “It’s been great to finally line up against almost every other team and figure out exactly where we stand in terms of sailing ability and experience as we’re definitely the least experienced team. However, we were able to keep up with the boys and show we’re definitely in the game and we feel we’re one of the most motivated and driven teams so we have that to work with!
“This will be one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever taken on. I don’t think anyone has quite realised what an epic challenge it’s going to be, but we’re all extremely motivated and excited for the road ahead and what is yet to come. To be able to sail around the world in a fully crewed boat against some of the best sailors in the world is pretty amazing.
“I think it’s definitely a legacy because it’s still a narrow opportunity for women to compete in and hopefully Team SCA is a door opener to inspiring female sailors.”
To follow the crew during the race go to www.teamsca.com