I am so happy to share these exclusive interviews with you and especially now ! You may not be very much familliar with the world of sails. As a sport it is awesome and it is so nice that both sponsors and institutions are really making their best to join forces and make it more accessible to women and even in some places and countries in which you might not think that it would come as a core strategy to leverage international awareness. If you are interested in knowing more about this read Oman Sail women sailors Ibtisam Al Salmi and Nashwa Al Kindi‘s story. Here we have the privilege to talk with crew member Abby Ehler of Team SCA between Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week, Artemis Challenge and the 2014 Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland races. It is important and relevant to tell you this because it means that Abby took of her scarce off duty moments to answer my questions – she did so while she was still racing. Next Volvo Ocean Race is due to begin in October in Alicante (Spain) but the preparation of the team, the phases to enable them to learn to manoeuvre the new VO65 (Volvo Ocean 65 foot long boat) started 19 months ago and have raised massive interest. Team SCA has the particularity of being a 100% female crew consisting of Carolijn BrouwerSam Davies, Sally Barkow, Libby Greenhalgh, Dee Caffari, Annie Lush, Liz Wardley, Corinna Halloran, Justine and Elodie Mettraux, Sarah Hastreiter, Stacey Jackson and Sophie Ciszek. Abby learned to sail from a very early age and has never really stopped since then. A connoisseur of the Volvo Ocean Race, she has previously participated it with Amer Sport Too in 2000. When not on the sea she likes to spend time with her son and her husband in Plymouth (UK) and swimming and cycling are amongst her favorites activities.
Business Madame : There is a lot of emphasis on the team being 100% female, but this is primarily a team of accomplished athletes without even looking at the gender – is that right?
Abby Ehler : Yes, we are a group of carefully selected individuals who have all come through because of our accomplishments in the sport of sailing, whether it be in the Olympic scene or professional offshore sailing. Everyone has earned their status to be here and I think the fact that we are women is irrelevant, the end goal is the same as what the male teams are working towards and achieve and we tend to get more attention simply because we are different.
BM : Still it doesn’t mean that it is not exceptional! Hence do you feel that being part of this group is somehow contributing to a future legacy? Considering that you joined Volvo Ocean Race a decade ago and experienced competiting as part of a female team?
AE : I think the fact that there are not a lot of women who have sailed around the world, and even less who have done the Volvo Ocean Race, we are part of an elite group. Having the opportunity to sail around the world in a fully-crewed boat against some of the best sailors in the world is pretty amazing and hopefully Team SCA is sewing the seeds for aspiring female sailors in the future.
“I have a pre-race mental strategy where I play out the manoeuvres in my head and visualise what we are about to do, so that I can then plan ahead to be one step ahead of the game”, Abby Ehler
BM : How do you address doubts on you and your colleagues’ ability to challenge the other male teams?
AE : It is important to be realistic with these doubts. There is no denying that there is a massive experience gap between us and the other (male) teams, comparing a team of guys who have a combined total of 10-15 Volvo Ocean Race’s under their belts, versus our team where only three have ever been involved in the race, the odds are highly stacked against us. However we are chipping away and will continue to find our strengths and play to them as best as possible. Like anything, you win some and you lose some – it is like playing a game of chess.
BM : Training consists of sport practice and lot of sailing of course but what is the preparation for your strategy and mental attitude?
AE : I am a very organised person and a bit of a perfectionist so leading up to race days I need to make sure we have ‘left no stone unturned’ and on race days I like to arrive early to make sure everything is well prepared and ready. Knowing that the boat is signed off and everything is in the right place ensures I’m in the right mental space with no doubts or worries floating around. For me personally, I have a pre-race mental strategy where I play out the manoeuvres in my head and visualise what we are about to do, so that I can then plan ahead to be one step ahead of the game.
BM : Does your VO65 carry cutting edge technologies that were not available for the last Volvo Ocean Race ? Which are they and what is the benefit?
AE : The boats have come a long way in the past decade since I last raced in the VOR in terms of technology and design elements. The biggest difference would probably be the canting keel which was introduced in the 2008 edition of the VOR which equates to more ‘horsepower’. Secondly we are equipped with an array of media and communications equipment so that we are able to share our story with the world real time to keep up with the demands of digital media. I think in general everything has really geared up, whether it be the rigging, hydraulic systems or sails. Everything is getting lighter and everything is about performance, very similar in fact to Formula One car racing, maximising performance and making for a more exciting sport.
BM : How does SCA and Volvo contribute to the engineering and innovative effectiveness of your boat? And the team’s competitiveness?
AE : In terms of sponsorship SCA has provided the platform for our team to engineer and innovate within the team, and Volvo has provided us with the boats and everything we need to race. This edition of the race is very different because the boats are a strict one-design so this has taken away the design war element from the race and shifted the focus to the performance of the crew onboard. SCA has provided us with a platform where the commitment and groundwork has been put in place to maximise our potential and hence the teams competitiveness.
BM : Time to Leg 1 in Alicante is less than 2 months away – How is the team doing in your opinion?
AE : It is all positive and if you wound the clock back to 6 months ago when we became a full team, the differences in how we sail the boat, our communication as a team, the dynamics of our teamwork, have really progressed massively and the fact that we have just completed a race where we lined up against four other Volvo boats and really given them a run for their money shows that we are in good shape as a team. We still have a lot to learn but what we lack in experience we make up for in motivation and hunger to succeed.
BM : Have you sailed before with some of your colleagues? Or competed against them on different races? Does it help?
AE : I sailed with Liz and Carolijn in Amer Sports Too in the Volvo Ocean Race 2000 edition, and it definitely does help because you build a strong trust and bond with those girls and you know you can rely on them offshore when conditions get hairy. I have also sailed a lot against Sam, in our late teens we regularly raced against each other on keelboats and match racing, we were both bow-girls so there was a lot of friendly rivalry between us. It is funny to now sail with her as we had only ever sailed against each other prior to Team SCA. I lived in Sydney for a long time and Stacey became a very good friend and we sailed a lot together in one design classes. I think any prior relationships are positive, especially in the sport of sailing where we depend on each other so much.
That is all for now but I will keep on reporting on #teamsca and #volvooceanrace as they get ready for Leg 1 !