images Cory Silken / Team SCA
By Sean McNeill
Sam Davies is walking down the dock in Newport when a group of three school girls come running up seeking her autograph. Team SCA just sailed across the Atlantic but Davies obliges willingly, much to the girls' delight. “My daughter is a huge fan of Sam’s,” says one father. “She has posters of her on her walls.”
The Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 made its first official stop in Newport, Rhode Island, on Wednesday evening when Team SCA, the all-female crew, glided into town.
Family, friends and race fans were on shore and on the water, cheering on the crew that had just completed a 13-day passage from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.
“It’s an impressive welcome, especially because it’s just a training leg, not a race leg,” said Sam Davies, the Person in Charge. “We have a few Americans onboard and we knew their families were going to be here. And because Newport is part of the race it’s pretty nice to have the first Volvo Ocean 65 in town.”
“It was cool watching the stealthy silhouette coming in,” said Quintin Ciszek, the 31-year-old brother of crewmember Sophie. “I’ve only known this campaign through photos and blogs, but this is very impressive. The gravity of what they’re preparing for hits home when you see it all.
” Newport will host the sixth stopover of the race in approximately one year, but last night the emphasis was on the milestone reached by Team SCA – a successful offshore passage free from the coaches supervision that has accelerated the crew’s learning curve.
“This was a big milestone for our team and the boat,” said navigator Carolijn Brouwer, a three-time Olympian for the Netherlands and Belgium. “The boat held up well, we had all types of different conditions, and the crew held really well. It was our first time out for a relatively long period of time on our own. Team spirit was high and everyone was focused and determined.
” Brouwer’s expertise in smaller dinghies earned her the 1998 ISAF World Sailor of the Year award for an outstanding year that saw her dominate many international regattas. As navigator for Team SCA she feels she opens a new book every day.
“Ocean racing is sailing but a completely different discipline,” said Brouwer. “It’s a bit comparable to ask someone who runs the 100 metres to suddenly run a marathon or 10k. That’s what you’re comparing it with: small, intense, micro-local sailing with out in the big ocean and working the big picture.
“It’s a huge learning curve, I'm enjoying it. Doing dinghy sailing and having the background and tactical side of things helps a bit.
” For team helmsperson Sally Barkow, another past Olympian, she relished the opportunity to get offshore, lay down some miles and get some crew bonding.
“It was pretty awesome – full on at moments and relaxing at others, and really focused,” said Barkow. “For me it was just being out there and putting in the hours and miles. I was surprised how fluid it was. And how nice to get into rhythm and stay focused. Really good, easy to drop into rhythm.”
Organising host Sail Newport blitzed the local fan base with an email and text campaign that kept everyone aware of the impending arrival.
“It’s great to see on a chilly May night nearly 200 people out here cheering them on,” said Brad Read, the Executive Director of Sail Newport. “As a venue, Newport will always sell out for the totally engaged sailor, and the state is being incredibly supportive.”
Team SCA isn’t just for girls - ask the Singh brothers.
Rishi Singh is eight. He and his little brother, Krish, aren’t sailors. Not yet.
Twenty minutes before Team SCA left Newport shipyard this Thursday on their second transatlantic crossing, I found the two brothers camped out alongside the pink racing yacht, wearing Amazing Spiderman caps and hoping to meet SCA sailor, Sally Barkow.
Their mother, Amee, explained that Rishi’s teacher, a friend of Sally, uses the race as a teaching platform in her classroom on Long Island. Thanks to a smart board and high-speed Internet her boys are hooked on ocean racing.
They don’t have a boat and they’ve never been sailing.
“Rishi comes home and says, ‘Oh wow, Ms. Schwagerl was showing us on the map how Sally went from this place to this place! It must be so nice to just sail around the world and be in the open water. I wish I could do that one day.” Rishi nods, smiling.
Team SCA, Sweden’s all-female entry in the Volvo Ocean Race, arrived in Newport last week to hundreds of dockside fans that braved the cold and dark. Before leaving the team made time to visit local schools and interact with Newport’s youth. And despite only having a week on shore, the sailors amassed a cult following of devout fans amongst Newport’s women, young and old.
“I thought it was really cool that there was going to be an all-girls team sailing in the Volvo because in my lifetime that really hasn’t happened,” said Rebecca Read, 14, a student at Middletown High School.
“They took us down in the boat and it was incredible. Going inside of it and seeing where they stay and how the boat works, it’s just a whole different experience because I sail 420s and seeing the inside of that is just insane,” said Tara Lombardi, 18, a student at Middletown High School.
Katie Barker, an employee at Sail Newport, explained the difficulty in keeping girls interested in the sport after they get beyond 13 or 14 years old.
“It’s always been a challenge, so I think having Team SCA and having the role model of really successful athletes who are women is a great thing for the sport, especially at the highest competitive level, but trickling down to the beginner sailors,” said Barker.
Sail Newport, the non-profit organisation managing Newport’s Volvo Ocean Race stopover, touts a world-class junior program devoted to fostering public access to sailing and racing. But for aspiring sailors like the Singh brothers, or anyone growing up outside of sailing communities, the biggest challenge is simply getting on the water.
The easy part is getting inspired.
Team SCA is an eclectic patchwork of female idols, established and in the making: Carolijn is an Olympian and a mother. Elodie-Jane and Justine are sisters. Sophie surfs big waves and Sara didn’t start sailing until six years ago. She was born in South Dakota and grew up in Wyoming.
It’s no surprise that these women will find success empowering young girls wherever they drop lines and upload content around the world. But the two young boys who stood on the dock waiting for Sally are a hint that the future of ocean racing, fans and sailors alike, are coming from unexpected places.
The Singh brothers stood in silent awe, inches from the boat, looking up at Sally and her teammates as they suited up and exchanged emotional goodbyes with family and friends.
“We don’t have a boat yet and they’re following the race so they can learn more about it, and hopefully when they get a little older they can get into it,” said their mother.