Celebrating International Women’s Day with Musto
Musto are celebrating International Women’s Day by taking a closer look at women in the sailing world, particularly Annie Lush – a female sailor who’s helping pave a path for others in the sport. Annie’s background in the activity extends past her time at Cambridge University where she received the Cambridge Blue in rugby, rowing and sailing, going on to win the Oxbridge boat race with an all-woman team. Since then, she’s become an Olympic match racer, competed at the London Games, become the Women’s Match Race Champion three times and competed in the 2014 / 2015 Volvo Ocean Race with Team SCA. But to do all of this she had to overcome obstacles that are sadly all too common in the sailing world.
Depictions of gentle, twirling heroines and damsels in distress were abundant in our diets as children. Throughout history, girls were encouraged to view themselves as the fairer but weaker sex. However, it is the stories that defy these parameters that always prove to be the most inspiring. Take Billie Jean King: she ranked as the number one champion tennis player while fighting for gender equality within the sport, encouraging other women to step out of the chalk circles that had been drawn around them.
Billie Jean King’s Battle of the Sexes Match with Bobby Riggs, a player who believed that men were superior athletes, on September 20, 1973, earmarked the start of an athletic revolution. Her victory was a demonstration of strength that challenged long-held beliefs, by men and women alike, about female capabilities. But there’s still a long way to go.
Annie Lush has proved, alongside other Team SCA members that change is systemic and often comes from within. Her push to ensure that the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) fosters inclusion has led to a revolutionary rule change. “When Mark Turner took over as the new CEO of VOR, we were very excited to hear he was pushing so hard to make sure something was done to include women, following the success of Team SCA” Annie comments. “We’re certain there will be women on some if not all of the teams, which is brilliant news and a real opportunity to help bridge the experience gap between the male and female VOR crews.”
Outside of VOR, the rule has set a precedent for other elite sailing events and classes. The World Match Racing Tour and Extreme Sailing Series have changed their rules to offer more flexibility in crew sizes and combinations, operating around weight limits instead of the number of crew on board. Changes such as these are proving that mixed teams are highly competitive.
When asked about the biggest obstacles out there for women sailors at the moment, Annie doesn’t hesitate, “Last week we held a M32 training camp in Valencia and we had multiple Olympic medallists and champions asking to come and train with us. When you look at their male peers with similar accolades, they seem to be in pro teams, whilst the girls are fighting for the opportunity. I think one of the issues for youth and Olympic sailors is that the racing is gender divided (the Nacra now being the exception). It stays this way on the professional circuit, limiting opportunities for women”.
“The other challenge for women in the sport that can’t be ignored is obviously the physical argument. One of Team Magenta 32’s biggest tests was to see if a female crew really can be competitive on the M32 – a high performance, very physical boat. With the weight rule we can race with 5, whereas most of our male competitors will race with a 4 person crew. We don’t have a big 90kg guy putting the daggerboards down or sheeting the kite on, but if we organise ourselves well we can work together to have the same strength and weight on the end of a sheet. We found the same in the VO65 in-port racing in the last VOR, where we ended up third overall and won two of the in-port races. These are really physical races with a lot of manoeuvres. It took a lot of organisation, playbook and spreadsheets to perfect our crew work and timings, but in the end some of our manoeuvres were better than those of our male competitors, despite only having the same number of pedestals and people grinding the sails up and in (as the VO65’s are very strictly one design)”.
Annie’s pragmatic outlook is buoyant with optimism, but she also stresses the need for networking opportunities for female sailors and chances to gain experience. “That’s why we’ve set up The Magenta Project,” she enthuses. “The goal is to show that women can be