In a sport dominated by men, Team SCA was not just the only the all-female team to compete in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race, it was also the first all-female team to complete in the VOR in 12 years. Andy Schell recently spoke to team member Sara Hastreiter about what ocean racing is like and what got her there.
Considering that you grew up in Wyoming and only got started in ocean racing in 2008, you rose pretty quickly. How did you manage that?
I initially went to the Caribbean for an internship and then moved there permanently in 2008. There was a local regatta taking place, and I was able to get on a boat and go along for the ride. A few weeks later, I went to St. Thomas for the Rolex Regatta, and I found another ride on a cruising boat. While I was there, I met someone who had done the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). I’m adventurous and like doing things that scare me, and it really scared me to think about crossing an ocean. So I found a boat that wanted crew, and I sailed in ARC Europe.
Did that experience get you hooked?
For something to keep my interest, I need it to always be changing, and sailing is like that. You’ll never master it, no matter how much you do it. Your experience is going to be different every single time. It keeps your attention, and then you have the fantastic aspect of being in touch with nature.
What was the first leg that you got to sail on and what was it like competing for the first time in The Volvo Ocean Race?
Initially, we hadn’t finalized the crew, so we did a “leg zero.” With a leg zero you can still change one crew member. I was on for that, and there was a handful of us that still didn’t know if we were going to be on the first actual leg. I ended up being on the boat for leg one. I could never have imagined it!
Who inspired you?
[British female sailor] Sam Davies was my workout buddy in the beginning, and then I met another [British female sailor] Dee Caffari.
Can you describe what it’s like to sail one of those Volvo boats at speed?
It’s like being on a rollercoaster. You get to the top and you’re just starting to come over the crest of a wave, like that big initial drop, and then you’re skiing at a huge acceleration down the face. You know there’s a small amount of time where the rudder is light enough and you’re going so fast that the helmsperson can make small adjustments, but then you know it’s going to get quite heavy at the end. There’s a huge physicality to it, and you need to be on your toes. You can’t always face forward and watch what’s going on. You need to feel what’s going on, because the spray is too much and often you have a helmet on, so your senses are deprived in that respect.
How were you received by the rest of the teams?
Very well. It’s not the male sailors who are saying women shouldn’t be here. I think it has a lot to do with the perception that ocean sailing is some hyper-masculine thing. The men gave us standing ovations when we did well, because they knew what a huge achievement it was, not because we’re women—we were just so much less experienced.
You got to sail on a Volvo 70 in training. Was there a big difference between it and the 65?
Yeah, huge difference. They are both fast, but in terms of performance, with the Volvo 70 it felt like you were always trying to slow it down and be in control. With the Volvo 65, it felt like we were constantly trying to go faster.
I went straight into sailing on the 70, and I remember thinking, this is crazy, I’m going to die. What am I doing? Why did I think that I could do this? I think a lot of it had to do with the amount of water rushing over the deck, and nothing to break it up. On the 65, that happened in the Southern Ocean. Outside of that, it wasn’t often you were getting smacked or completely submerged. Doing sail changes on the 70, there were times where you could not find air to breathe because you were underwater. On the 65, it was a bit more reasonable.
Are you clipped in when you’re racing on these boats?
We are clipped in when we are stationary if we’re driving, turning the main or grinding. But when you must get something done that requires more movement, you really can’t clip in, because there are too many objects on the deck that you must go around and over.
Were there any really scary moments for you?
Occasionally, someone took a fall or got hit by a wave and got washed back or nearly overboard. Sometimes, no matter what the helmsperson does, they just can’t slow down because of the sea state, so there’s a period where we’ve just got to say, “Oh shit, hold on!”
In a perfect world, how long do you want to keep doing this?
I always want to keep sailing and would love to stay on as a professional sailor and do competitive sailing for a while at least. I think offshore sailing will always have a huge appeal for me, but I don’t think my body will keep up with my enthusiasm.
Is there something you can recommend?
Protect yourself from the sun, it’s the most important thing necessary to enjoy the outdoors—hats, sunglasses, long sleeves and sunscreen. And don’t be shy to look around at people that you can use as examples for the inspiration to do things. Dreams are totally achievable.
Photos courtesy of Mia Schell