International Women’s Day: Tackling Mother Nature’s toughest conditions

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Ahead of International Women’s Day tomorrow, nurses, marketing managers, housewives, PAs, engineers, lawyers, midwives and more are all taking on Mother Nature’s toughest conditions in the Clipper Race.

There are 229 women on the 2013-14 Clipper Race ranging from more than 30 countries and making up 35 per cent of the entire crew. The majority are in the 18 to 40 age range.

Some of the women share extracts from their crew diaries about the skills they have learnt so far on their adventure where gender does not play a part.

Caroline Marrows is a British 43-year-old marketing manager and round the world crew member on Team Garmin. She says: “I'm proud to be part of an increasing number of women who look for challenges like the Clipper Race and really push their own boundaries to achieve truly remarkable things in their lives. 

“There is a very physical element to sailing, like hanking on sails and winching, but after a few weeks, I found I'm just as strong as most of the guys.” 

“Oh and I can't forget, I've learnt to make chocolate cake whilst heeled at a 45 degree angle.” 

Kristi Wilson, 27, an American round the world crew member on Derry~Londonderry~Doire, works in medical equipment sales. 

"This race is about finding personal limitations you never knew you had before and pushing beyond them,” she says. 

“From being thrown across the foredeck by massive waves, swinging around at the top of a pitching mast, to being knocked down in the Southern Ocean, I have encountered some of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Somehow through all this you manage to find a new resilience you never knew existed and the strength to get through whatever is thrown your way on this race.” 

Roser Preuss is a German 26-year-old student round the world crew member on Switzerland. She says she is very proud as a woman on this race to be part of the only team that is led by a female skipper, Vicky Ellis. 

“The women on our boat play at least as important a role as the men and surprisingly don't lack in muscle or strength. I'm happy to be on quite a 'female' boat where intelligence and technique are valued more than brute force.” 

Vicky Ellis, the skipper of Switzerland, comments: “Professional ocean racing suffers from the same female attrition at the top as other fields involving lots of travel and time away from home.  Those that make it through have sacrificed something and really persevered.  And as top ocean racing female skippers go, Sam Davies is continuing her successful career with a young family, so you can do it!” 

Alysoun Sturt-Scobie, 49, a British head of HR on Switzerland, says she has learnt how resilient she is when she has had to dig deep and then even deeper when the physical conditions are so demanding. 

She says she has also been surprised with her ability to retain a quite ridiculous sense of humour when things are tough. 

“Be that hanging on at bizarre angles; managing the mundane aspects of life on the boat including really light airs sailing which would test even the patience of a saint. 

“What I love about the race is that it doesn't matter about your gender or background, it's your attitude that counts.” 

Kristi adds that she may not be the strongest or biggest person on the boat, but many times her small size, speed, and willingness to climb (she is the ‘rig monkey’) come in handy. 

“I am the first to be asked to throw on the harness when something needs taken care of up the mast or out on the boom. A headsail may be stuck without nudging a bit around the inner forestay on the bow of the boat, but it's not a problem for me to tuck in the small gap on the other side of the staysail and push with all the force of my legs to get it moving. I have found it to be a huge honour, not to mention one of the best roles on board, to be the Assistant Watch Leader for the majority of the races. I love leading evolutions, coaching other members of my watch on the helm, and rigging sails for racing headsail changes.” 

Jamaica Get All Right Leg 5 crew member Victoria Larrad Rahkonen, 47 from Finland,  says the yacht has a good team of women on board and learning from them has been brilliant. "It can be related to sailing, cooking or just general everyday life things. It all applies to men on board as well. We are from different backgrounds (jobs, nationality, culture) but we all contribute equally to life on board and it has become the richness of this race. I would have never met any of the people on Jamaica Get All Right without the Clipper Race so I am glad to be here as a woman but as a crew member as well."

Saturday 8 March is International Women’s Day (IWD) – an annual celebration held since the 1900s and highlighted all over the world to mark the social, economic and political achievements of women. 

Applications for the 2015/16 race are now open. With two more boats for the 10th anniversary edition, it will be the biggest race ever. 

To find out more, click here.