Girls in the wind!
Text: Olivia Maincent
Raya, Intesar, Kholood and Tahira started sailing thanks to a women’s program launched by the Sultan of Oman himself.
A revolutionary sports training project the same as for men. The country of Sinbad the Sailor has a declared ambition: that by 2020 an Omani woman and man be ready to take up the challenge of the Olympic Games … Coached by the world’s best female sailors, Dee Caffari, Christine Briand, Claire Pruvost and the American Kathy Pettibone, Omani youths participated late February in Sailing Arabia-The Tour, a six-stop race between Bahrain and Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate. “I have been in Oman several weeks to train the girls to offshore racing”. Needless to say that they started from scratch. Clearly, they were not selected for their skills but because they were not seasick and were comfortable in a group! We really had to start from the very beginning. The first idea was that they should learn how to sail but also that they should enjoy it so as to want to continue”, says Christine Briand. Entisa is 22 years old. She wears the veil on board and seems very attached to the Islamic tradition. And yet what she has to say belies appearances. “What I like in this adventure, is to show that there is another possible path. Even though there is more freedom in Oman than in other countries of the Persian Gulf, competing as a woman can change minds. I feel that I’m taking part in a revolution! ».
Isn’t sailing a good means of emancipation for women in the Middle East?
In Switzerland too
Even if in Europe women’s sailing is more developed, one cannot but notice that there are still fewer women than men on the start lines. Especially as far as offshore racing is concerned. The next Vendée Globe is the best example with only two women out of eighteen signed up: Sam Davies and Liz Wardley. Can this be explained by a difficult economic context or the sponsor’s desire to be “on the safe side” for the results? And yet, it appears that in terms of communication, being a woman can be more profitable. “It is true that it’s very good communication wise, it is often easier to find sponsors. I am not hiding the fact that I did the Tour de France a few years ago with a female crew, it was the only way to get a budget”, said Christine Briand. Philippe Rey-Gorrez, Teamworks’ boss, has just launched a partnership with Justine Mettraux for the next Transat 6.50 and also agrees that to sponsor a woman offers advantages in terms of communication: “the project is perhaps more beneficial because women who dare to take up such challenges are rare and it makes it all the more remarkable. It is different, because the women’s approach is based on intelligence and flexibility rather than strength, while resilience must remain the same as a man’s. One can assume that all women who dream of exploits and adventure will identify more to the project if it involves one of their sex. »
Women sailors network
The women in any case are taking matters in hand. They want to sail, and demand open access to regattas. Women are creating their own races because their joining a male crew is often linked to their light weight and not necessarily to their skills. The Women’s Cup in J80 for example, which took place early March in Pornichet, had 28 100% female crews for its second edition! “To have girlie talks between two legs, to hit one’s knees and sleep in satin sheets, pee in a bucket without having to hide, it is for all these small things that we like to sail between girls”, says Cecil, the regatta’s creator. Other recent initiatives: the WOW, the first offshore race dedicated to women between Plymouth and Antigua, which will start on October28. A double-handed transatlantic race on Figaro 2s. Similarly, the French Sailing Federation (FFV) has launched a “women at the helm” day to promote female sailing. Some regattas are organized by clubs with the obligation to have a helmswoman … On the web also, things are moving. A network of female sailors has opened a Facebook account, the Lady’s Sailing Team, with ads, offers and requests for crews. All these initiatives hit the mark among the ladies, because above all they mean opportunities to train for racing, and thus an opportunity to improve.
No blues for the light weights
But among professional sailing women, there are mixed feelings about these all-women initiatives*. “Sailing is precisely one of the few sports, together with horse riding, where women and men are equal. I think these races for women -or worse, the female awards in regattas-, precisely imply we are different! I am for specific women training. It is true that the Olympic Games and female Match Racing have allowed the emergence of talents. But it is still more interesting to sail with men because the level is higher”, says Christine Briand. Dee Caffari shares the same opinion: “To separate men and women in regattas is not a good idea. We have the same intelligence, we just work just differently. Perhaps, in regattas, solidarity means more to us because, as we have less muscle, we rely upon the other to manoeuvre”. The young racer Madeleine Sassy embarked with Bertrand Pacé on a Mumm 30: “he called me because he was looking for 60 kg!” But I didn’t mind, for me it was a great opportunity, I learned so much by sailing with him”. With her experience on the Whitbread and the America’s Cup, Kathy Pettibone also points out that “an all-women race is of no interest. At a high technical level, we don’t think like that. When a skipper is looking for crew members, he takes the best ones, that’s all. No matter if it is a man or a woman”.
Isn’t the role of these champions precisely to show that everything is possible? To train for racing between girls, why not, but at a high level. It seems that it is talent, much more than sex, which talks… So much the better for us!
*see also the comment on this subject on the blog http://dulemanaularge.skippers.tv/