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First all-female crew in over a decade gears up for tough sailing race
Volvo Ocean Race kicks off in October next year, women's team already training
Significant race follows sudden death of coach Magnus Olsson last month
Will have 11 crew members -- three more than men's teams
Sailing around the world is one of the most grueling challenges on the planet, with muscle-bound skippers steering 20-meter yachts through everything from tropical cyclones to Antarctic storms.
Forced to endure the most brutal conditions on the globe, sailors must not only be emotionally resilient – but physical dynamos.
Which raises the question: Are women – the stereotypical “weaker gender” – up to the task?
Organizers of the Volvo Ocean Race – the prestigious round-the-world sailing competition – seem to think so, and are gearing up for the first all-female team in over a decade.
This one’s for you
It will be an emotional campaign by the 11-woman Swedish Team (SCA), who last month lost their coach Magnus Olsson to a stroke.
“People say it’s the toughest race there is in the world but it’s much more than that. It’s big waves, icebergs, it’s incredible team spirit. You want to win but of course you have bad days and sometimes you hate it,” Swedish veteran sailor Olsson told CNN, before his death.
“This race is incredibly physical. The stronger you are the better it is – you get an advantage over the others if you are stronger for sure.”
Everest of sailing
The all-women team will be allowed three more sailors than their male counterparts, in their bid to win one of the toughest sporting competitions in the world.
Dubbed the “Everest of Sailing,” the Volvo Ocean Race covers 72,000-kilometers in an epic nine-month journey across the globe.
Launched in 1973, the race claimed three lives in the first year alone.
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“It’s very physical and it’s definitely become a lot more physical over the years –the sails are getting bigger, the boats are going faster,” three-time race winner, Brad Jackson, told CNN.
“It’s just harder work, so the more big guys the better.”
Women doing it for themselves
The last time an all-female crew took part was in 1997, finishing ninth out of 10 boats.
This time around, the ladies are more determined than ever to cross the finish line first, and are busy training in Lanzarote, Spain, more than a year ahead of the race in October, 2014.
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Five of the crew have already been chosen, and include an elite line-up of former Olympic competitors and international world champions.
Among them is Briton Sam Davies, who in 2008 finished fourth in the Vendee Globe – a non-stop, solo circumnavigation renowned as the toughest sailing competition on the planet.
The 38-year-old’s most recent attempt at the Vendee earlier this year lasted just six days, after her mast collapsed. The crushing disappointment forced her to look for a new challenge.
“When something unexpected and unwanted happens it’s really hard. You always have to learn from your mistakes and learn by your problems and come out stronger and so that’s what I’m doing,” Davies told CNN.
“The Vendėe Globe is my project, I’m my own boss and I do everything on the boat. There are so many things that I have been questioning – such as whether I’m capable of getting into a project where I’m not the boss anymore,” the mother-of-one added.
From heartbreak to hero?
Also in the crew is another yachtswoman reeling from professional disaster, and hoping to make good in 2014.
A year ago, 33-year-old Annie Lush was training for the London 2012 Olympics with only one thing on her mind – to win a medal.
But her three-person-crew, who had won a world title in their Olympic build up, did not deliver, instead finishing sixth.
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“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment,” Lush told CNN. “I had a lot of belief in the way we campaigned but it was one of our worst ever performances in a regatta. “
“That disappointment will always be with me. I’ve chosen not to go back and try and settle that straight, but to do something new and this is something new.”
One thing is for sure, win or lose, these gutsy ladies are throwing sailing stereotypes overboard.
As SCA managing director, Richard Brisius, said: “They are all very talented natural sailors – gender does not come into it.”
“It would be great to think that we could engage a new generation of women to break into competitive, crewed offshore racing. A female team in this race should be the norm, not something unusual.”