What I Learned About Women’s Sailing From Racing the Mediterranean This Summer

This can partly be explained by the fact that, while there are many types of sailing, three dominate. Firstly, there is Olympic fleet sailing around a short course, which sees racers compete in identical boats. The second type, inshore racing, covers a course that can be sailed in one day and has a fleet of mixed boats. Lastly, there is long-distance ocean racing that can often take weeks to complete. 

It’s the former that typically has the strongest female representation, for several reasons. For one, the athletes are able to train on the water but live on land, as most racing is done close to the shore. The training for its well-established racing calendar is strictly regimented, with many sailing clubs offering access to official coaches; there’s also a known progression through regional, national, and international competing standards. Most importantly, in Olympic sailing, the women race against other women.

Ocean racing, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. Athletes spend most of their time at sea, away from their families. There is very little structure or defined trajectory to get into top teams or top races. Sailing clubs typically don’t offer offshore training and there are few, if any, professional coaches. And crucially, female offshore racers are directly competing with men to get onto yachts for multi-week races that require extreme physical endurance, where in certain roles on the ship, it can be difficult—if not downright impossible—to out-compete male counterparts on physical strength.

Still, while I Love Poland may be a few steps ahead of the curve here, gender inclusivity is starting to develop across the sport more broadly. This year, the America’s Cup released a “notice of race” for its first Women’s America’s Cup, and the round-the-world Ocean Race aims to have equal male and female offshore sailors by 2030. Meanwhile, female racing team owners such as the iconic sailors and businesswomen Wendy Schmidt and Dona Bertarelli are gaining notoriety as they make their mark at the highest levels. 

The I Love Poland yacht.Photo: Robert Hajduk

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