13 women lead the charge in sustainability and ocean health, and they did it finishing second overall in the Sydney to Hobart.
If you amalgamate the experience of all 13 women who sailed on Wild Oats X, it equates to 68 Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Races, 17 Volvo Ocean Races, and 21 laps of the world.
The annual 628-nautical-mile sprint from Sydney to Hobart was not uncharted territory for the first all female professional team. Two days, one hour, 53 minutes and 15 seconds later, they crossed the finish line in sixth place. Despite placing second overall, there was no point to prove, only two messages to promote: Ocean health and sustainability, and females in the sport.
After sailing two laps around the world, Skipper Stacey Jackson concocted the idea of building on the non-professional all female crews that have raced in competitions around the world. The idea sparked another, which was taking Wild Oats X, knowing the boat could potentially win the race.
Speaking to the only Victorian on the team and Royal Brighton Yacht Club member, Jade Cole, who took position in the pit, she said Jackson approached Sandy, asking him a “quick” question.
“Can I borrow Wild Oats X for the Sydney Hobart with an all female crew?”
Shortly after, Wild Oats X, a Reichel Pugh 66’ Canting Keel Mini Maxi, was gifted for the race.
Jackson “handpicked” a mixture of Australian and International talented females, constructing a squad of highly respected inshore and offshore racing sailors.
From then on, the team of Ocean Respect Racing was born, and it wasn’t long before 11th Hour Racing, an organisation that had previously worked with Jackson, and past Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, jumped on board as partners.
11th Hour Racing raises awareness for ocean sustainability and ocean health, a recent grantee of the organisation being Clean Up Australia. From the mixture of challenging races the team had done, there was a team passion for generating awareness in restoring ocean health.
Throughout past Volvo Ocean Races, some crew members were involved in collecting water samples, evidently finding plastic.
Fellow crew members Dee Caffari (Reserve PIC) and Bianca Cook (Trimmer) were on board the VOR yacht ‘Turn the tide on Plastic’, which took samples at Point Nemo — the spot in the ocean farthest away from land in any direction. They found micro plastic in a water sample from the most remote place on the planet. One of the most lifeless parts of the ocean, where the international space station is closer than land, had 26 micro plastic particles per cubic metre.
With the conviction to send an environmental message to the world, the team practiced what they preached. They participated in a beach clean up day in Sydney prior to Sydney Hobart. There were no single use plastic water bottles on board. They filled up their water tanks and refilled their re-usable bottles as they needed, plus not having to carry and store additional waste was an added benefit to their sail. All their foods, snacks, and fresh food were packed into reusable snap shut containers, which meant no cling wrap or individual packaging waste, and they ate with stainless steel cutlery.
Wild Oats X weren’t the only aspect of the race encompassing ecological messages. Host of the Sydney Hobart, Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), took initiative with the “SeaBin” in action in the Marina. Race sponsor Rolex removed the plastic bow stickers that used to be stuck on the boat for brand exposure, which more often than not used to fall off and wind up in the sea. Furthermore, each boat was provided with two rubbish bags by the race organisers — one for landfill contents and one for recyclables. (Wild Oats X barely filled either of theirs across the two days, even with 13 people!)
Being conscientious is embedded within the team as sailors.
“Sustainability is something we all believe in, we fostered complete environmentally friendly and sustainable practices on and off the water,” she explained. “Even before the race, we would use keep cups for our coffee, or if we didn’t have them, have our coffee there. You know, check your socials and the headlines for the day and move on. It really changes your mindset.”
“We needed to show other teams and sailing clubs everywhere that they can all do better to put sustainable practices into place.”
Cole even mentioned the Royal Brighton Yacht Club and its’ bid to strive for conscious consumerism on and off the ocean, through providing RBYC keep cups and trading in plastic straws for paper ones.
Australia signed on with the United Nations Environment’s clean seas campaign last year, our commitment as a nation was pledging that 100 per cent of Australia’s packaging is to be recyclable or compostable by 2025. The future feat seems somewhat of a remarkable accomplishment, but given the progress and awareness that has advanced in the last six years alone, the goal is attainable if these types of progress we’ve seen continue for the next six.
“While we were racing, we had some beautiful food provided to us by local café Iku Wholefood, which was all sustainably made. We also had freeze-dried meals. There was a minimal kitchen on board, so it was like zip lock food. You put hot water in it and let it boil, sort of like two minute noodles,” she recalled.
“During the race, the watch system consisted of four hours sailing before four hours resting. We had all crew involved in manoeuvrers and sail changes.”
“The race itself, we started light breeze upwind in Sydney Harbour. We had Julie on board and a cameraman. Even though it was my eighth Sydney to Hobart race, I was a little nervous, but I knew what to expect and was very confident in the team.”
Once they exited Sydney Heads, which Cole described as “hectic” with press boats and helicopters, they put a spinnaker up and said goodbye to Bishop as she jumped off the boat.
“It was pretty cool,” she chuckled.
“We had really good sailing conditions, down wind and sunshine once the spectator wash disappeared. It was nice conditions, and warm!”
The breeze built throughout the evening, but by the turn to the second day as they entered the Bass Strait, the breeze eased again and the sea was fairly calm. The crew were in their t-shirts and shorts as they continued their progress south, with many boats still within sight.
“The second evening at sea, we sailed into quite a thick fog, which was something that I haven’t seen before in the part of the ocean,” Cole said.
“We lost sight of the boats around us in the fog, but as it cleared in the morning and we approached Tasman Island, it became known that we had put quite a few miles on the boats around us, and they were no longer in sight. It was pretty exciting. But we converged with the sister ship Alive at Tasman, crossing in front of them at Tasman by only a few minutes, whilst Alive managed to sail through us up the River Derwent.”
The loss of their A2 spinnaker during their first night at sea cost them dearly at this point. After the neck-in-neck competition, Alive finished in front of them. They used their A4 instead, which was a little too heavy of a sail for the conditions. The ideal sail up the River Derwent was the A2.
“When we crossed the finish, we had a great reception on the dock. There was a huge crowd, the Oatley family, Mark Richards (Wild Oats XI skipper), even Julie Bishop came back on board!” she said.
“A few hours later, we were celebrating at the pub and found out we came second place overall, which was an awesome achievement.”
It is no surprise that the crew achieved what they did. They had intense training all throughout December, and placed fourth in the Solas Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour.
“Funnily enough, during a 24-hour qualifying sail outside of Sydney Heads, we experienced a thick fog too. We had no idea we would face a similar condition during the Sydney to Hobart race.”
Just like sailing with any other team, Cole said there was a great dynamic on board, especially when sailing with an experienced team who shared the same sustainability passion. Many had already sailed together before in Volvo ocean races and other races as well, leaving no room for unfamiliarity. Even throughout the race itself, the teams loved ones were never far behind.
“We had a lot of our partners and siblings sailing on other boats in the race, a bit of friendly competition. They were all around us, and having my husband in sight on Voodoo gave me some extra motivation.”
“We beat him,” she laughed.
Author: Claudia Dashwood, RBYC