Female Sailors Rock the Race Course

Female Sailors Rock the Race Course

5 minutes

You know what they say about female drivers… erhmm… what do they say exactly? I say they are some of the best, and I base that on many years of personal experience rocking ocean racing courses with women around the world.

Is it so wrong to toot your own horn? I am certainly not the best race boat driver in the world, but I’ve handled my boat and team and excelled in some serious shit. Enough about me, though. On this International Women’s Day, I’d like to take the opportunity to highlight some star female sailors I’ve had the pleasure of racing with over the years.


Photo by: Richard Mardens

It all began in 2017, at the first race with our new Pogo 12.50 Hermes, which just so happened to be one of the top ocean races in the world — the Caribbean 600. When we started our team Ocean Racers as the Canadian Ocean Racing (COR) program back in 2015, we focused on building the next generation of offshore sailors. However, we had not committed to ensuring access and opportunity for rising female talent.

I was the only female member of the COR team, left ashore managing the IMOCA60 campaign while the boys got to have all the fun. Not anymore. Once my partner Morgen Watson and I got our own boat, Hermes, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t the only woman getting the opportunity to race alongside the big boys.

On our first Caribbean 600 Race, we had the space to include two young sailors. One of them, Sean O’Halloran, is now an American Magic America’s Cup sailor. The other was fellow Mustang Survival ambassador Emily Nagel, and at that time, it was her first ocean race.

Emily fit right into the team and found herself at home on the ocean race course. Coming from dingy sailing, Emily usually did all the work on the boat, and that can-do attitude translated easily onto our Class 40 racer-cruiser. Later that year, she made her way to the top as part of Team Akzonobel on the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race.

Below she can be seen driving and actively trimming on the Caribbean 600 race. 

Photo by: Ocean Racers

The next year, I had the pleasure of welcoming back one of my personal rocks from our Clipper Round the World Race crew, Maaike Wassenaar, this time to race on my own boat for the 2018 Caribbean 600. Together we had conquered the Southern, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans, so despite the 30-40 kt breeze that took out half of the fleet that year, we were properly conditioned to take on whatever the ocean could throw at us. I remember back on the Pacific Ocean, Morgen and four female drivers, including Maaike, rocked that leg of the race.

In 2019, by default, I was the only female sailor on our Caribbean 600 team. While I love my guys, I made a personal resolution that that would be the last 600 race with just me and the boys. It takes a conscious effort to include women on race teams, but the effort is certainly worth it!

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Above: Meg Reilly & Rosalin Kuiper | Photo by: Ocean Racers

Laura van Veen is proof of that. Our Dutch navigator from the last race, Jolbert van Dijk, recommended Laura, a fellow Dutch sailor, join us in the 2020 Caribbean 600 Race. To say the Dutch rule the development of young racing athletes is an understatement. The talent that comes out of the Netherlands is best of the best, bar-none. Laura essentially owned the mainsail, religiously hawking the shape and managing it always for best trim and performance. It’s no surprise that she’s also moved onto a Volvo Ocean Race boat, now sailing with Janssen de Jong DutchSail in their campaign for the 2023 Ocean Race.


Above: Laura van Veen and team, 2020 | Photo by: Ocean Racers

This year we were happy to welcome another Dutch female talent, Rosalin Kuiper, to our Caribbean 600 Race team. , teaching us a few new tricks and proving that our Pogo 12.50 can actually perform in light air upwind with the right jib trim! This chick knew her stuff, sailing on Volvo Ocean Race boats and other Maxis around the world and absorbing tips and tricks from the best international sailors and teams.

Above: Meg Reilly & Rosalin Kuiper | Photo by: Ocean Racers

While our Pogo 12.50 was the smallest boat she had raced in a while, after racing with us, Rosalin commented on our big hearts and how our team was “like a family.” When you can achieve family status on your race team, you’ve certainly won. But no family is truly complete without a mother figure (or two or more) to add the feminine touch — the special magic that I believe brings out the best in all teams.

 Top 5 Reasons all race boats should have women onboard:

  1. We have laser focus. I found that women can stay on course and focus on driving over longer periods better than their male counterparts. 
  2. We excel at multitasking. Oftentimes there is not just one job you need to focus on; driving also means paying attention to trim, managing a crew, and making a lot of things happen at once.
  3. We are good communicators. If we see something, we say something. We don't need to do all the jobs to prove anything. We have the self-awareness to ask our crew members for help, knowing we are all part of the same team.
  4. We are good listeners. We listen well to the needs of our crew and the boat. We listen for things that may not sound or feel right, and act on them. 
  5. We practice conscious caution. This doesn't mean we are scared or fearful; rather, we know how to weigh risk and inevitably approach sailing with a performance-sustainability strategy rather than 100% balls-to-the-walls. In an ocean race, it's paramount to sail smart, not necessarily hard at all times. 

Follow Meg and her team Ocean Racers on Instagram and Facebook @oceanracers in their final race season with their Pogo 12.50 Hermes. Stay tuned for more adventures with her and the team!


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