Group of female sailors stand posing for group photograph on their racing sailboats deck

Offshore female power

| Dehler News

Interview with the successful 30od sailors of “Round Bornholm”

All-female crews are still rare at offshore regattas. At the non-stop regatta “Rund Bornholm”, the young female sailors around Lena Weißkichel proved that female crews have long belonged to the top of the regatta field. In an interview, the successful Dehler 30 one design crew told us how they experienced the race and how women can master the entry into offshore sailing from their point of view.  

Who are you, and how did you get into offshore sailing?

Our crew consists of Lena (21), who trained in the Olympic Laser for six years and has now looked around in various Olympic boat classes to find new challenges. In the end it was Max Gurgel who “discovered” her, and together they formed a Double Handed Mixed Offshore Team with her. Anjola (25) grew up on the water as a keeler and learned to sail on big boats as well as dinghies. She eventually stuck with the J70 in the Bundesliga format and gained her first offshore regatta and long-distance experience on the North and Baltic Seas at the Kiel Yacht School. Antonia (23) is a budding boat builder from Kiel. She discovered offshore sailing for herself in Australia when she was 18. During her training in Germany, she sailed on various boats in ORC, including the Middle Sea Race on an Imoca 60 and in the Dutch junior team on the VO65 Brunel. Eshana (24) followed a classical training in the Opti, 420 and the 29er. As she also has a great love for big-ship sailing, offshore sailing was the logical combination of these two disciplines. 

Female sailors at sea under sail on Dehler 30 one design

What fascinates us most about offshore sailing is the variety: short up & downs are a completely different challenge than long distances. In the former, it's more about the speed of the manoeuvres and tactical decisions in duels; in the latter, it's about stamina and concentration over a long period of time, as well as tactical planning. Sailing in a crew has a completely different dynamic than sailing short-handed. Especially when sailing long distances, you are only exposed to yourself and the forces of nature. You have to be able to cope with different situations as well as with strangers in a confined space, deal with emotions and control the boat.

How did you come to participate with the Dehler 30 one design?

Our project came about on Lena's initiative. She recruited us in very different ways. Toni had already sailed with her and her sailing partner Max on the Dehler 30 od several times. When the opportunity arose to sail around Bornholm with the “Playharder”, they wanted to give two other girls the chance to sail on such a cool boat. The contact with the others came about through an Instagram post on International Women's Day, for example, in which Lena offered interested women training on the Dehler 30 od. Anjola met Lena at her workplace – the Camp 24/7 – where she met Lena. There, she had overheard that Lena was just setting up a women's crew for Anjola got hold of Lena's number and called her.

Female sail team in full race mode piloting their racing sailboat

The Dehler 30 one design is a sailboat that looks sporty and is fun to sail. It can be sailed like the big offshore racers and feels very robust. Double-headed is no problem and with the outriggers, rig and ballast tanks you have many options to play with. She's a great sailing yacht to gain experience and develop confidence: she's well laid out, the loads are relatively small, she's easy to steer, and the technology is manageable. Especially with the Code Zero, the A2 gennaker and the staysail, we have a setup that is really fun!

You were the only women's crew to be successful in the “Rund Bornholm” second place, just behind Offshore Team Germany, an all-male crew. How did you experience the non-stop race, and how did the other teams react to you?

The crew composition was a stroke of luck – we hardly knew each other before. That's why we were very excited about the race and about ourselves. In the pre-start phase, we noticed that we still lacked routine, but the sailing itself went smoothly. The most exciting moments were off Bornholm, when we realized that we were the first boat in the Double-Handed/Dehler 30 od group! There was a long battle between us and the OTG sailors until they passed us at the finish. Apart from being proud of our performance, we are especially excited about how well we complemented each other as a crew. We were able to talk openly about frustrations or disappointments and thus overcome these phases quickly.

Female sailors having fun on racing sailboat
Female sailor relaxes after fast sailboat race practice
View of ocean and clouds on horizon from deck of racing sailboat

This event showed us that more is needed for women to be accepted and respected in offshore sailing: someone from another crew called one of our team members a “pit chick” when she was sitting with friends on the boat.  For the most part, however, we have experienced enthusiasm and appreciation, especially from the other teams, because we are not only the only female crew, but also the youngest.

All female sail racers crew racing sailboat

What differences have you noticed compared to mixed crews? 

Many women have proven that they can not only keep up, but also win in offshore professional sport. You don't have to be a bodybuilder for very many positions on board. Offshore sailing is all about stamina, mental strength, team spirit and a clear head. Tactics, trim or steering are skills that women master at least as well as men. We had the feeling during the race, compared to our previous experiences, which were mainly from male-dominated crews, that the communication on board and the togetherness worked better. It was easier to talk about mistakes, offer and accept help. Everyone brought their strengths to the team and was able to try out positions that are usually given to men.

Racing sailboat sail under wind at sunset

What are the challenges for women in the offshore sailing scene?

Apart from the stereotypes, the same as for men! The reason why the percentage of women is still so low is, in our opinion, a societal problem and has nothing to do with biological prerequisites. Self-confident women who position themselves clearly are often not perceived as strong, but as bitchy. They are not given full credit and have to prove themselves longer to be taken seriously. In addition, there is always a comment from the opposite sex, which unfortunately makes you doubt yourself at first. Our experiences have shown that there is another way. We have received a lot of respect and support from owners and sailors in the offshore scene. It would be wonderful to see that this development continues and that this respect is not limited to a few women.

Female crew member having fun on board of racing sailboat

What tips would you give to women who also want to sail offshore?

Trust in your own ability, experience and gut feeling. Don't be intimidated, take opportunities, be open and talk to lots of people. Be spontaneous, motivated, and inquisitive. And above all: don't let yourself be pushed into clichéd role models. Test your own limits and get to know them well so that you can try to push them. Lena is the perfect example of this: she took a leap into the deep end by entering the scene and is already skippering regattas after only one and a half years of experience on offshore yachts. It's important to have people who support and encourage you. 

What are your next goals?

“Round Bornholm” has given us a huge desire to continue and grow. We have already met some other women who want to join us. The next big goal is the Fastnet 2023, but first we want to continue training together for regattas on the Dehler 30 od, then look for a bigger boat with space and build up a pool of committed and interested women. In this way, we want to empower more young women and make them strong for their projects.

If you feel like getting involved in offshore racing, you can contact the team directly on Instagram @offshoreseglerinnen

More about the adventure Around Bornholm and Lena Weißkichel can be found at: