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”

Exclusive female teams continue to be an infrequent occurrence at offshore yacht races. Nevertheless, the "Rund Bornholm” relentless regatta witnessed Lena Weißkichel's young female mariners demonstrating their prowess as formidable competitors in the regatta sphere. The accomplished Dehler 30 one-design crew recounted their racing experience and proffered insights into how women could adeptly navigate the foray into offshore sailing.

Who comprises your team, and how did you venture into offshore sail racing?

Lena (21), a member of our crew, honed her skills in the Olympic Laser for six years before exploring an array of Olympic boat categories in search of fresh challenges. Ultimately, Max Gurgel “identified” her talents and jointly formed a Double Handed Mixed Offshore Team. Anjola (25) has her roots in keeler upbringing and acquired sailing expertise on sizable vessels and dinghies alike. Ultimately, she committed to the J70 within the Bundesliga framework, amassing initial offshore regatta and long-haul experience on the North and Baltic Seas via the Kiel Yacht School. Antonia (23), an aspiring boat wright from Kiel, stumbled upon offshore sailing at 18 during her sojourn in Australia. While undergoing training in Germany, she competed on an assortment of boats in ORC, including the Middle Sea Race on an Imoca 60 and the Dutch junior team aboard the VO65 Brunel. Eshana (24) pursued a traditional path with the Opti, 420, and the 29er. Owing to her profound affection for large-scale sailing, offshore racing emerged as the ideal amalgamation of her dual passions.

Female sailors at sea under sail on Dehler 30 one design

Offshore sailing captivates us primarily due to its multifaceted nature: brief up-and-downs pose entirely different challenges compared to lengthy voyages. The former necessitates swift maneuvers and tactical decisions during duels, while the latter demands endurance, concentration over extended periods, and tactical foresight. Crewed sailing offers an entirely distinct dynamic compared to short-handed sailing. Particularly during protracted journeys, sailors confront their own limitations and the raw power of nature. Adapting to diverse circumstances, coexisting with unfamiliar individuals in cramped quarters, managing emotions, and maintaining control of the vessel are essential.

How did your involvement with the Dehler 30 one-design materialize?

Lena's initiative catalyzed our project. She enlisted us through a variety of channels. Toni had previously joined Lena and her sailing associate Max on the Dehler 30 od on multiple occasions. When the opportunity arose to circumnavigate Bornholm aboard the “Play Harder,” they sought to extend the experience to two additional women. Connections with others emerged through, for instance, an Instagram post on International Women's Day, wherein Lena invited intrigued women to train on the Dehler 30 od. Anjola encountered Lena at her place of employment – Camp 24/7. There, she overheard Lena assembling a female crew, promptly procured Lena's contact information, and reached out to her.

Female sail team in full race mode piloting their racing sailboat

The Dehler 30 one-design sailboat exudes athleticism and delivers an exhilarating sailing experience. Emulating large offshore racers, its robust construction allows for effortless double-handed sailing. Outriggers, rigging, and ballast tanks offer ample opportunities for experimentation. The Dehler 30 serves as an excellent vessel for cultivating expertise and building confidence, thanks to its thoughtful layout, manageable loads, easy steering, and accessible technology. The Code Zero, A2 gennaker, and staysail configuration truly enhance the sailing enjoyment.

As the sole all-female team, you secured second place in the “Rund Bornholm,” closely trailing Offshore Team Germany, an all-male crew. How did you perceive the non-stop race, and what were the reactions from other teams?

Our crew's composition proved fortuitous, as we barely knew one another beforehand. Consequently, we approached the race with great anticipation and curiosity. During the pre-start phase, we recognized our lack of routine, but the actual sailing proceeded seamlessly. The most exhilarating moments occurred off Bornholm, as we discovered we were leading the Double-Handed/Dehler 30 od pack! A protracted struggle ensued between us and the OTG sailors until they ultimately overtook us at the finish line. Beyond our pride in our performance, we were particularly thrilled by how harmoniously our crew complemented each other. Open dialogue about frustrations and setbacks enabled us to swiftly surmount these challenges.

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 underscored the necessity for further progress in terms of women's acceptance and respect within offshore sailing. One disheartening incident involved a member of another crew referring to one of our team members as a "pit chick" while she sat with friends aboard the boat. Despite this, the majority of our encounters have been characterized by enthusiasm and appreciation, particularly from other teams. Our distinction as not only the sole all-female crew, but also the youngest, has garnered significant admiration.

All female sail racers crew racing sailboat

What differences have you observed compared to mixed crews?

Numerous women have demonstrated their capability to not only compete but also triumph in professional offshore sports. Being a bodybuilder is not a prerequisite for many on-board positions. Offshore sailing emphasizes stamina, mental fortitude, team spirit, and levelheadedness. Women have proven their aptitude for tactics, trimming, and steering, rivaling their male counterparts in skill. During the race, we noticed that communication and camaraderie seemed more effective compared to our prior experiences in predominantly male crews. Discussions about mistakes, offering and accepting help, and capitalizing on individual strengths were more straightforward. Moreover, team members had opportunities to explore roles that are typically assigned to men.

Racing sailboat sail under wind at sunset

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

Aside from stereotypes, the challenges women face are similar to those of men. The disproportionately low percentage of women in the sport, in our view, stems from societal issues rather than biological factors. Confident women who assert themselves are often perceived as aggressive rather than strong, receiving less credit and needing to prove themselves more extensively to be taken seriously. Moreover, comments from male counterparts can, regrettably, foster self-doubt. However, our experiences have demonstrated that alternative approaches exist. We have received considerable respect and support from boat owners and fellow sailors in the offshore community. It would be heartening to see this progress continue and for such respect to extend beyond a select few women.

Female crew member having fun on board of racing sailboat

What advice would you offer women interested in pursuing offshore sailing?

Believe in your abilities, experiences, and instincts. Don't be intimidated; seize opportunities, engage in open conversations, and network extensively. Embrace spontaneity, motivation, and curiosity. Most importantly, avoid being pigeonholed into clichéd roles. Test your boundaries, understand your limits, and strive to push beyond them. Lena exemplifies this approach: she dived headfirst into the sailing scene, and after only one and a half years of offshore yacht experience, she is now skippering regattas. It's crucial to have supportive and encouraging people around you.

What are your upcoming objectives?

Our “Round Bornholm” experience has fueled our passion to progress and develop further. We've already connected with other women eager to join us. The Fastnet 2023 is our next significant goal, but we first plan to continue training together for Dehler 30 od regattas before seeking a larger boat with room for more crew members. Our aim is to create a network of dedicated and interested women, empowering them and providing the support needed for their individual 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: