(Reuters) – VOLVO OCEAN RACE – WOMEN IN SAILING Many would argue that sailing is very much a man’s game and women could never be physically strong enough to compete at the highest level. Whilst it’s true only the toughest sailors brave the Volvo Ocean Race – you would be wrong for assuming the women don’t have what it takes to conquer the most intense challenge in the sport. Team SCA became the first all-female crew to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race in more than a decade when they took on the grueling challenge in 2014/15. Crew member Dee Caffari, one of Britain’s best-known yachtswomen who became the first woman to sail solo, non-stop around the world, in both directions, in record breaking time, has dedicated her career to pushing the boundaries for women in sailing all around the globe. The 43 year-old undoubtedly has a unique thirst for adventure having sailed around the world successfully five times. But Caffari says she isn’t stopping there, as she reveals her excitement on the recent route announcement of the 13th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race – which will include 12,500 nautical miles of the fast-moving Southern Ocean. “I was grinning from ear to ear,” said Caffari excitedly. “The real sailing, what everybody lives for and wants to see when you talk about life at the extreme is the giant waves in the Southern Ocean and exceptionally cold conditions. It goes back almost to the more traditional memories that people have of the Whitbread [Round the World race] days and early Volvo Ocean Races. “Some of the best sailing you have is in the Southern Ocean. Yes it’s cold, harsh, remote and scary but it’s also fun and exciting and the reason why we sign up to these extreme races.” It’s hard to believe that courageous Caffari or her fellow Team SCA crew members haven’t been snapped up yet to compete in the next edition of the race given her vast experience and status in the sailing world. “I’d love to either have a team or be part of a team,” she said, as it is revealed that she is still in search of a sponsor to front her next Volvo Ocean Race quest. “Time is ticking by really quickly. Although the race is not until next October I am aware of the time it takes to put a team together and get the training in. I just hope I don’t miss the boat as the pun would be. “It was important to make that big impact with an all female team in 2014/15 and change the perception of women in sailing, given it had been 12 years since girls were involved in the Volvo Ocean Race. “It was a chance to show that we could be on the same boats in the same conditions but, for me personally, for things to move forward, I’d like to see mixed teams evolve. “I’d like to see them evolve with the guys selecting us as sailors for our ability rather than to meet criteria and tick a box. It’s hard because it’s easier to sail with someone who is a bit stronger or someone that they already know, so I do understand the reservation some guys have. “I do believe there are enough female sailors out there who can step up in a mixed team and I have my fingers crossed that I can have the opportunity to prove to a team we can perform, deliver and earn our place.” Skippered by Sam Davies, Team SCA, which later formed the Magenta Project, made huge strides for the future of women in sailing despite not finishing in first place. Newly appointed Volvo Ocean Race CEO Mark Turner, who took the reins earlier this summer, has a genuine interest in women in sailing and masterminded Dame Ellen Macarthur’s second place finish in the VendÃ©e Globe race in 2001. Fuelling Macarthur’s success in and out of the water, Turner went on to oversee the Briton finish her single-handed circumnavigation of the globe in world record time in 2005. “Women’s involvement in the race is genuinely very important to me and I feel a duty to make sure we don’t go backwards from the last race,” Turner explained. “The race was fortunate to have a very well funded all female team and that gave a lot of opportunity to women, a number of which I have worked with previously. There’s a lot of great talent in that group who’ve had great careers and it’s great to see them in the highest level of competition and be learning. “Right now there isn’t an all female team lined up. It’s quite a brave sponsorship call, but I think a stronger statement would be to have a mixed team, or with a female skipper. That’s not off the cards and I am working to see if I can put that together. “What I will not accept is that we have an all male race next time – it would set women’s sailing back a long way. I am going through that process – how much do we have to push, assist, encourage or legislate. It’s the same in boardrooms, how far do you go? What’s the right balance? I don’t know what journey that will take, but it will not be an all male race.” Caffari admits she is encouraged by Turner’s enthusiasm for the inclusion of more women and praised his bold public promises to ensure women have the chance to participate in the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race. “I think it’s a real confidence boost and you genuinely feel like you’re being listened to when you speak to the team at Volvo’s race HQ. They want to help create the opportunities – it’s up to us to grab them and deliver – but they are looking at ways to provide the pathways for it to happen. I think if you have that attitude from a senior level then sailors are more likely to take it on, too. “It’s massively encouraging. They’re bold words from Mark and as a female sailor I think, ‘Yes! Sign me up, how do I get there?’ “He’s very honest that he can only do so much but by being quoted saying things like that, it shows he’s really trying to make those opportunities possible.” The former secondary school teacher of Physical Education admits she’s proud to fly the flag for women in sailing and hopes to help turn the sailing dreams of the next generation of girls into reality through her school visits and coaching. “I think of when I was growing up – my biggest inspiration was Sir Peter Blake. I also followed the likes of Tracy Edwards, Ellen Macarthur and Emma Richards – but then you realise your name is on that list where people who are younger than you are looking to for inspiration. It’s a massive responsibly and a humbling experience, but it’s hugely rewarding too.” Caffari is keen for as many women as possible to have the opportunity to sail in next year’s race – even if it means some of her former Team SCA crew members competing against her as part of opposing teams. “You’re the best of buddies ashore because you have this very unique connection where only they know exactly what you’ve just been through because they’ve been there. You’re very close as a group of sailors. “As soon as you’re on that start line the horns are out and the competition is on. In ocean race sailing your first point of rescue is your fellow competitors so it can be a strange environment. I’m really supportive of the girls – but bring on the competition, I think we would all love it. “The banter ashore would be great,” laughs Caffari. Content provided by Volvo Ocean Race via Reuters.