Extreme Sailing Series: Here come the girls: Top female sailors on board for 2014 Series

Tuesday, 04 February 2014

In 2014, the Extreme Sailing Series™ will, for the eighth consecutive year, bring a wealth of sailing talent from America’s Cup superstars, Olympic medallists and offshore legends to the shores of eight iconic venues around the globe – and amongst them are some of the world’s most talented female sailors. The ‘fifth sailor’ rule, introduced by Series organisers OC Sport in 2012, stipulates that one member of the crew must either be female, under 23, or classified as an amateur by ISAF. As a result, year on year the number of female sailors competing in the Series has grown, and has historically included the likes of double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson, the only women to skipper a boat for a full season in 2008 with J.P. Morgan Asset Management - and the only female skipper to win an Act in Lake Lugano, Switzerland. 2014 will see the biggest influx of ‘girl power’ since the Series began – find out more about the women taking on the challenge below.

Sarah Ayton (GBR)
Team: The Wave, Muscat

Role: Tactician
Top three sailing achievements:
- Olympic gold medal – Beijing 2008 – Yngling with Pippa Wilson and Sarah Webb
- Olympic gold medal – Athens 2004 – Yngling with Shirley Robertson and Sarah Webb
- Yngling World Champion in 2008 and 2007

Britain’s double Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ayton will be making a welcome return to top level competitive sailing after a three-year break, joining the defending champions The Wave, Muscat. And she is more than ready for the challenge of what she describes as the ‘most high-performance’ sailing she has ever done. “I'm honoured to be sailing with The Wave, Muscat and I am really looking forward to getting started. I'm sure the boys will agree with me that going into 2014 as defending champions doesn't add to the pressure, we'll be focusing on our own performance and taking one race at a time.”

As a novice to the Extreme 40, Sarah is currently in Singapore, Host Venue for Act 1, where she will be putting in the training hours with the team in preparation for the elite level Stadium Racing that begins on the 20th February. “My biggest challenge will be learning the in-boat routines and the different set plays around the course as well as learning what's possible in terms of boat on boat positioning and overall tactics.”

Sarah is best know as one of the worlds most formidable Yngling sailors, after first securing gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and then defending the title in 2008 winning her second gold in Beijing alongside J.P. Morgan BAR’s Pippa Wilson. So, will there be any on-water rivalry between the two? Sarah says not. “I'm really looking forward to it, it's been a while since Pippa and I have been on the same racecourse, thankfully now in something a bit faster than a Yngling!”

Pippa Wilson (GBR)
Team: J.P. Morgan BAR

Role: Trimmer
Top three sailing achievements:
- Olympic gold medal – Beijing 2008 – Yngling with Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb
- 5th - 470 Worlds 2006 (Helm)
- Gold – 29er Youth Worlds 2001 (Helm)

Olympic champion Pippa Wilson will join J.P.Morgan BAR for the 2014 Series - a team that comes brimming with Olympic pedigree, with three gold medallists on board, including Pippa. But the Extreme Sailing Series presents a whole new challenge for the 27 year old. “The Extreme Sailing Series is something I have watched many of my friends compete in over the last few years, so to be a part of it this year is very exciting for me.” She continued, “I am completely new to the Extreme 40 and relatively new to catamaran sailing, but hopefully my background so far in the Nacra 17 and the other boats I’ve sailed will offer me some relevant insights into the extreme racing!”

After a short hiatus from competitive sailing, where Pippa took the opportunity to focus on other interests including a Sports Science degree at Chichester University, she’s now back on the water and has launched her next Olympic campaign for Rio 2016 in the Nacra 17 class. Talking about how the two campaigns will work together, Pippa explained: “Fortunately the racing dates fit in very well with the Extreme circuit so hopefully we will be able to draw on some of the parallels between the two classes.”

In terms of the competition, Pippa has come against some of the other female stars before, including Nacra 17 sailor and Groupama Team France tactician, Sophie de Turckheim.“I have no doubt that all of the competitors on the racecourse are going to be fierce competition. We are surrounded by the best of the best in terms of experience and talent, Sophie included, so it is an honour to race against and learn from such great sailors.”

Sophie de Turckheim (FRA)
Team: Groupama Team France

Role: Tactician 
Top three sailing achievements:
- Silver - Laser Radial Worlds - 2005, 2006, 2009
- Silver - Laser Radial Europeans - 2008
- Gold - Laser Radial Worlds – 2002

Sophie de Turckheim has a busy year ahead. Not only will she make her Stadium Racing debut with Groupama Team France, she is also gunning for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games aboard the mixed Nacra 17 catamaran alongside her Extreme 40 skipper and helm Franck Cammas. “I am new to the class and very curious to discover the Extreme 40 and its circuit. Up to last year, I have always been steering, so crewing is a new challenge and I’m very motivated to do my best with the tasks I’m dedicated to on the boat.” 

Sophie will sustain a busy training schedule in 2014 between the two classes and explains how she plans to balance the two disciplines: “The Extreme Sailing Series programme fits quite well with my Olympic campaign this season and I will be able to participate in most of the events. For sure, it will be a pretty busy season, swapping from the Nacra 17 to Extreme 40. It's a rewarding experience to be able to sail on both boats against the best teams in the world. It's a different way of racing, but both boats require specific abilities. It's a great way to learn, improve and become better.”

On paper Groupama Team France holds an impressive roster with sailors from a multitude of backgrounds and a combined CV that boats 1 Olympic campaign, 9 America’s Cup campaigns, 1 Volvo Ocean Race win, 21 World Championship wins, 12 European Championship wins and 7 World Records. The question everyone is asking? How will they fair on the Extreme 40 racecourse? “I don't think Groupama Team France claims to being the favourite team. Groupama Team France will be returning to the circuit, whereas plenty of other very talented teams have been racing the last few seasons. The races in 2014 will be tight, the level will be amazing and we will focus to do our best. I don't feel added pressure, rather excitement!”

Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) 
Team: Alinghi

Role: Tactician competing at selected Acts throughout the year
Top three sailing achievements:
- 2-times ISAF World Sailor of the Year
- Olympic gold medal – Beijing 2008 – Laser
- Represented the USA at two Olympic Games

Anna Tunnicliffe is no stranger to the Extreme Sailing Series, having sailed with Alinghi in 2013 and GAC Pindar in 2012. Tagged as the ‘ninth fittest woman in the world’ due to her tireless dedication to CrossFit, Anna, who was the only female competitor in the 2013 fleet, looks ahead to the forthcoming season: “I think it’s great that there are more women on the circuit. These boats are very demanding, and the increase of women in the teams is encouraging and proves to other women that they can do it if it's something they want to do!”

The cluster of female talent joining the 2014 fleet includes both past and future Olympic sailing stars. In January, Anna announced her retirement from Olympic sailing after two Olympic games, during which time she secured gold in the Laser Radial at the Beijing 2008 Games. Looking ahead to the future, she explained: “I'm no longer campaigning for Rio, but I am looking forward to the (Extreme Sailing Series) Acts I'm going to sail in. In addition, I'm keeping up with my CrossFit.”

With a jam-packed 11-team line-up, plus additional wildcard entries throughout the year, the 2013 runners up Alinghi will be looking to rectify so narrowly loosing out to The Wave, Muscat. But does that come with added pressure? “I believe the only pressure is the pressure you put on yourself. If you sail the best you can, then what more can you ask for? That said, I know the boys (on Alinghi) are hungry, so they will definitely be a force to be reckoned with.” She continues, “The fleet is very deep this year and the racing will be fantastic. The scores will be very close all year long and every point will matter! I just can't wait for this season!”

The women will have their first chance to line up against each other – and the rest of the 60 strong fleet – in less than three weeks time, when a full starting grid of 12 Extreme 40s will race on Marina Bay in Singapore, with the first start gun on the 20th February.

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 04 February 2014 )