Seven women sit on the stage in the Sailing Center at boot Düsseldorf. Among them is ocean racer Annie Lush, who has circumnavigated the globe several times in an ocean race.
The grande dame of offshore racing is the patron of the young cooperation between the Offshoreseglerinnen and the Magenta Project. It’s the first Saturday at boot 2024 – and a premiere for the initiative for female sailors launched by float.
Annie Lush, together with her team SCA, co-founded the Magenta Project after the Ocean Race 2014/15. “Of course, there were great female sailors before us – like Tracy Edwards, who sailed the Whitbread Race in 1998 with the first women’s crew. But when they stopped, their project ended too.”
This was also the case when the Tutima women’s team in Germany stopped more than a year ago. “We wanted it to continue, even if we are no longer there ourselves,” says Annie Lush, who traveled to Düsseldorf especially for the premiere. That is why she is now supporting the German Offshoreseglerinnen with her know-how, both theoretically and practically.
Resilience, not strength, is decisive
“When we started the Ocean Race, there was a prejudice that women were not strong enough to sail an Ocean Race. Today we see everywhere that this is not true. It’s not about strength, but about resilience,” says the British sailor, who lives on Mallorca. In 2022/23, she took part in the Ocean Race as a trimmer for Guyot Team Europe.
“We can also ignore the weight issue. There are Imoca sailors who are significantly smaller than me and win the race.” So what is the reason that there are still fewer women in offshore sailing than men? “Women need better networks,” says Lush, “which is why our cooperation is so important!”
The cooperation between the Offshoreseglerinnen and the Magenta Project, which float initiated, is also the first national chapter of the international network. Eshana Müller, also on the podium, is one of the founders of the female Offshoreseglerinnen group and skipper of the RubiX team, which is also part of the network. When asked by presenter Jessica Klingelhöfer why there is a need to promote women sailors today, she says: “In Olympic classes, this is no longer an issue. It’s also difficult for men to gain a foothold in the professional scene in Germany. But for women, the hurdle is much higher. That’s why we need special support for women.”
The network, which currently comprises 120 women, was reorganized last year. Webinars are held regularly – with Max Gurgel, Sanni Beucke and Annie Lush. Young female boat owners network and support each other. The management team organizes seminars, get-togethers and workshops, as well as the onboarding of new female offshore sailors. “There is a lot of interest, we get a lot of positive feedback,” says Eshana Müller.
Now there is also international support. Jonquil Hackenberg represents the Magenta Project as a board member on the stage in Düsseldorf. She explains the globally unique program: “We form an international network, but that’s not all. With the nine-month mentoring program, experienced female offshore sailors train the young women in the technical and practical areas of offshore sailing.”
This is sometimes done online, sometimes offline, says Hackenberg: “They show them how to write their curriculum, network them with each other and show them how they can gain a foothold in the scene.” More than 200 women from 34 countries have been part of the mentoring program since 2018, including German sailors such as Eshana Müller and Annika Möslein.
Four German sailors are currently taking part in the Magenta program for the German chapter. One of them is Charlotte Schneider, who is also on stage. The 25-year-old wants to become a professional sailor. She has already skippered racing yachts, double-handed, non-stop between Germany and Cowes. “My mentor is Allie Smith. She has managed campaigns and supports me with questions about sponsorship and how I can set up my campaign.”
Already experienced everything
Melanie Aalburg is sitting next to Charlotte. The experienced offshore sailor and doctor for medicine at sea has already skippered various transatlantic regattas. She knows the difficulties women face from her own experience. From “Women have no place on board” to “Women and men are equal”, she has experienced everything under sail.
That is why she now wants to support the project as the first German Magenta mentor. “When women sail among themselves, it’s like moving into the fast lane on the highway.” Her experience: “Women learn more quickly and with more concentration among themselves. They don’t have to deal with prejudices or clichés and have to do everything themselves,” says Melanie Aalburg.
She herself was encouraged to sail offshore by her parents from a young age, but she is an exception. That’s why she wants to pass on her knowledge and experience to the young women. “I want to encourage women to take the helm. They can often do anything, they learn everything. But in the end, they don’t dare. I want to change that.”
The transition to professional sailing is missing
Annie Lush sees another hurdle as to why women are not more strongly represented in offshore sailing. “Women who have sailed successfully at the Olympic Games lack the transition to offshore sailing. Switching from a Laser to a VO 65 is a real challenge. That’s where the hole is. If you want to sail AC 40, you should have been on a foiling boat before.”
So there is still a lot to do. But the Offshoresegerlinnen want to know. The energy emanating from the podium is palpable on this boot afternoon. And the audience is illustrious: Michael Guggenberger, who finished third in the Golden Globe Race around the world. Sitting next to him is Markus Warnke, the new chairman of Trans-Ocean, the association for the promotion of ocean sailing. Of course, Lennart Burke and Melwin Fink, whose Next Generation stand is just a few meters away, came along.
The sports director of the German Sailing Association Nadine Stegenwalner and Kerstin Hainke from Team Malizia also listen with interest. They can all make a contribution to ensuring that female offshore sailors have better conditions at sea in the future.
Annie Lush sums it up: “We want to organize training sessions and hold webinars together. But above all, we need more opportunities to get out on the water.” And she gets specific: “I’ve seen at regattas in Germany that there are many German boat owners with great regatta boats. We have to persuade them to take women on board. Getting to know the women and sailing with them is fantastic!”
Do you want to become one of the Offshoreseglerinnen? Then you can register here. The next webinar with Susann Beucke on the topic of resilience will take place on February 29.