Annika Möslein is one of the chosen ones. As one of five women, she was allowed to sail the offshore race yacht „Scallywag“ back to its home port after the last Volvo Ocean Race 2018 from The Hague to Portugal. This was made possible by The Magenta Project, which aims to support young women in their sailing careers – worldwide.
The 24-year-old Bavarian has been passionate about offshore sailing ever since. She enthusiastically applied to the Magenta Project’s „Mentoring Program“ immediately after the boat delivery and was one of the first to be accepted. Abby Ehler became her mentor and set Annika Möslein on the right sailing path.
This is currently leading her to The Hague again, this time on „Sisi“, the VO65 of the Austrian campaign The Austrian Ocean Race Project (TAORP), with which she will compete as a team member. The Offshore Team Germany with Annie Lush onbord combats int the IMOCA 60 class in the Ocean Race Europe at the end of May.
Former sailor in the olympic 470 class, Elisabeth Panuschka, also applied for a place in the Mentoring Program with The Magenta Project in 2019 after competing with Tutima female sailing team in the Fastnet Race. She was eager to continue sailing offshore. „The break between Olympic sailing and Tutima had shown me that I couldn’t live without racing.“
Learning from the role models
But taking the right path in your sailing career isn’t that easy, and you need advice and guidance. The best way to do that is with the best, the role models who have sailed the big races, skippered teams around the world and led campaigns. Because positive role models help you rise above yourself and realize your dreams. But who dares to write to or even approach a sailing star? And especially as a woman in the rather male-dominated sailing world?
„For me, the biggest challenge when I came to England was that I didn’t have the necessary contacts. Therefore, the most important step for me was to learn how to find people, boats and teams,“ Annika Möslein recalls. „I knew all the names, of course: Abby Ehler, Dee Caffari, Annie Lush. Suddenly then getting in touch with these stars of offshore sailing, talking to them and getting input from them was super fascinating,“ Möslein enthuses.
Dreaming is one thing, navigating is another
With the mentor, the mentee, as learners are called, can talk through their ideas, no matter how far out in the stars they are. The mentor helps develop plans, overcome hurdles and make contacts. Networking is one of the most important things in sailing. It doesn’t matter if you’re at the beginning of your career, moving up a level or changing direction.
“Originally, my big dream was to compete in the Ocean Race. Mentoring made that dream tangible for the first time. To dream is one thing, but to navigate to it is another”, says Möslein.
With Abby Ehler, she had one of the most versatile and successful sailors of all time at her side, who took part in three Volvo Ocean Races alone.
Elisabeth Panuschka started a year after that in October 2019 with Shirley Robertson as her mentor. She is one of only four women to win two gold medals in Olympic sailing events. The Briton works professionally as a television journalist for the BBC and CNN. Here she covers international regattas such as the America’s Cup.
“It was very exciting at first to build a relationship in English over Skype, but it quickly felt very easy”, recalls the communications scholar. „We had a basis of trust right away, although unfortunately I couldn’t meet Shirley live because of the pandemic. To this day, I can always call on her when I need help.“
Magenta transfers mentoring programs into sailing
In business, mentoring for managers has long been established. Receiving good advice on a regular basis and being specifically challenged is a key contributor to success. As a mentee, you learn self-confidence and the right tools to take on leadership roles. Special mentoring programs to bring female talent into top management positions. The European Academy for Women in Politics and Business (EAF) does exemplary work here in Germany.
But can mentoring programs be transferred to sports? In the 2019 World Sailing Trust Women in Sailing Strategic Review survey, it became clear that leadership in sailing for women needs to be developed. In addition to continuing education for female coaches and building a network of female leaders, the mentoring program is a key area that was defined.
The best from the best
It was the best who wanted to pass on their knowledge and experience. After the great success of the women’s team SCA in the Volvo Ocean Race in 2014/15, Offshore Sailing crew members Abby Ehler, Samantha Davies, Annie Lush, Carolijn Brouwer, Liz Wardley, Libby Greenhalgh, Sara Hastreiter, Elodie and Justine Mettraux, Sally Barkow, Sophie Ciszek, Stacey Jackson and last but not least Dee Caffari seized the momentum and founded The Magenta Project to help other women find their way into performance sailing.
The mentoring program launched in 2018 and has become one of sailing’s most successful programs. Here, aspiring female sailors from around the world are connected with experienced mentors from the sailing world and are in constant communication with each other. Group sessions and networking contacts intensify learning.
Participants from all over the world
It is designed for women sailors who want to move from the Olympic dinghy classes to offshore or inshore in a keelboat, who want to move to another class as an offshore sailor or who want to prepare for a specific regatta, or who are yacht sailors who want to participate in foiling events, match racing or IRC racing. It also includes sailors who want to bring other women to the forefront of sailing or promote positive change in sailing through a maritime company or other initiative.
Elisabeth Panuschka appreciates this: „The great thing is that the project covers the different types of sailing and is so globally positioned that participants from all over the world can benefit from it. When I finished my Olympic sailing, the support from The Magenta Project was totally good because it gave me courage again. I realized that I still have a very good sailor inside me.“
She’s not the only one the project has helped along the way; of the now more than 100 mentees, 92 percent say the 9 months of mentoring were very helpful to them.
Vicky Ellis and Abby Ehler’s vision
The program is led by Vicky Ellis. A former Clipper Round the World Race skipper with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, she worked in project management before turning to sailing. As the only female skipper in the 2013/14 Clipper Race, Vicky safely led her team around the world on „Switzerland,“ gaining confidence with each leg of the race.
Thanks to this experience, she knows what is important for mentees who want to take this path. “When you receive mentoring, you feel supported, empowered and motivated. The more female sailors who embrace the mentoring program to develop future talent, the more it’s embedded in teams, clubs and organizations, the more supportive and progressive our sport will become.”
As a founder, Abby Ehler is a shining example that with a little planning, anything is possible. When she’s not racing, she’s behind the scenes of the America’s Cup and Sail GP, controlling the stream of data coming from the boats to the television broadcasts.
She guides the program’s mentors, showing them how to manage the mentees to succeed in a challenging sporting environment.
“A good mentor is committed to helping their mentee grow and find success. Empowering the mentee to develop their own strengths and skills, as opposed to having a directive approach and potentially leading the mentee to a particular conclusion. From a personal perspective mentoring in this formal approach hasn’t come easy to me and as a program we have run training sessions to assist mentors with the tools needed to mentor effectively, particularly professional sailors who, like me have little or no experience in this field yet have a passion and desire to help others.
10% of the mentors are male
Currently close to 10% of our mentors are male, and we really value them championing women in sailing, this has happened organically. Many of our mentees request female mentors to be able to see a future version of themselves, however being able to tap into a diverse gender pool of mentors with a variety of skill sets is invaluable”, Abby explains.
Despite the COVID restrictions, the Magenta Project team has been pushing the mentoring program forward over the past year, integrating digital platforms into the new ways of working. “One of the pandemic developments is the expanded online networking and learning webinars that are available to all current and former mentees and mentors. Many big names in sailing have given presentations and offered their advice and tips. It’s been an incredible resource for our mentees and has kept their ambitions alive.” Annika Möslein has also benefited greatly from this.
Dee Caffari also spoke to a group of mentees from around the world delivering as part of the campaign management lecture team. “It was great to be able to bring some of my experience and top tips to help educate the future women sailors and prepare them for the projects and campaigns that will lead them to success”, she says.
Advancement of women is good for society
Can the success of the project be measured? Vicky says, “Like mentoring programs in business, we measure the success rate of both mentor and mentee. We have consistently high success rates around 80 percent. This is great even by the standards of fully funded corporate mentoring programs.”
But quantifiable results are hard to collect in this segment. “We monitor progress through feedback points. But because mentees‘ goals often evolve over the course of the relationship, and many goals extend beyond the nine months, it’s not easy to measure success”, Vicky knows.
For Annika Möslein, the mentoring was very successful. She now wants to get fully involved in offshore sailing and combine her PHB in engineering with offshore racing in the future. “I have already worked for SailGP’s engineering team and that was extremely fun. Abby had opened my eyes to that as well. I think the biggest benefit is how many doors mentoring opens for you. Whether it’s through contacts, whether it’s through the questions you can ask, the answers you get. Whether it’s finding your own path better and making your dream a reality.”
Her mentor, Abby Ehler, is very pleased: „Yes, I’m very proud of the project’s accomplishments. The visibility of women’s sports is increasing. Women’s sports are being promoted more and more globally, and more and more women are making decisions. This not only benefits sport, but society as a whole,“ Abby is certain.
Anyone who would like to learn more, get involved, support the program financially, or register as a mentee or mentor can do so at Magenta Project. They welcome any inquiries.