From the University of Oxford to offshore sailing. German student Annika Möslein is pursuing an ambitious career in professional sailing. Age 24, she is a part of The Austrian Ocean Race Project’s crew, the Austrian campaign for The Ocean Race. Being mentored by The Magenta Project galvanised her pathway into professional racing.
The PhD student explains float why the mentoring programme (recently featured here), may have a great impact on young professional female sailors. She, too, tells us how she was bitten by the racing bug.
Annika Möslein got hooked by/on offshore sailing
float: Annika, how did you get into racing?
Annika Möslein: I grew up in a village in the Bavarian Alps – far away from the ocean. Both of my brothers sailed, but as a kid, I would only think about rock climbing. However, when I was 15, I took part in the project ‘Classroom Under Sails’ on the tall ship ‘Thor Heyerdahl’. This was where I’ve lost my heart for the sea. The longing for the ocean hasn’t left me ever since. I sailed on the Bavarian lakes before and throughout my studies in Munich. It wasn’t until I came to England to finish my studies, that yachting and regatta sailing really took off for me.
I joined the university sailing team and immediately loved racing on the Solent. It was wet, cold, exciting – the best break from studying. Every weekend was spent on the water while during the week-time, I would study engineering science.
The idea of staying here was crystallising. Luckily, I got an offer to do my PhD at Oxford which I immediately accepted. Now, during the week, I enjoy research and lab work, while on the weekends I’m thrilled to sail offshore.
Sounds great, but does it cost money?
I’m very lucky for I got a sports scholarship from the university. As a student, it would otherwise be difficult to fund racing. Of course, the good thing about professional yacht sailing is that crew positions are usually paid for. As for kit, transport, etc. I can count on my sport grant.
From the uni team to offshore sailing
As one of 25 student athletes, I get access to personal training, sports psychology, and nutrition sessions – all of which assist me in making progress. Especially during lockdown, this performance scheme was incredibly helpful.
What do you want to do after uni?
My goal is to finish my PhD before the start of The Ocean Race next year, and then fully focus on sailing. Though in the future I can imagine combining engineering and sailing. Getting first insights into the SailGP engineering team was something I really enjoyed. And the technical development behind the America’s Cup is, of course, very exciting!
What has been your best race so far?
The wildest race was probably in the north of England, where we sailed 100 nautical miles and ran a total of 49 km in one night. We were supposed to sail to different islands, anchor there, paddle to the beach and each time we would run between 10 and 15 km – all night long. It was quite a challenge, mainly because we weren’t locals, our depth sounder didn’t work properly, and we kept getting lost in the dunes. Against the odds, we actually won.
Another regatta that I really enjoyed was the Round Britain and Ireland Race 2018, in which our uni team competed; five students offshore for 13 days. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t at its best. It was either storm or no wind at all. With the wind always coming from the front. After that, the Middle Sea Race was great, as it was the first time that I raced in warmer regions rather than the North Atlantic. One of the nights, we sailed past the Etna volcano as it was erupting. The view was stunning!
The lad Culture Phenomenon
But perhaps the best experience was the delivery on the VO65 Scallywag after the Volvo Ocean Race. Coming back to Cascais alongside other teams felt like our own little regatta and I learnt so much.Keyword „Lad Culture“. In professional sailing, as a young woman you meet a phalanx of robust men. How do you deal with that?
In sailing, you’re often the only woman on board. Or the youngest sailor. And yes, there might be this so-called „lad culture,“ or too much testosterone on board. Even if female sailors have just as much experience, sometimes they haven’t got enough self-confidence.
Learning how to put yourself out there and use your skills is crucial. In sailing, this first appearance on board makes a big difference, especially when you are sailing with new teams.
What is the best way to appear?
Never underestimate yourself. Even if you might have less strength and can grind less than the guys, you can contribute just as much. There is no need to hide and sit quietly on your position. Instead, you should take courage to communicate clearly, ask questions, and take initiative.
This, however, starts with the ‘smaller’ courage; the one to approach people, circulate your sailing CV, ask for telephone numbers or just talk to people directly on the pontoon. An ability to do that is extremely important, especially for young women.
It’s easier to be shy, but you won’t make any progress like this.
Often women don’t back themselves as much, even though they have all the skills. If you are loud, your presence will be noted on board. That’s often harder for us women.
This is exactly the kind of back-strengthening for women that the Magenta Project is all about. How did you get involved with the mentoring program?
In 2018, the Magenta Project organised a delivery on a VO65. When The Ocean Race arrived in The Hague, there were five crew positions for young female sailors on Scallywag. We were two British sailors, one Australian, one American and me from Germany. After that, I applied for the mentoring scheme and got linked with Abby Ehler, who co-founded the Magenta Project. In October 2018, our mentoring took off.
How did your collaboration look like?
The mentoring was running over nine months. Together, we defined where my sailing career would lead to, addressed what obstacles might be on the way, and – more importantly – found ways how we could implement all the ideas.
At the beginning, Abby Ehler and I talked over the phone, but when I came back to the UK for the PhD in January 2019, we were eventually able to meet in person.
One of the biggest challenges was that I lacked necessary contacts when I moved to England. Especially in sailing, so much depends on the connections you make. Thus, for me, an important step was to learn how to find people, boats, and racing teams.
Learning how Abby Ehler operates on board
Then I had the exciting opportunity to sail with Abby in the Fastnet and the Middle Sea Race on Aegir, an 82-foot yacht as a part of the professional team, including Dee Caffari! Sailing with these role models and learning from them was invaluable. Not only watching how Abby trims sails perfectly, but more importantly, seeing how she gets involved on board was an absolute highlight.
What is a role model for you?
Having followed the 2017 Volvo Ocean Race, I knew all the names: Annie Lush, Dee Caffari, Abby Ehler. Suddenly, I had the opportunity to get to know these rock stars. Their knowledge, experience, and openness to mentoring has a lasting impact on me. Sailing together showed me the hard work that stands behind the scenes of such career. It also shed light on the possible ways to achieve that. The role models have become friends and acquaintances: we are still in touch.
Why would you recommend mentoring with the Magenta Project in particular?
I think its biggest advantage is that it opens the door for young, female sailors. It’s all about the professional contacts, the questions you can ask, and the answers you get. It has helped me to find my own path, and make some dreams come true. The mentoring provided support along that journey, sometimes building bridges, sometimes encouraging me to jump in at the deep end in order to learn.
My big dream is to participate in The Ocean Race, and the mentoring has made this come significantly closer. Dreaming is one thing but navigating towards it is another.