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Extraordinary Woman: To Celebrate IWD 2022, Meet The Formidable Yacht Crew Behind Drumfire

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we meet with the formidable yacht crew that sailed aboard Drumfire, OROTON’s sailing vessel, in the most recent Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Here, Creative Director Sophie Holt quizzes members Stacey Jackson, Adrienne Cahalan OAM, Jane Vicars, Katy MacDonald and Nicole Butcher about the importance of team and their fearless love of the sea.

SOPHIE HOLT: I would love to start by discussing the importance of team, it’s an idea that is so important to me – I’m interested to know more about your dynamic on the yacht, how do you gain courage and confidence from each other:

STACEY JACKSON: “There is nothing more important than your team when it comes to sailing. We are a crew of 16, and if we all did our own thing on the boat it would be chaos, we wouldn't achieve what we'd set out to do. But for me, that's the best part about sailing – we’ve all come together from different fields, different experiences, all working towards the same goal. Trusting in each other is essential.”

ADRIENNE CAHALAN: “I think that when you go to sea, you have to be very diplomatic and sensitive to other people’s needs emotionally in the workplace. Another great point is that this sport is really intergenerational – you're all working together, you’re sharing all your meals together, there’s so many hours on deck where you're chatting. I love that dynamic, bringing women together with their unique individual values based on their age and experience. Trust is the biggest thing, you’re trusting all the other people on board with your life, at the same time they're trusting their lives to you.”

NICOLE BUTCHER: “I agree, I entered the group at the very last minute, a crew of very established sailors, so I was as excited as I was daunted, but actually they couldn’t have made it any easier for me to fit in – and it was incredible to learn from these women, such strength and confidence, humour and resilience. At the end of the day, we’re together in a confined space, so how we team is really primary in terms of getting to our goal.”

JANE VICARS: “I think one of the most crucial elements of sailing is that it brings together people from so many different backgrounds and experiences and you can't get there without having that trust and assurance in everyone's abilities to do what they need to do. There's so many different jobs on the boat, everyone has different skills and weaknesses, but somehow it just all comes together.”

KATY MACDONALD: “I’m the youngest of the group and it would be fair to say that I look up to these women with a great deal of admiration. I think it’s incredible that a lot more women are joining the sport, and even more incredible when we can all band together.”

You mention that you come from different backgrounds, how do you play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses?

JACKSON: “I think the common element, the point that really binds us, is that we’re all so passionate about sailing, whether you’re out there professionally or as a hobby, we’re all so motivated by the mental and physical challenge. I also love that it's a high stakes game; that there's a lot of danger involved. In terms of racing, you do need to have that trust in your team and when you get it right, it's just really so rewarding.”

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There’s no time to be scared, and you also know that you’re in good hands, you just have a job to do and confidence in doing it together.

– JANE VICARS - DRUMFIRE CREW

Can you tell us about your love of sailing – I think we are all so drawn in to that idea of freedom at sea, but then so much to do with racing sounds incredibly tough, frightening at times:

VICARS: “I’m lucky in that I've been on boats all my life, I love being on the water and out to sea. What was really interesting about this last race, was that because of COVID, we ended up with a team that had never sailed together, so it was a really unusual experience but, strangely enough, it was one of the smoothest races we've been part of. Everybody came together, there was this terrific sense of comradery, the right fit. On the first night, when we hit the most severe storm, Stacey was at the helm and it was amazing to watch – everybody asks, ‘weren't you scared?’ and you know, we were too busy. There’s no time to be scared, and you also know that you’re in good hands, you just have a job to do and confidence in doing it together.”

How did you all come to fall in love with sailing?

JACKSON: “I started sailing as a kid and I became obsessed with it – I was sort of daddy's little girl, and I think I did initially take it up just to hang out with him, but then the love got greater and greater. At 18, I started doing the Sydney Hobart yacht races, I’m now done my 14th, and you can’t quite describe the exhilaration, the magic.”

What is it that keeps you coming back to the race?

VICARS: “Sailing out of Sydney Heads and turning right on Boxing Day, it's addictive. You arrive in Hobart and it's this amazing sort of feeling that you've made it as a team, you’ve been through this incredible adventure together. Then there’s the experiences along the way, we saw four sunfish, which I've never seen before. Moments of extraordinary peace and togetherness.”

The theme of this year's International Women's Day is Break The Bias, which seems particularly relevant in your sport. Can you explain how this has impacted you and perhaps even motivated you to move forward?

BUTCHER: “I'm sure you can imagine, sailing is a fairly male-dominated sport and, in my experience, there's conscious bias around the place, but each time I come up against it, it does indeed drive you forward, I like to prove people wrong.”

JACKSON: “A couple of years ago, I skippered an all-female team, and the reason I wanted to put that team together was because I wanted to break the mould and make a statement in terms of how we could be just as successful and achieve the same results. I think we're now proving that women can be just as successful on boats, if not more so.”

Stacey, your mission is also to head up one of the most sustainable crews. Can you talk about that?

JACKSON: “I've dedicated my life to sailing, I’m on waterways, oceans, harbours and so I've witnessed a lot of things over the years – as Jane pointed out, we saw some amazing wildlife, but I've also seen the flipside to that, I've seen scary levels of pollution and rubbish in the water. There's no reason why we can't be involved in this amazing sport, this great platform, and share a good message with sustainability in sport.”

Lastly, what advice that would you give to women wanting to take up sailing?

JACKSON: “I think it’s important to say that you can apply yourself at any level in sailing, whether you’re a kid sailing around your local river, or cruising the world, and then you can go on to race at all these levels. For me, it's such a diverse sport, you get to meet a lot of really wonderful people, there’s no limitations on age, ability, it really is magic”.