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Women's Health Australia

OCEAN’S 12

Charting new waters

(PHOTOGRAPHY: GETTY IMAGES)

Sydney Harbour is humming with boats, helicopters and anticipation, but sailor Stacey Jackson barely registers all the commotion. It’s Boxing Day 2018, and the experienced skipper is tuning out the noise and channelling her laser focus on the journey ahead. With 12 of the world’s best sailors and one former foreign minister by her side, Jackson is ready to tackle an audacious goal: to win the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Jackson isn’t just in it to win it, she’s in it to make a difference. Her Ocean Respect Racing crew is the first all-female professional team to compete in this iconic event, a living, breathing wake-up call to the boys’ club of sailing. Backed by US sustainability organisation 11th Hour Racing, the crew has joined forces to spread an important message: time’s up, not just on gender inequality in their sport but on thoughtless plastic consumption, too – the ocean needs their help.

They’ve had just 11 days of sailing together to prepare for this moment, but spectators wouldn’t guess it as their mini maxi, the 20-metre Wild Oats X, cuts through the crowded harbour with ease, making a clean exit through the heads where their mentor and ambassador, Julie Bishop MP, disembarks in a perfectly executed jump into the deep. Then it’s time for the serious racing to begin.

“I had absolute faith that we could win the race,” recalls Jackson. “The women on our crew are the best in the world – and not just the best women sailors in the world but the best sailors in the world.”

It’s an important distinction that Jackson hopes she won’t have to make too much longer. In a sport long dominated by men, women are often overlooked and underestimated. “There’s still a lot of teams that won’t even take women sailing,” she notes.

As part of a competitive crew in one of the world’s most famous yacht races, Jackson wanted to show the next generation of sailors that “it’s not just the guys leading the way in sailing. We were there in the chance to win the race – we’re female and it shouldn’t matter. We’re just another team of good sailors.”

Out on the open water, she and her team made it clear they meant business. Bishop had coached them in the lead-up to the race to shut out any doubts and distractions. “Julie helped us to see that the limelight was on us, but we had to keep doing what we know how to do, and that’s our strength – that we are very good sailors,” Jackson explains.

With a career in both law and politics, Bishop is no stranger to navigating – and thriving in – male-dominated waters herself. Her advice? “It was about focusing on the outcome, and ensuring they had self-belief and confidence. When women work together, they can achieve remarkable things.”

Blessed with perfect sailing weather, Wild Oats X’s journey was marred by only one small setback – on the first night, the yacht’s spinnaker sail tore. “We were actually leading [rival boat] Alive in the last 15 miles of the race, but it was just that we then needed to use the sail that we had broken, and we weren’t able to,” explains Jackson.

It might not have been enough to land them their ultimate goal, but it got them this close. The historic crew scored second place overall, sixth line honours, the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy for the first female skipper to finish, and a burning ambition to claim the win in 2019. “I think we have some unfinished business,” Jackson laughs. “We’ll be back.”

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