Meet Pip, a novice sailor taking on the high seas
Sailing by default is not gender centric, but you wouldn’t be mistaken for picturing the male dominating figure, standing behind the tiller, adorning the captain’s hat and moustache. It’s these stereotypes that women such as Pip O’Sullivan are helping to steer away from by taking on the prestigious ocean challenge – the 2017 Clipper Round the World Race.
The Clipper Race: Pip’s maiden voyage
To commemorate International Women’s Day, we met with self-admitted novice female sailor Pip, who’s about to embark on one of the world’s toughest ocean racing challenge. A 28 year-old digital marketing executive and one of 20 on a circumnavigating 70-foot racing yacht, she will set sail in the summer against 12 other vessels. Now in its 11th year, the 40,000 mile Clipper Race gives non-professional sailors the opportunity to “conquer the Everest of the Seas”, describes Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the founder of the race.
“You will never conquer or master the ocean but you can endure it. Mother nature is an unforgiving mistress, always with one last trick up her sleeve for you when you least expect it.”
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, first person to sail solo nonstop around the world
Pip’s limited time out on the water has not put her off sailing though and says she is looking forward to the 11 month race to six continents, three capes, and six ocean crossings. For her, the biggest challenge will be sharing a small space with a crew of strangers, but with a determined attitude she hopes that resilient patience will get her through it.
“I want to be an ordinary person doing the extraordinary and I want to show you that everyone is capable of doing amazing things. I really believe that if you put your mind to it, then you can achieve whatever you want to”
Clipper ’17 participant
A coffee with Pip
Sailing Millie Home met with Pip in the corporate heart of Londons’ business district, Canary Wharf, to find out how she is preparing for a drastic change in lifestyle and handle the ridiculous 14,515m of rope needed to rig one of the sailing yachts during the race.
What are you most looking forward to about the voyage?
Pip I’m looking forward to being in the middle of an ocean and having nothing around me, just the elements, the nature, the wildlife. I had a little experience like that on my level two training when I was on watch in the middle of the night. It was pouring with rain, there was massive waves and I was sitting on the fore deck so I was in-charge of trimming the sails, there was a full moon, and I was just leaning back – cold and wet – and thinking this is really amazing. Just being surrounded completely by nature, no phones, no business and you can actually just think properly. So I think it’s going to be moments like that.
What are you least looking forward to?
Pip I think big storms are going to be really scary. If you let any doubt or fear get in your mind it consumes you. I’m all for vocalising positivity like ‘we’re going to get through this storm’, ‘we’re going to beat this’, ‘we’re going to get the boat through safely’. I’m sure I will have moments where I’m scared, I’m not saying at all that I won’t be, but it’s having that bravery to get through it.
What about leaving behind modern comforts?
Pip I don’t mind, I’m quite happy to not wear makeup. I can’t wait for that! To be non materialistic as well, which is ironic given how expensive sailing is as a sport.I think once you’ve got your basics though, which I’ve got, it’s not about being driven by needing new things. I think I fall into that, not because I think it’s a big a part of me, but naturally, especially living in London where you’re surrounded by people who need to go on holiday and have the latest phone.
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What has kept you motivated in light of the wet and cold conditions you will soon be facing?
Pip I think finishing. I think the feeling of getting into port having crossed an ocean is going to be amazing, like a massive sense of achievement. I think that’s what is going to keep me going, and having family and friends in port to see me. I’m very close to my family and friends and that will be one of the hardest things, leaving them. But I know they will keep me going.
What position will you have on the boat?
Pip It kind of varies from boat to boat. My understanding is that it’s good for you to be able to do everything so that you can step in if someone is ill, but you do fall into a certain role that you’re good at. For example, if you have an engineering background then you will probably end up being the engineer and make sure the engine and water tank works. There are specific sailing roles like: helming (steering the boat), trimming (trimming the sails to make the boat go faster), engineer, sail repair (as the sails get torn quite a lot, which is a big job).
Because sailing as a sport is so dominated by men, do you think other women are intimidated by it?
Pip It makes me want to do it more, personally. There have been a couple of times where I’ve been one of only two or three female members on a boat of 12 or so and have had experiences where it’s been quite sexist, but I’ve always held my own so if anybody would say “oh, you shouldn’t do that” I will say, “well I can, and I will” and will make a point. I mean, I’m not a raging feminist but I am strong enough to do that and I can lift that sail bag and I will. It’s more proving it rather than preaching it.
Do you follow or look up to any female sailors?
Pip Yeah, so I remember going to see Ellen MacArthur coming in on her boat in Southampton. Dee Caffari, who was the first women to sail single handedly and non-stop around the world in 2006. I’ve just been reading her book, she is quite an inspiration. Sport is obviously a big aspect, not outspoken women but people in the media who have something to say. I’m always really interested to listen to stories with a positive note. It’s about those that have trained really hard to do something and it’s difficult, but they’ve kept going with that motivation, I find that very inspiring.
It’s a longe route, do you think you will continue sailing after the race?
Pip I think it will be very unlikely that I didn’t. I don’t want to come back and work nine to five in London and I know lot’s of people say this before they go on the race and for whatever reason do fall back into it, but I’m adamant that I don’t want to do that because I’m trying to get away from this. But I don’t know what it is that I’m going to do. I’ve got a few ideas, it changes on a daily basis but maybe something along the lines of inspirational speaking, maybe training for businesses like teambuilding, I want to write a book, I’d love to coach hockey (laughs), it’s just random things.
What would you say to other women contemplating an adventure like this?
Pip Just do it. You’ve got nothing holding you back, you just have to believe that you can do it. I think being a woman in your late 20s means there is some pressure to start settling down, certainly I have put it on myself. But you don’t need to conform and do things in a certain timeframe. We’re not living in the Victorian times! It’s about having that courage to be different and to do something completely crazy.
“I think I’m definitely mad”
Pip will meet the rest of the crew on May 20, they will spend the next three months training together before the race starts in the summer. If you think you’re as “mad” as Pip, then applications are still open so why not get your sea legs on.
With strong winds in her sails, we wish Pip all the best!