On a Wednesday in early May, I responded to the Bat Signal from Sail Newport that Team SCA, the all-women team entered in this year’s Volvo Ocean Race, was approaching Newport on their first transatlantic training sail and we ought to go out to Brenton Point State Park to cheer them in. Pulling into the parking lot, I joined the throng of five other cars pursuing that age-old activity so beloved of male sailors in Newport: waiting for the girls. I did not see them inbound after a few sweeps of the hazy horizon, so I sat in the car gazing out across the post-sunset but not yet fully dark view to Point Judith.
That evening was the first real sign that spring had properly broken in Newport. One could stand outside in only a fleece jacket and hat, and boats filled the moorings in Brenton Cove and the main harbor. It had been a sunny day, almost warm. Around 1930 or so the sun had almost completely slid down behind Beavertail, leaving behind a beautiful orange golden glow in the sky. The breeze was southwest at around 12-13 knots. Based on the earlier position plots, the girls had a great angle into Newport. I figured they would be coming from roughly the direction of Bermuda, between Point Judith Light and the loom of Buzzards Tower. As often happens to me in Newport, my mind drifted off, this time to a scene similar in that the arriving boat was in town on a very specific mission: Win the America’s Cup!
I was the boat captain and so part of the advance party getting the 12 Metre Australia off the ship from Australia, into the water in New Jersey and up to Newport. Many times over the previous year I had reflected on Australia’s sixth shot at the America’s Cup and Bondy’s third and wondered whether or not the America’s Cup was really winnable? After 150 years or so, no one had ever done it. Was it possible, or really impossible? I made another other scan of the murk…There they were, the masthead light less than two miles out.
In between all the other musings was the idea I could get a few of the young ladies from the Prout Sailing Team alongside these women to learn something firsthand about reaching goals. Much is made today of defining, setting and working towards goals: What goal are you aiming at? What are you going to do, or give up, to get there? How much do you want to achieve this goal? What is driving you?
I figured that the SCA ladies needed to be really goal oriented to get where they are but I wondered, had they reached their “goal” simply by getting a VOR 65 and being in the race? And if that was the goal, what happens when the rubber meets the road in the race? If I had the opportunity to ask them a question it would be: Is the goal to get a boat or to win the race? And if the latter, what are you doing to do what no one has ever done before – an all-women crew winning the Volvo Ocean Race?
I drifted back to the final race of the Challenger Series when we beat the French. We did our victory lap, but I had an odd thought. What is all this cheering for? All we have done is earned the right to do what we came here to do. Next morning I recall Bondy was back to business: “We did not come here to be the challengers, we came here to beat the yanks and win the bloody America’s Cup!” Bondy was very clear about why we were in Newport. This kind of clarity in goal setting is a very important part of today’s life and more or less demanded of anyone these days, but I don’t think this part of life is included in the education of today’s high school kids.
I have no doubt the women will sail well. I originally wrote “and do a great job.” But really, what is that job exactly? Giving great return on investment for the sponsor is a very tangible measurement. Winning the race would indeed be a first, perhaps not on the scale of the America’s Cup but certainly making them a unique team in the world, forever. Just what would it feel like to be one of only 10 people who were the first?
I went home and re-read the team SCA bios, with quotes from each woman. I was looking for someone to say, “We are here to win the Volvo Ocean Race.” None of them did. The closest was Dee Caffari who said, “…working together towards the same goal.” Mostly they are along the lines of “great opportunity,” “great team,” “big achievement to be chosen,” and similar broad statements.
Ladies, there is no reason you cannot be as clear as Bondy. He was very clear on what that goal was, and it was not a great opportunity or being a good team member on the boat. You have all the background, skills, experience and the same boat as the guys, so put it out there: “We are here to win.” Don’t be “the girls,” be The Winners of the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race!
Australian born, Joe ‘Coop’ Cooper stayed in the US after the 1980 America’s Cup where he was the boat captain and sailed as Grinder/Sewer-man on Australia. His whole career has focused on sailing, especially the short-handed aspects of it. He lives in Middletown, RI where he coaches, consults and writes on his blog, joecoopersailing.com, when not paying attention to his wife, teenage son, dog, two cats and several, mainly small, boats.