When I first met Sibby Ilzhofer I knew she was a force to be reckoned with. She had a reputation that preceded her, with tales of toughing out some of the hardest ocean races in the world and taking on a sailing community that is notoriously dominated by males. This was a woman I needed to be on-board with. So when we pulled up alongside her yacht ‘Dare Devil’ on a dock in Noumea, I knew something good was going to eventuate.
Over beers outside the Port Moselle Yacht Club we bounced ideas for her latest Rolex Sydney Hobart campaign and the rest, they say is history. This year, expect to see live on-board coverage from Dare Devil Racing throughout the race as Ilzhofer takes on the giants in a 628 nautical mile epic.
For those who don’t follow sailing, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race has become an icon of Australia's summer sport, ranking in public interest with such national events as the Melbourne Cup, the Australian Open tennis and the Boxing Day cricket test. No regular annual yachting event in the world attracts such huge media coverage than does the start on Sydney Harbour. The start will see hundreds of spectator craft and hundreds of thousands of people lining the shore as helicopters buzz above the fleet, filming for TV around the world.
Much of the media attention is on the “superstars of sailing” – the 100ft super maxis like Comanche and Black Jack who compete for line honours with their highly-paid professional crews, supported by hefty financial backing from multi-million dollar corporations.
However, for Ilzhofer’s team on the Farr Cookson 47 it’s a David and Goliath story of a race team on a shoestring budget. That is, if David were a woman.
Looking around the yacht clubs and amongst crews on the start, it’s a game of Where’s Wally for the small handful of female faces rocking their sailing gear. Dare Devil will have 3 on board this year and we’ll be competing to win the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy again, awarded to the first female skipper that arrives in Hobart – an accolade previously awarded to Ilzhofer in 2014.
While the sailing community continues to see a growth in female involvement with mixed team rules in the Volvo Ocean Race, and all women crews such as Stacey Jackson’s ‘Wild Oats X’ competing to Hobart, a lot more could still be done. "I think more women should be accepted into mixed teams and into positions like skippers, technicians, navigators. There needs to be greater female representation in order to progress the sport" says Ilzhofer.
“It seems many women don’t participate in competitive sailing due to a lack of confidence. The roles that they take on-board often leave them with little exposure to develop their skillsets and build confidence in other areas. We need to provide more opportunities for them to step into different roles on board, and provide the instruction and practice needed for this change to occur.
I’m in agreement with Ilzhofer, for if it wasn’t for her encouragement along with a network of very supportive males I wouldn’t be partaking in the event either. Together we hope to publicise and encourage more pathways for women try competitive sailing and help the community narrow this gender gap.
See https://www.daredevilracing.co/ to learn more about how you can support the Dare Devil Racing Team, or follow us on Instagram @daredevilracing for live updates from the water. There’s also an official tracker here http://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com/tracker/ which will show you where we are in real-time.
Until then, it’s full steam ahead to Hobart.