2014 Volvo Ocean Race - Hold on tight and clip on with your harness. Keep your head down! Your hair, your gear, everything - you’ll be completely drenched. You’re at the bow of Team SCA with Sophie Ciszek.
Sophie Ciszek on the bow of Team SCA Volvo Ocean 65 during training in Lanzarote.
She calls from the media station inside the boat, a dark corner at the back of Team SCA’s Volvo Ocean 65. Ciszek took a break from her on-deck duties to pick up the phone; she is on watch. She should be on deck, grinding, trimming, steering, or working at the bow – her specialty.
'It’s like standing on a moving platform with a fire hose in your face. If it’s rough it takes a lot longer to get the job done. It’s not easy.'
Being at the forward end of the boat is physical, she says, plus she woke up at two in the morning to take her first watch. The all-female crew are sailing back across the Atlantic, a 2,800nm trip from Newport to Lanzarote, and the 12 women follow a watch system just like race time.
'I go on watch at 02:00am for four hours on deck, and then I have four hours off, and so on until I’m back on deck at 02:00am the following day. When I’m off watch, I’ve got to eat, get out of my gear, clean the boat and get the water out of the bilge. I’m also the onboard medic so I take care of others if needed.
'When it’s windy it takes 20 to 30 minutes to put all the layers and the safety harness on. I sleep for two to two-and-half hours max per watch.'
Team SCA on their second trans-Atlantic crossing back to their training base in Lanzarote, Spain. Images from Anna-Lena Elled (SWE) - Onboard Reporter (on trial)
Ciszek says it’s enough sleep – at 28, she has sailed over 60,000nm (110,000km) and competed in four Sydney-Hobart races. She loves surfing, wears funky accessories and braids her blond hair neatly – but the truth is, she isn’t your average sailor.
'I’m kind of known onboard to be good at catching the waves. It’s got to come from my surfing – sailing and surfing go hand in hand. The boat is much bigger and faster than a surfboard, there are 12 people on it, but the elements are the same. When I’m steering the boat downwind, I look at numbers but I pretty much read the waves. And catching a wave with the boat going around 30 knots is pretty crazy.'
Team SCA Volvo Ocean 65 training off Puerto Calero Lanzarote.
Crossing the Atlantic for the first time:
The transatlantic the team did earlier this month from the Canary islands to Rhode Island was her first Atlantic crossing though, and being half Australian and half American, it was definitely a landmark. Her dad and brother welcomed her on the dock in Newport, but a week later she is heading back to Europe already.
Team SCA are now less than 1,300nm away from Lisbon, where they will sail past a waypoint before going to Lanzarote. They are expected back at their base on June 2.
There are a little less than 10 days left at sea for Ciszek and her teammates.
'I don’t like when I’m really wet and I’ve got to get out of my bunk and put all my wet gear back on before going on deck and getting a wave straight in the face,' she confesses.
'But I love the morning when the sun is coming up. We’ve sailed through the night, the sun comes up and it’s the start of another day. Yes, that’s definitely my favourite time.'
Sunrise from the bow of Team SCA on their second trans-Atlantic crossing back to their training base in Lanzarote, Spain. Images from Anna-Lena Elled (SWE) - Onboard Reporter (on trial)
Team SCA transatlantic crew – Newport – Lanzarote via Lisbon:
1. Sally Barkow (USA) - Helm / Trim
2. Carolijn Brouwer (NED) - Helm / Trim
3. Dee Caffari (GBR) - Pit / Helm
4. Sophie Ciszek (AUS) - Bow / Helm
5. Sam Davies (GBR) - Person-in-Charge / Watch Captain
6. Abby Ehler (GBR) - Pit / Trim
7. Stacey Jackson (AUS) - Bow / Trim
8. Annie Lush (GBR) - Helm / Trim
9. Justine Mettraux (SUI) - Helm / Trim
10. Liz Wardley (AUS) - Watch Captain
11. Libby Greenhalgh (GBR) – Navigator (on trial)
Anna-Lena Elled (SWE) - OnBoard Reporter (on trial)
Return trip: Newport – waypoint off Lisbon, Portugal (a dry run of the Leg 7) - Lanzarote