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Rolex Sydney Hobart: Kiwis sailors making race history

by Suzanne McFadden 21 Dec 2018 10:32 PST 22 December 2018

For the first time in the gruelling Sydney to Hobart race, a professional all-women’s crew will line up on Boxing Day. Among them are two Kiwi sailors at very different stages of their careers.

As an 18-year-old, Keryn McMaster got her first taste of true offshore sailing in the notorious Sydney to Hobart race, on board the old Whitbread round-the-world boat Outward Bound.

“It almost disintegrated under us while we were sailing it,” she laughs.

She tackled the 628-nautical mile race again in 1997, when it was a leg of the Whitbread race – McMaster’s first of two circumnavigations of the globe.

Six years ago, her third attempt at the Sydney-Hobart, on Living Doll, had to be aborted in Bass Strait. “We hit something, broke the rudder and almost sank,” McMaster recalls.

“They reckon with one in three Sydney-Hobarts, you don’t make it.” Which is why she reckons the odds are stacked in her favour for this year’s race, as she joins the first professional all-women’s crew in the race’s 73-year history.

McMaster is one of two Kiwis who are part a multinational crew of female sailing icons. The other is 29-year-old Bianca Cook, fresh from her first Volvo Ocean Race, on Turn the Tide on Plastic.

All 13 women are sailing stars in their own right. Between them, they’ve amassed 17 Volvo Ocean Races and 68 Sydney-Hobarts.

They’ve been handpicked by Australian sailor Stacey Jackson, who also sailed in this year’s Volvo on board Vestas 11th Hour Racing. Jackson’s latest mission is to encourage more Australian women to sail, and to push the message of taking better care of our oceans – naming this project Ocean Respect Racing.

For Aucklander McMaster, now 46, this race on board maxi yacht Wild Oats X may have another objective - opening a new door in her international sailing career.

A single mum, she’s spent the past decade focused on raising her two daughters. But she still harbours a passion for blue-water sailing.

“I wanted to do the last two Volvos, but I couldn’t with my girls being so young. You know, it turns into a military exercise trying to organise kids, school and sports,” she says. “But now they’re older, it’s easier to go sailing again.”

For Cook, this race – her first Sydney-Hobart – means the opportunity to sail with the women who she says “created the pathways for me”.

Women like Carolijn Brouwer, of the Netherlands - the first woman to win the Volvo Ocean Race on board Dong Feng this year. And Australian Vanessa Dudley, who's already sailed in 22 Sydney-Hobarts.

“I was up on the bow the other day, looking back and thinking ‘wow I can’t believe I’m sailing with these amazing women’. I realised I’m actually the youngest on board by quite a few years," Cook says.

And then there’s McMaster. Cook had never met her before they were drawn together for this race.

But of course she knew of her. A bona fide legend in New Zealand’s sailing fraternity, McMaster raced around the world twice in all women’s crews - first on EF Language in the 1997-98 race, and then Amer Sports Too in 2001-02.

After just a handful of days alongside McMaster, racing Wild Oats X on Sydney Harbour, Cook reached the conclusion: “She’s the coolest person I’ve ever sailed with.

“She’s so down-to-earth and has such a massive amount of knowledge. I’m just honoured to be able to sail with her. In fact, I’m a little bit starstruck.”

McMaster laughs on hearing this. She’s similarly impressed by Cook.

“Bianca’s fantastic. She sailed around the world with Dee Caffari, who’s our crew boss [on Wild Oats X]. Dee says during the Volvo, Bianca always had a smile on her face - and the windier it got, the bigger the smile.

“In that way she reminds me a little of me. If it’s under five knots I’m like ‘Yawn’, but give me 45 knots and I’m like ‘Woohoo, this is great!’”

For the rest of this story see The Locker Room at

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