Six years ago Sara Hastreiter, of Casper, Wyoming, set out an adventurous and unpredictable life as a sailing vagabond, connecting one race and one delivery to the next, each gig leading to some great unknown. Today, she’s in Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, preparing with Team SCA, the all-female Volvo Ocean Race syndicate. Her new roommate is Dee Caffari, of England, the most famous female offshore sailor of the day.
In her diary, the brown-eyed, big-smiled 29-year-old has just written about how Samantha Davies, another sailing household name, paid her a compliment during the day’s practice.
“I mean … Sam Davies, complimenting me?” says Hastreiter with a giggle. “I’m still stunned.”
What sort of compliment was it exactly?
“She said I did a really good job on the bow today. Umm …what do I say? Thanks Sam.” If Hastreiter comes across star struck, it’s because she is. As one of the final SCA crewmembers announced in late March she joins and international entourage of Olympic sailors and round-the-world veterans, which is an incredible accomplishment considering her first sailing experience was as a deckhand on a day-charter catamaran in the Caribbean in 2008.
Her relatively quick ascent to the pinnacle of offshore racing from landlocked Wyoming is no coincidence, however. She attributes it to persistence and commitment.
Following her charter cat introduction, she sought rides on the Caribbean winter circuit and then hustled her way onto racing programs and offshore deliveries. She racked up the miles (40,000 and counting) and the experience, and made contacts. If you’re serious about this racing thing, her new sailing friends told her, then get yourself to Newport, R.I., stat. She did, promptly hooking into the scene and onto the Cookson 50 Privateer and other top area teams. Then came SCA’s crew call in August 2012.
“I applied, like several hundred other girls,” she says, “but I broke my ribs shortly after that. Once I was better, I started physically training and continued the sailing that I was doing. In February [of 2013] I’d just finished the Pineapple Cup. I was the only female to do that race, and I was introduced to Richard Mason [SCA shore manager]. He said he’d pass along my CV—with no promises.”
Hastreiter had already missed the team’s early tryouts and assumed the opportunity was past, but she was invited to Lanzarote in May 2013 for a month. Afterward they told her to keep in touch.
“I just kept doing as many offshore races or ocean crosses that I could. I was always in the gym and working at it. During Les Voiles de St. Barts, rather than hanging out on the beach, I was running hills. I knew, f I had the opportunity to come back,
I had to show dedication at all times. I needed to be able to show a difference.
” She was called back in November, and, like a rookie at an NFL training camp, she stuck it out for five months—never knowing whether she’d make the team. “It was tough … waiting … working … wondering.”
ON “D Day” in March the team’s coaches, including Brad Jackson, a VOR winner, finally called her into Jackson’s office and gave her the news she’d been hoping for: They wanted to keep her. “As he was talking, my mind was racing,” says Hastreiter. “I just started thinking about everything that needed to be done.”
For now, she says, her official role on the boat will be mid-bow, as well as one of the team’s appointed medics. Winch maintenance also falls under her responsibility.
Of her experience thus far on the team’s VO65 she simply describes it as “a beast.”
“The speed, the power, and the loads on things are unbelievable,” she says, “the amount of water that comes over the deck is not a joke. It’s something you have to take seriously.”
A big part of pre-race training has been working through the sail inventory to develop crossovers and refining the boat’s polars, which, of course, has meant continuous sail changes for Hastreiter and Stacey Jackson, her partner on the bow. “The key to a good sail change on these boats is timing,” she says. “It’s figuring out the best, fastest, and safest way to get things done. It’s about timing and planning ahead because when you mess something up on these boats, it’s epic. It’s big gear, it’s heavy, there’s a lot that can go wrong, and everyone’s watching.”
Hastreiter’s friends and family back home in Casper and elsewhere never understood what she was doing when she told them she was off sailing, but now they do, she says, and they’re “unbelievably excited.” Her parents have come to expect it of her, though, the gregarious daughter with a serious sense of adventure.
“I’m definitely not typical,” says Hastreiter. “I just have a unique outlook on life that I look for and embrace. My parents always encouraged me to go out and explore, as long as I took care of myself.”