Trying out for a team is never easy. There’s pressure, new personalities to contend with, physical demands—and for 25-year-old Sarah Lihan, the novel experience of 608 grueling miles of offshore racing on a Volvo Open 70. Completing the Rolex Fastnet Race is a major accomplishment for veteran teams, but it was just a stepping-stone to the 2014-’15 Volvo Ocean Race for the all-female Team SCA. As the team’s first real race, the Fastnet was an opportunity to match up against other boats—and see if the four new girls on board would make the cut.
“I’m coming into this knowing nothing, with no expectations of myself other than to learn and grow, and to expand my knowledge,” said Lihan just two days before the Fastnet. “If I accomplish that, then I’ve done a good job. And if, along the way, the coaches see what they want in me, then I’ll be on the team. If not, then I shouldn’t be there anyway.”
Although she didn’t have any offshore sailing experience before the Fastnet, Lihan’s 2012 Olympic program ensured that she entered the tryouts in the best shape of her life—and as a force to be reckoned with at 6’1″ of pure muscle. In addition to her ninth-place finish in the 470 at London 2012, Lihan’s extensive dinghy experience and youth made her attractive to Team SCA’s coaches, led by New Zealander Brad Jackson, who will call the shots as they finalize the team.
The months of full-time sailing Team SCA has been doing at their base in Puerto Calero, Lanzarote, coupled with 7 a.m. daily workouts, helped fuel the team’s fourth-place finish in their class at the Fastnet, just ahead of Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team, also racing a Volvo Open 70 with their eyes set on the next Volvo Ocean Race.
Sam Davies, the seasoned Vendée Globe veteran who was one of the first four picks for SCA, said afterward in a press release, “It is a great confidence booster and shows that we can do it.”
The biggest challenge won’t be physical at all, says Lihan, who was awaiting word on the team’s final selections as of press time. “There are always going to be obstacles to overcome when you bring this many people together. That being said, we’re already well on the way to understanding how each other works, cooperating, and really just understanding how to bring the best out of each other. Ultimately, that’s what being on a team is all about.”