Multiple World Champion
Wisconsin’s Sally Barkow has always been something of a pioneer; from America’s heartland (not far from the home of legendary gold medalist and America’s Cup sailor Buddy Melges), Sally has climbed right up through the sport to become one of the world’s top one-design racers. She’s a multiple World Champion in both match racing and one-design fleet racing, two-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, and came within a few inches of winning an Olympic medal in Beijing. Selected by Team SCA as one of its historic all-female crew for the last Volvo Ocean Race, Sally quickly became one of ‘The Girls’ leaders, with as much or more time at the helm of the Volvo 65 as anyone on the team. Let’s learn some more about this tough, talented racer.
M32W: A huge welcome to the M32 Class, Sally! You and your Magenta Project really jumped into the class with both feet, looking slick and quick in Bermuda last week and only losing the regatta on the final race. How did you get up to speed so quickly?
SB: Thanks so much! I think we still have a few things to get right, but a few things really helped us get up to speed. For starters, we made an effort to learn as much as we could from the M32 licensing program in Lanzarote, where [head instructor] Lars and Holgar and the team were incredibly open and helpful. We’re also extremely fortunate to be sailing one of Chicago Match Race Centers perfectly-maintained M32s so we could get in some practice time before the first Bermuda event. CRMC is our Official Training Center, and that will pay real dividends going forward. And lastly, we’ve got an amazing team of sailors – even our last-minute addition was a rock star! Elodie Mettraux’s brother Bryan filled in for an injured team member, and he added some great energy and knowledge of ultralight cat racing from his vast experience on the Swiss lakes. We’ve come from widely varied backgrounds in the sport, and that experience really helps a team get a new boat dialed in pretty quickly.
M32W: There’s no question that the M32 is a physically demanding boat, especially for the crew. How did your mostly-female Volvo Ocean Race vets handle the strength and fitness requirements, and do you feel the M32 can be sailed at the highest level without the huge muscles we’ve seen on some of the Scandinavian boats?
SB: For sure fitness is huge on these boats, especially for the crew (as they constantly remind me as I sit in the back of the boat with no lines to pull). But here’s the thing: Crew who are serious about being part of this team know that strength and fitness will be a big key for us to do well in the M32. I love seeing a motivated crew pushing hard in the gym – it helps keep me motivated when I see them set and achieve tough fitness goals. We also had the benefit of coming from an extremely organized and scientifically advanced fitness program at Team SCA, and that helps too. We learned something else competing against the men in the Volvo; smart is sometimes quicker than strong, and so much comes down to timing – if we practice smart and work hard to develop that timing perfectly, it doesn’t matter how big or strong our competitors are – we’ll be ahead.
M32W: You’ve done just about everything possible in a monohull, from your World Champion and Olympic days in the Yngling to match racing to helping lead the first all-female Volvo Ocean Race in more than a decade, but you haven’t had lots of multihull experience. What’s been the easiest part of the transition, and the most difficult? How are you handling it?
SB: The first time I had a chance to sail the M32 last July, I was a little surprised that it shared so many characteristics of a boat I’ve been sailing since I was a kid – the E-Scow. I grew up racing these unballasted, surfboard-like lake racers here in the Inland Lakes Yachting Association, and to this day it remains one of my favorite one-design boats. The many similarities between E-scows and M32 cats has helped me immeasurably with the transition from monohulls to cats.
The toughest part of the change is the tacks; in monohulls, you can cheat a little on timing and still make a good tack. But in any cat – especially one of the world’s lightest, and with no jib – there’s no cheating, the timing and entry speed needs to be perfect, and a good tack can go a long way to getting you ahead of the competition. We’re really loving the learning process, especially when we come up with new tricks.
M32W: Team Magenta has big aspirations. What, exactly, are you and your teammates trying to accomplish, and how will M32 racing help you get there?
SB: The Magenta Project has a few goals, one of which is to keep us racing at the highest level we can. We have chosen to dive into the M32 and the World Tour as the next step in our racing careers. It comes at a great time for us as every time we get out on the water is like a fresh breath. Remember – we all just finished a true marathon – over a year of training, prep, and hard racing on the Volvo Ocean Race takes some recuperation, and M32 racing has revived us all! The Magenta Project includes most of our Team SCA racers, each of which aspires to continue her professional career, with the ultimate goal of continuing to crew for the next Volvo Ocean Race as well as top-level inshore and offshore events throughout the world.
M32W: Any advice for a skipper considering getting into M32 racing?
SB: Do it! I have raced a lot of different boats and have my opinions about all of them, but the M32 is an easy sell: Super simple, super high performance, and unintimidating to sail at all levels. If you dive in hard, your learning curve will be equally extreme, and you’ll be amazed at how motivated the boat makes you to get fit and sail fast. The people behind the M32 Class are committed to taking M32 racing to some incredible places with the chance to meet and race against great people in a family atmosphere…funny, it reminds me of what we do in the ILYA, where I learned my love for sailing. I guess it doesn’t matter where you are from; fast is always fun!