Photo: Marc Bouchet
New year, more badass sailing women. Women at the Helm is back and today I want to introduce you to Sara Stone. She’s making big moves in order to accomplish an even bigger dream…to race around the world.
Stone is from Marion, Massachusetts and has spent almost all of her life on the water. Sailing is in her genes, as her father is an accomplished sailor as well. To say that she is experienced in sailing would be a great understatement. Not only did she grow up spending much of her time on boats, but she has sailed over 13,000 miles offshore in the Northeastern US, Pacific Coast of Central America, the Caribbean and more.
Aside from sailing, Stone also has a background in rowing. She was a member of the Division 1 Women’s rowing team at Dartmouth College. She then went on to receive her Master’s of Science from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. During her college years, Stone spent summers working as a skipper and sailing instructor on 50’ sloops in the BVIs, where she began to venture into offshore sailing through a variety of deliveries, ranging from overnight island hops to her longest delivery yet – 2,000nm from Mexico to Panama and through the Panama Canal.
Stone sailing as a child & Stone in 2018
After graduating in 2013, she accepted a full-time position in Colorado working in public health and emergency response. While she described it as a fantastic job, it was also in a landlocked state. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that I missed the ocean and the the competitive outlet that rowing had provided, and I needed to create a plan to do something about it.”
The plan. After being inspired by Team SCA being the first all-female team to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race in 12 years, Stone decided to make a five-year plan to transition from working professional to professional sailor. Come 2018, five years had passed and the plan was complete. Stone left her job last April and has been racing ever since. She races boats ranging from 49ers, to Double Handed Class 40s, to fully crewed race boats from 24 to 66 feet. Some of the races she has competed in so far include: 2018 Newport to Bermuda Race, 2018 New York Yacht Club Race Week, 2018 FarEast28R World Championships (which took place in China!), 2018 Nassau Cup Ocean Race and most recently, the 2019 Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race on a TP52 boat.
Left: Photo by Marc Bouchet, Right: Photo via Sara Stone’s Instagram
Along with an extensive racing resume, Stone also holds a US Coast Guard 50GRT Master Near Coastal Captain’s License, US Coast Guard Medical Provider on Board Certification, Wilderness First Responder Certification and has work experience in the fields of emergency response and planetary health. Stone shows no signs of slowing down. Every time I log onto Instagram, she’s in a new race. She has already built a HUGE racing resume in the last year, and she is around my age! Is it realistic to expect to see Stone competing in a future Volvo Ocean Race? 1,000%, yes.
Check out Sara Stone’s interview below and be sure to follow along with her journey on:
Website (in development): https://floatlikesstone.com/
When did you first get into sailing?
I grew up right by the water in Marion, Massachusetts and spent time on sailboats pretty much as soon as I was born. My dad is an accomplished sailor and my mum loves to be on the water. When I was little, my parents owned a beautiful 31–foot Cheoy Lee offshore ketch and we would cruise around Southeastern Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and the Elizabeth Islands each summer. I loved being on the boat and I have amazing memories of being towed behind the boat while dodging stinging jellyfish with my cousins, and of hunkering down in protected anchorages to ride out storms.
Why racing? What sparked the idea to pursue this full-time?
Team SCA. Team SCA raced in the 2014-2015 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race (https://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/home.html) and was the first all-female team to take on the race in years. I was (and am) completed inspired and totally in awe of those women!
After graduating from college in 2013, I accepted a full time job in Colorado working in public health and emergency response. It didn’t take me long to realize that, while I loved the work I was doing, I missed playing competitive sports (I was recruited and rowed for a Division 1 college) and I missed the ocean. Coincidentally, this was right as Team SCA was announced as one of seven teams to be completing in the 2014-2015 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. As I followed Team SCA, I started to think that this challenge of racing around the world was one that I wanted to take on. The idea of racing around the world, through the most remote areas on the planet, in extreme and unforgiving conditions, challenging myself to the fullest, was tantalizing. And so I made a game plan and started working towards my goal. Now, 5 years later, I am in the midst of executing that plan!
Can I give a shout out here? There is an amazing organization called The Magenta Project (https://themagentaproject.org), which came out of Team SCA, that I think everyone should know of and appreciate as their mission is to inspire and enable greater female participation in professional sailing!
What has been the biggest challenge when transitioning into pro-racing?
In April 2018, I left my full-time job where I worked in the field of planetary health (a field at the intersection of health and environmental science that explores the human health impacts of human-caused environmental change) for a six month apprenticeship with Oakcliff Sailing to pursue this goal of joining the ranks of pro sailors. At first, the biggest challenge was just speaking my goal out loud – the simple act of telling people that I wanted to race around the world in the Volvo Ocean Race felt both foolish and terrifying. But, in this case, I was my greatest obstacle so I recognized that and moved forward. Since then, I have found the biggest challenge to be growing my network so that teams a) know who I am and b) invite me to join their crew for races. Pro-racing is definitely built upon word-of-mouth and so the more exposure I am able to get and the more I am able to show my skills and work ethic, the better!
What is one piece of advice you would give someone who races?
Learn every position. If you are more flexible as a crew member, you create more opportunities for yourself to join boats needing crew. If there’s a race coming up and you hear of a boat that needs a bow but you don’t know how to do bow, then that’s a major bummer! It works pretty well to join casual beer can racing in positions in which you lack confidence, so that you can develop your skills and build your confidence. My strategy has been to say to the rest of the crew that I would like to learn a certain position, ask if I can get a walkthrough from whoever is currently doing the job, and try it out during practices. Learning all of the positions provides you with a double bonus because the more aware you are of the demands on each position, the more effective you can be in your position when you race!
What are your future racing plans?
My aim/dream is to race around the world in the Volvo Ocean Race. The race takes place every 3 years and the next iteration begins in 2021, so between now and then I am working to develop my technical skills and gain as much experience as possible so that I am an asset to a future team. This means that I am trying to race on many different boats in competitive fleets where, ideally, I am the person who knows the least so that I stand to learn the most. This means that I am fleet racing, match racing, offshore racing and foiling – saying yes to every opportunity and getting as much time on the water as I can. This means I am taking courses and working to develop my non-sailing skills in areas like sail repair and marine electronics – right now I am studying hydraulics! And this means that I am working out (a lot) and putting my past experience as a D1 rower to use as I train. It is an exciting journey and there are no guarantees but the process itself is pretty special!