Team Sanya technicians Robin Hilton and Rachel Howe both gave up promising sailing careers to join the Chinese campaign’s shore crew. The 28-year-olds are the only female members of Sanya’s technical team, but working in a male dominated environment doesn’t bother them in the least.
Team electrician Howe, who studied engineering at Cambridge and for a while raced in the Olympic Yngling class says, “I am just someone who turns up to do their job. I’m just a bit shorter!”
“I never had a problem working with the guys,” says Hilton, who is in charge of the Volvo Open 70 running rigging. “They all just become your brothers. It’s easy. We would not be here if we had a problem with that.”
Hilton’s eyes were first opened to the potential of the sailing industry when she sailed across the Pacific from Canada to New Zealand with her sister at the age of 18.
“After that I got my Yachtmaster qualification and started working on superyachts. I decided to specialise in rigging and since I moved back to New Zealand I’ve been going from sailing team to sailing team, always doing rigging.”
Howe had previously worked for a UK yacht services company before joining British single-handed sailor Alex Thomson as a member of his support team.
“It was a good combination of my engineering and sailing background. I also started navigating and learned how to use the on board systems and how to calibrate the instruments.
“When I started working for Alex Thomson Racing, I focused on data and performance analysis. I stopped doing my own racing but did lots of sailing on the Open 60. We went across the Atlantic twice and I learnt a huge amount.”
Joining Team Sanya is a dream come true for both girls, but for Hilton it is a second chance to fulfil her Volvo Ocean Race dream. For the 2008-09 edition she worked for Team Russia before being sidelined when she broke her foot a week before the start.
Howe is equally happy to be doing her dream job. “If you would have told me two years ago that I would work for a Volvo team, I would have laughed. So far it’s going really well and hopefully the guys will win some of the legs.”