From left: Sara Hastreiter and Elodie Mettraux, two of the 15 females sailing around the world for the Volvo Ocean Race. (Photo: Annie Daly) 

Chances are, if a woman were to tell you that she makes a living by sailing around the world, you would probably think that she’s living the dream. After all, not only is she making it in a traditionally male-dominated sport, she is also getting paid to be out on a boat on the sunny ocean — not behind a desk in an office somewhere. And that’s living.

Well, there actually are 15 women who are doing that very thing right now. They are called Team SCA, and they are the first all-female sailing team to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race — an epic nine-month, 40,000+-mile race around the world on a 65-foot-long sailboat  — in over a decade.

A bird’s eye view of the Team SCA sailboat. (Photo: Team SCA) 

The race is, in a word, hardcore. It began on October 4, 2014, and will finish soon, on June 27, 2015, in Gothenburg, Sweden. The women race in spurts — called “legs” — for about 20 days straight, during which time they live and sleep on board together, and eat freeze-dried food. Then, they get about five days off in between.

Last week, Yahoo Travel got the chance to go on a sail with two of them, American-born Sara Hastreiter, 31, and Swiss-born Elodie Mettraux, 30, when they were in port in New York City.

And here’s the thing: It turns out that getting paid to sail around the world is not as glamorous as you may think. Of course these two women are super passionate about their jobs, and feel so fortunate to be able to do what they love — of course. But they are also quick to point out that there are some downfalls to the dream. Here, they reveal the surprising darker side of sailing around the world for a living.

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Facing swells like this is de rigeur for the Team SCA ladies. (Photo: Team SCA) 

Yahoo Travel (YT): Tell us about how you got into sailing originally.

Mettraux:
I’m from Switzerland, and I grew up sailing. My family had a house close to Lake Geneva, and when I was 16, I wanted to learn how to sail on my own.

Watch: Mettraux’s story   In this video, Mettraux explains how she found her passion so young. (Video: Team SCA) 


Hastreiter:
I’m kind of the opposite. I grew up in Wyoming, and didn’t start sailing until after college. I was initially attracted to the adventure and travel side more than anything. I traveled a lot in college, but after I graduated, I didn’t get to do it as much. Then I discovered sailing, and saw that it could be a good way to make money while traveling.

YT: So, fast forward to now, where you both are doing just that. Is it everything you thought it would be?

Mettraux: Honestly, you can’t really call what we do traveling. What usually happens is you only see the place where you sleep, the place where you buy your groceries, and maybe a few bars. People say, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky because you’re traveling all around the world.’ But in the end, when you do this work, you’re not really traveling because you’re not seeing the countries. You are so out of whack when you arrive in one place that you don’t even have the energy to go on day trips for two or three days even if you do have the time. You just need some rest. You don’t want to move anymore. You’re fed up with emptying your bags all the time. I thought I would have more time to travel, but that’s really not the case at all.

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Hastreiter: Yes, it’s disappointing that we don’t get to enjoy destinations or explore them a bit more. We do get to do a lot of interesting special events that we wouldn’t get the chance to do if we were traveling to these places on our own. We often get to meet royalty in each country, for instance, so we’re definitely lucky in that regard.

YT: What do you think is the biggest downfall of racing around the world?

Hastreiter: I think it’s that you have to put your life on hold for two years to race. Your home life, your family life … those all get put on hold. The other big problem is exhaustion. You’re just so exhausted all the time, to the point that you’re not always enjoying things to the fullest extent. You go to something, and you just can’t wait to leave so you can go to bed. You’re not interested in meeting people because you’re so tired all the time.

Mettraux: It’s true. It’s both physical and mental exhaustion. I think mental exhaustion is the worst part. And it’s hard sometimes because it’s such tight quarters, so you need to learn how to be nice to everyone on the boat because you’re with them for so long. You need to know how to be human, but sometimes it feels so hard.

Hastreiter: Right, there is absolutely no separation.

YT: Any tricks?

Mettraux: I read a lot. And I also think it’s important to remember that you can’t be friends with everyone. When you’re at work, for example, you’re not friends with all of your co-workers, right? It’s harder for us to do that here because we happen to be sleeping in the same room together all night, in the bunks. But we have to. It can be really hard.

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The (very tight) sleeping quarters on the sailboat. (Photo: Team SCA) 

Mettraux pausing for a quick State of Liberty shot on our sail. (Photo: Annie Daly) 

Hastreiter: I grew up in a time where, for the most part, people finished their jobs and then went home. That’s what my parents did. What they did outside of work was totally different from what they did at work. But for us, our life and our job and our friends and our colleagues are all molded into one. There is absolutely no separation between your personal life and your job. We carry everything with us.

YT: What about your love lives? Do you have significant others?

Hastreiter: We both have boyfriends, yes, and we’re very fortunate because they are both super supportive. Mine is a professional sailor, too, which is nice because he understands what we are going through. I met him seven months ago, at a sea survival course for the Volvo Ocean Race.

Mettraux: And I’ve been dating my boyfriend for three years. He lives in France.

YT: How do you both make it work?

Hastreiter: It’s really hard. It’s difficult to be apart for so long. Usually we get 20 days at sea and then we get four or five days off, but we’re exhausted, and all we want to do is stay in our hotel rooms and watch movies.

What it really comes down to is that when you’re out sailing, there’s a lot of exposure. You’re outside; you’re in the elements. So when you’re on land, you’re happy just being in a nice bed and being dry. I don’t feel like I need to go into the sea because I just had the sea in my face and in my eyes for 20 days. And it will be in my face again soon enough. But it’s hard because my days on land are also the days when I see my boyfriend, and all I want to do is sleep. I have media and other onshore requirements, too.  And then it turns into thinking about packing your bag for the next leg of the race. It’s stressful. It’s not always nice. You’re tired, you’re stressed, you’re anxious…it’s hard.

Mettraux: It can be nice in a way, because we are only having nice time together. But other times, yes, it’s just really hard, because you need to get rest and then you want to hang out with your boyfriend. You would like to be normal. Fortunately, my boyfriend understands that we’re so focused. For instance, when I get two weeks off, I told him I don’t want to go anywhere. My vacation becomes not traveling. So we’re just going to a quiet beach house in southern France with friends. All I want to do is relax.

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Hastreiter admits that sailing around the world is not always, well, smooth sailing. (Photo: Annie Daly)  

YT: So what’s your favorite part about being in the race?

Hastreiter: Being outside all the time. One of the things that will be difficult to find once the race is over is a job where every single day is so difference, like it is here. There’s always something going on, good or bad or otherwise. There are very few jobs in the world where you wake up in a different place every day. And the conditions of the wind are different every day. People will say, ‘Don’t you guys get bored, sailing all the time, and I’m like, bored? I wish.’ We’re busy. Things are always changing. It will be difficult to find something as physically and emotionally stimulating as this is once we finish the route.

 

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