Ashley Perrin is a 24-year-old professional sailor. We met in Brixham, England as she is Ocean Planetâ€™s shore team manager.Â Ashley has over 35,000 ocean miles to her credit. Including; Fastnets (3rd), Double handed Round Britain (2nd), two Mackinacs, Pac Cup, double handed Atlantic crossing, Dubai-Muscat Race, Cork Week, Cowes Week, America’s Cup Jubilee, Key West, SORC, numerous cross channel races and Pacific coast races along with Caribbean circuit and womenâ€™s match racing circuit.Â Recently, she was America Trueâ€™s project manager for their Volvo Campaign along with being their Volvo Sponsor manager. She is the youngest ever-elected member to the RORC and is a special member of the SFYC. Currently, she is in Florida participating in the Osprey Cup.Â Â On top of being very good at what she does, she is one of those people you like to work with, professional and down to earth. MoMP.
You are the Shore Team Manager for Ocean Planet. Itâ€™s no secret that the program has limited funds.Â How much more difficult is it from your perspective for the team to first, be competitive then remain competitive as the race goes on?
AP Our overall budget is comparable to other boats in this race, such as Pindar and Hilfiger, but we differ dramatically in our design. Pindar and Hilfiger are based upon the normal Open 60 design ethos (sail plan and width) and both have already been around the world. Ocean Planet has taken a different approach it is a more radical design. Ocean Planet’s radical plan requires a larger R & D budget than our competitors, resulting in lower repair and maintenance budget, creating a challenge for our team.
Since Bruce is newcomer to the Open 60 scene, he was able to take this approach without risking his reputation in this arena. Other skippers have in the past been slightly radical but only in one aspect of the design at a time i.e. Yves Parlier went with a rotating mast a few years ago with the large side spreaders but the rest of his boat was not much difference from the norm. Success of a program like this would be better supported with funding from a major sponsor than the very generous donations of many individuals. An easier proposition financially for a non sponsored boat would be a Open 50 as they cost 40% less even though they are only 10 foot smaller.
If money werenâ€™t an issue, what one thing would you add or change to Ocean Planetâ€™s program?Â
AP A full time shore support team would be a tremendous help.Â Â Typical programs have several people with different expertise, working full time. Since Bruce stopped in Spain, his South African stopover is shortened, putting additional pressure on us to turn the boat around for the next leg.Â We’ve got a new main and hardware to install Cape Town, in addition to autopilot, engine servicing, rewiring navigation lights, fixing a disturbing crack in the hull, leaks, rigging. All in around 20 days.Â This is a lot of maintenance work for a short-handed crew.Â I am grateful that Jason Winkel of Argo Rigging will joining me in Cape Town.
What’s the hardest part of the job, waiting and watching while the boat is racing or the work when the boat hits port?
AP The hardest part is the work when the boat hits the dock. I would rather be sailing, than being a spectator.Â In Brixham, England, I worked 18-hour days for 14 days straight.Â There never seemed to be enough time to complete all the tasks and repairs.Â Due to the time difference, I’d finish working on the boat and then have answer 20 emails a day regarding the boom shipment, battens and other communication from the U.S. So when my workday ended in the UK, the US workday was just starting, creating both a UK and US work schedule for me.
How much does sponsorship play into the fact that the French, British, Italians and Kiwis are dominant in Ocean Racing?
AP Sponsorship does not dominate as much as you might think. Sponsorship is hard to find in the world. The French dominate the Open 60 circuit, and the Kiwis lead the Volvo 60 circuit. The French are more into single-handed sailing. It is understandable if you’ve ever sailed on a fully crewed French racing yacht; it’s like sailing with 10 skippers!Â (I’m half English so I’m allowed a French joke every so often J)Â
Managing the masses on the dock.
The French, British and New Zealanders have another advantage over the Americans. They sail in more varied and tougher conditions than the Americans do on average. England has a huge variety from big Atlantic swells on the west coast to short breaking waves in the shallows of the North Sea, and accelerating wind through the Dover straits. Add in man made hazards like oilrigs, the busiest shipping lanes in the world, a few fishing boats and you have a big obstacle course.
We also have races like the two handed Round Britain race. This has been a training ground for big names in offshore sailing: Steve Fossett, Robin Knox Johnston, Chay Blyth and Ellen MacArthur. The race has four 48-hour rolling stops in remote places like Crosshaven, Barra, Lerwick, (which is as far north as Cape Horn is south.) and the attrition rate of the fleet is high. If you survive the rugged storms battered west coast and dodge through the oilrigs and sand banks on the east coast you then have to fight the gales in the Channel. Despite this race being a full circle, you spend 80% of the 2000-mile race going upwind as the low pressure systems keep on moving through.
I think that these nationalities produce more ocean racers because their racing schedules include predominantly offshore races. Some of the RORC weekend races across the English Channel can be very rough indeed. Typical European sailors do that sort of thing almost every weekend. Our winter races require getting up at 5am on a Sunday. We travel at over 200% of the posted speed limit down the M3 to the boat to wash the ice off the deck with salt water so that it doesnâ€™t refreeze. On the other hand, US sailor typically race inshore on their weekends and if there is ice on the deck they are smart and just donâ€™t go out OR go ice yachting!!Â
You mentioned to me once that in France, shore team captains are looked at differently than in the States. Can you elaborate on that?
AP In France a person who prepares racing boats is called a â€˜preparateurâ€™. The singlehanded sailing scene is treated much like the Formula One racing car circuit. The people working in shore teams have the same expertise as the skipper, awarding them the same respect. Single-handed sailing is a team sport. This was evident getting Ocean Planet ready for Leg 2 in Brixham, England. We used over 1000 hours of volunteer services and we couldnâ€™t have done it without their support. I wrote a long page on Oceanplanetâ€™s website to thank everyone, I was blown away by the volunteers efforts.
We all love the classic, â€œman against the seaâ€ stories.Â Â In France, England and New Zealand Ocean Racers are seen as national heroes.Â Why is the attention given to American sailors watered down in comparison?
Â AP Inshore racing is the primary form of sailing done in the US and it is not a story about survival. While the general public doesnâ€™t fully understand the details of sailing, they do relate, however, to stories about surviving the elements. Ocean Racing would gain more interest in the US if a personality, which the general public could identify with was successfulÂ like Ellen MacAurthur has been in Europe.Â The public pays attention to sailing projects that have well planned and executed media campaigns, like Offshore Challenges did with Ellen MacAurthur.
Round Britain Doublehanded
As far North as Cape Horn is South – Mad dogs and Englishmen J
If anything, what needs to change?
AP In regards to sponsorship there needs to be more structure and commitment from the sailors.Â Sailors need to provide more than just offering to stick the companyâ€™s name on the boats hull and go sailing. They should be willing to work with the company to maximize the sponsorship both internally and externally. Unfortunately, in the past some sailing sponsors had been used poorly or have not fully understood the projects. In some cases someone at the top management level decides to sponsor but the sales/marketing department doesnâ€™t know itself what to do with the property.Â Going forward, there needs to be a more business like approach towards sailing sponsorships.
What are your feelings on â€œall women teamsâ€?
Â AP I am in Florida at the moment racing in the Osprey Cup, a womenâ€™s match racing event. The best analogy I can make is why do parents send their kids to a single sex school vs. a mixed? The answer is different for every person. I think womenâ€™s teams allow some women to learn without feeling threatened. On the other hand, in order to be the best you have to race amongst the best. At the moment the â€œbestâ€ tend to be guys, since they have more experience, I guess. I donâ€™t believe womenâ€™s teams are natural. There is a whole different dynamic onboard, which in my experience, I have not particularly enjoyed. I think co-ed teams are the way to go, in real life situations men and women work alongside each other. There is a catch 22 though in that in is still hard for women to get on certain top boats. However, in my experience if you get on with your job and do it well it doesnâ€™t matter what sex you are, you will automatically earn the respect of the guys anyway. If it is a boat full of chauvinists there is no point in forcing the situation, find another boat.
Do you think that approach helps or hurts womenâ€™s credibility in what really is a male dominated sport?
AP I think it depends on how the women on the team conduct themselves as to whether their credibility is affected. Anyone is respected if they admit when they are not as experienced and donâ€™t use excuses for a poor result. In my experience guys are sometimes more willing to answer questions and share their experience than women are. If they are willing to give you advice that is a reflection on the individuals personality not guys in general.Â
What are your short and long term goals inside the sport?Â
AP In 2003, I am going to concentrate on improving my small boat helming â€“ I will be taking my boyfriendâ€™s Etchells to San Diego for the mid winters. I believe it is the best place to learn and I donâ€™t mind loosing â€“ too much J.Â I would like to do some Grade 4 womenâ€™s match racing events as skipper with an experienced skipper as my mainsheet person. Match racing is great because you do at least 9 starts a day which means over 25 mark roundings and you get good at getting the boat up to speed fast.
Any big boat racing in your future?Â
AP Defiantly that is all I do right now. Iâ€™ve dreamed of doing the Volvo since I was 12 and I got almost there last year with my own boat, but things didnâ€™t work out. If I have the energy and the money, I may try to do it again next time round. I had Ellen MacAurthur signed on as navigator and a great co-ed team lined up. So if things work out like that next time, maybe thatâ€™s where you will see me next.
When are you going to come to the dark side and start racing multihulls?
AP I have only sailed multihulls once in a regatta in Dubai. It was fun â€“ maybe when I get monohull sailing under my belt I will change sides!
Especially in the States, you don’t hear too many instances of people getting rich in sailing.Â How do you compensate your income?
AP In the past I’ve worked as a sailmaker and as a shore team manager on race boats, like Ocean Planet.Â I know I can always earn money by working on boats and doing deliveries but you’re right, not many people make a lot of money in sailing.Â Iâ€™ve started a company, www.oceanracing.com, which manufactures and sells duffle bags made out of re-cycled race sails as well as Canterbury of New Zealand clothing. We are always looking for sails with a â€˜pedigreeâ€™ and can turn them into duffle bags for a boat owner. At the moment working on a new line of products, which I think will be very different and practical.
At what age do you see yourself stepping away from sailing professionally and putting your full attention into â€œsailâ€ bags?
AP Well I don’t know at what age. Iâ€™m only 24 and am not looking at retiring soon. My goal is to blend my love of sailing with something that would allow me to earn a better living.Â Oceanracing.com will allow me to be near home while earning a salary I can live with.Â It is already keeping me busy. In the coming months weâ€™ll be expanding our product line.Â Although, I canâ€™t say too much about that now.
Along with my new business, I would like to perhaps attempt another Volvo 60 campaign. Last year I had a boat and sponsorship lined up but it all disappeared like my stock portfolio! I will continue to race as much as possible, something I want to do concurrently with running www.OceanRacing.com.Â It is out on the racing circuit that great new product ideas for sailing come to mind, not sitting in an office somewhere.
Whoâ€™ll win the Americaâ€™s Cup?
AP Alinghi â€“ they have the experience of performing under fire and their boat doesnâ€™t seem to be too slow.