All eyes on Paris for British sailing stars Masterman and Fellows

Sportsbeat
·4 min read
Alice Masterman and Bella Fellows are hoping to follow the recent success of British females on the water by qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics © Yohei Osada/AFLO
Alice Masterman and Bella Fellows are hoping to follow the recent success of British females on the water by qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics © Yohei Osada/AFLO

Following a month which saw Jasmine Harrison become the youngest woman to solo row the Atlantic, and Pip Hare complete the Vendée Globe, it is safe to say that British female stars are currently making their mark on the water.

Alice Masterman and Bella Fellows - who as a pair compete in sailing's 49er FX event that was introduced to the Olympic Games in 2016 - are set on continuing this trend.

The duo are currently on track to qualify for Paris 2024 where they will have one aim - a gold medal for Team GB.

“Just to get to the trials and even qualify for the Olympics would be awesome, I think it will feel like everything's come together,” said Masterman.

“But I don't want to just qualify the nation, I want us to be the best. I want to be the best.

“I don't think you can ever lose sight of the fact that you want Olympic gold.”

Masterman’s goal is shared by her sailing partner, who credits the achievements of other female sailors as the inspiration for her own planned success.

Fellows hopes the surge in female British triumphs on the water - including Harrison’s and Hare’s February exploits - will encourage more girls to enter into the male-dominated world of professional sailing.

She said: “At the moment, there's a lot of inspiring things going on with the Vendée Globe and seeing the stories about the girl sailors.

“As I read them I was super inspired. So hopefully more girls will see that stuff and it should really inspire them to give it a go.

“Sailing is very male dominated. I think it's so much easier to make it as a professional sailor if you're a man than if you're a woman because people just don't want women to do the grinding or anything.

“I just don't think girls are given the same level of respect that the boys are given. Even if the boy had less experience, if he looks like a rugby player he would be chosen over one of us to crew on a boat.”

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Masterman added: “It has always been the case that there have been fewer girls. We've both fought the odds a little bit and have beaten boys and wind.

“Sailing wants girls. You now have to have a girl in the Volvo Ocean Race and you now have to have a girl in the SailGP.

“But you don't want to be chosen as a token girl, you want to be chosen because you're the best at what you do.

“In Olympic classes it is 50/50 at the moment, but it's just a lot harder to progress after Olympic sailing for women.”

The pair admit to having struggled to afford their sport, and believe the issue of expense within sailing leads to a lack of diversity in it.

“I think the lack of diversity in sailing is actually quite shocking,” said Fellows. “The majority of kids are from private school and their parents are just throwing cash at their sailing.

“It's not really fair because they're going to have such an advantage over anyone that's come into sailing through a different route, who just can't afford the boat or to go to the training weekends.

“It's frustrating. I think it's a good thing that our parents aren't chucking everything at us because we appreciate it more.”

Masterman interjected: “To progress, it definitely is an arms race.

“Some people jump ahead because they've had that opportunity presented to them, whether that be a through sponsors supporting a boat, or because they were able to get a boat through their parents.

“We're there still having to work, still having to fund it ourselves or rely on our parents, who don’t compare financially to other people’s parents.

“But I'm never going to stop because of the money, I’ll only stop because I'm not good enough. I don’t want to look back and think I could have won gold if I’d had that extra backing.”

Masterman and Fellows are currently searching for a primary sponsor, which they believe could be crucial to helping them follow in the footsteps of some of their heroes and achieve their Olympic ambitions.

Masterman said: “Sailing does quite well with funding, we receive similar to cycling and rowing.

“But we also have a lot more expenses compared to those sports. I know bikes are expensive, and you can get bikes for thousands of pounds, but that's a suit of sails for us.

“We're down the ladder, we're project 2024 and we're not fully funded. Every little helps and if we can secure some extra money that will definitely help us on the path to Paris.”