Navigator Adrienne Cahalan, until now the only woman racing in the VOR fleet, has been fired as Brasil 1′s navigator. The move apparently came as a complete surprise to her. From her statement Monday, as reported on the official VOR site (Interpreting the situation):
“Yesterday I was informed by team manager Alan Adler that I was to be replaced as navigator on Brasil 1. Regrettably it was not Torben himself who told me of this decision. I am very disappointed not to be able to sail the remaining legs in the race with Brasil 1 and particularly the Southern Ocean legs coming in and out of Australia.
“I am and have been fully committed to both Brasil 1 and the Volvo Ocean Race for the past year and in light of our good results so far I was very surprised and disappointed to be told of Torben’s decision.”
Possibly seeking to frame the public perception of the move, Team Brasil 1 themselves claimed surprise in a subsequent statement:
“The Brasil 1 Team was surprised by Adrienne Cahalan’s statement that she was out of the team for the remaining of the Volvo Ocean Race. No decisions have been taken so far. This subject will be discussed in a meeting (on) Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro.
“During the first leg, trimmer Marcelo Ferreira was out of the sailing watches for some days due to a medical problem and Adrienne Cahalan wasn’t planned to take part in the watches. The only issue here being the great physical strength required for the job. The situation of having two crewmembers out of the sailing watches will be the subject of the scheduled meeting.
“The idea that will be discussed is having Adrienne on the Brasil 1 as team’s meteorologist and including a navigator who will be a part of the sailing watches for the Southern Ocean legs. Afterwards, there is the possibility of having Adrienne back to the crew for the remainder of the race.
“That idea is still the one we are supporting: ‘Adrienne has done an important job for the team and we do not want her to stop helping us’, Brasil 1 skipper Torben Grael stated.”
It sounds like the bumping of Cahalan from the crew was handled pretty poorly. If you’re going to do something like this, I think it’s best to do it openly and directly, being clear about what led you to the decision. Coy statements to the media after the bumpee has gone public with her disappointment are unfortunate.
On the underlying reasons, I wonder how much of it is based in machismo, as amplified by the understandable fear of taking these radical boats into the Southern Ocean. A male crewmember in good physical condition, generally speaking, is going to have more upper-body strength than a comparable female crewmember (and in that vein, I guess it bears noting that Cahalan is 40 years old).
Upper-body strength isn’t everything, of course. On this race physical endurance is a factor, too, and it’s less clear that a male crewmember would have an advantage in that area. With numerous circumnavigations and three previous Volvo/Whitbread races in her background, Cahalan certainly has plenty of relevant experience, and after being part of the team for the past year, and crewing on leg one, it seems unlikely that interpersonal chemistry would be emerging as a factor at this point.
My guess is that, confronted by the unknown, the Brasil 1 team is trying to do whatever they can to control the variables they do have control over. They face many, many worries going into the next two legs, and apparently they decided that having one of their ten crewmembers be a woman was one more worry they didn’t need to have.
I assume from Cahalan’s statement that she believes it was Torben Grael’s decision, and given that, I think I’d agree with her disappointment that he wasn’t willing to communicate it to her directly. Maybe there’s more to that story, though.
Photo: No longer one of the boys: Brasil 1 skipper Torben Grael and navigator Adrienne Cahalan at the post-finish arrival celebration in Cape Town. From the Brasil 1 official site.