Freya KEITH has become the first female to sign up for the 2005 OKI European Challenge - Europe's first yacht race with a truly open selection process that takes place over three months during the summer of 2005.
The new 11-leg event, starting in Poland and working its way through some of Europe's finest waters to a finish in Monaco, has been deliberately designed to make competitive sailing more accessible to people such as Freya, offering relative newcomers to the sport the chance to participate in a major international sailing regatta over a three-month time frame - seen as a typical duration of a short-term sabbatical from a demanding career.
Although 33-year-old Freya grew up on a small farm in Crockham Hill, Kent, her interest in sailing developed from watching the happenings on The Solent as a child from the family's holiday home at West Wittering. In spite of the fact that other members of the family didn't sail, she vowed to herself that "one day, I'll be on one of those boats!"
and in 2002 enrolled with Capital Sailing in Hamble to pass her competent crew exams, following this by taking part in the 2003 Fastnet Race on one of their Sigma 38s.
On her ability to be able to take part in the OKI European Challenge, she commented, "After working for 4 years at Stopgap, we automatically qualify for a 3-month sabbatical. It's the best loyalty tool ever invented. The terms are that it has to be either educational, outside one's comfort zone or self-improving and in this respect, the OKI European Challenge meets all the criteria, plus you get to travel around the ports of Europe! It is the perfect event."
Managing Director Claire OWEN of Stopgap, one of the UK's largest marketing recruitment agencies added, "I was absolutely delighted to receive Freya's proposal to apply for a place on the OKI challenge. Not only do I think it will be an incredible experience for her but it'll undoubtedly achieve the ultimate objective of our sabbatical programme - to return to work with a fresh perspective on life. Recruitment is all about people - understanding their motivations, their fears, their hopes - I'm sure that during her 3 months on board one of the OKI challenge yachts, Freya will see plenty of this!"
Michael KAY, creator and Race Director of the OKI event added, "I'm thrilled that Freya is the first woman to join this event as we are particularly keen that the event is as open and attractive to women as it is to men. We have included a number of elements in the format that allow participants to approach it in a number of different ways. For Freya, it's the ideal sabbatical - an adventure, a personal challenge, a bona fide ocean race at a level that is accessible to her and many other people in her situation. It will be extremely competitive, but it will also be great fun and will provide everyone taking part with personal and team skills that will benefit them long after the event has finished.
"From a business perspective, we've also given the event a strong profile. Its structure has been designed to help build European businesses by providing them with a corporate platform to network and seek for new business initiatives within Europe. This is achieved through involvement in either of the two levels of Event's corporate dimension. On offer to European businesses, is the 'sponsorship or partnership' of a yacht, or membership of a unique Business Forum that will offer upwards of 100 companies compelling networking and hospitality benefits. For individuals taking part, these networking opportunities are equally obvious."
The OKI European Challenge will be contested in one design Race prepared fleet of identical Beneteau 47.7s and each yacht will have a professional skipper, with the nine crew members made up of Europeans paying £9,950 (less than £100 per day) to take part.
"I think is excellent value for an opportunity of a lifetime."
added Freya. "I'm hoping to raise the money through sponsorship, through my friends and also out of my own pocket."
In the meantime, her preparation for the event continues apace, with plans to take part with an all-female crew in the prestigious Antigua Race Week in April, followed by some intensive dinghy training to further hone her skills later in the summer.