Volvo Ocean Race Alicante

Volvo Ocean Race Alicante

Volvo Ocean Race skippers have been "more or less forced" to have women in their crews after rule changes, says veteran sailor Bouwe Bekking.

Organisers of the round-the-world race have brought in new regulationsto incentivise crews to select women.

Team Brunel skipper Bekking described his British crew members Annie Lush and Abby Ehler as "fantastic".

"When the rule came out, I said straight away I didn't like it," said the 54-year-old Dutchman.

"It's better to be able to choose your own team. The rules have been rewritten in such a way that you are more or less forced to take two women.

"I said we have to take two girls, otherwise you have a disadvantage."

Each of the seven crews taking part in the 2017-18 race - which starts on Saturday in Alicante, Spain - will feature at least one female crew member.

Is the tide is turning for female sailors?

In previous races, an all-male crew could be made up of eight members.

But such teams are now restricted to seven, while mixed crews can be made up of 10 sailors, and female-only teams can feature 11.

"This is giving more opportunity to the very best female sailors in the world to compete on equal terms," Volvo Ocean Race chief executive Mark Turner said last year.

"We're using the crew rules to incentivise skippers to bring one or more female sailors onboard.

"I really hope that it's not necessary to have any rule at all in the future - but it seems it's the only way today to ensure we can maintain progress."