In the exciting and supercharged world of foiling, women must seize every opportunity on the water, writes top Kiwi sailor Liv Mackay, to ensure women’s professional sailing continues in the right direction.
It is an experience difficult to describe in words. It’s like stepping into a whole other world; rhythmic, exhilarating. I can’t get enough.
The F50 has some of the latest technology in the sport and SailGP is the kind of navigation that once you put your helmet on you need to be on every time. You know the stakes are high.
Your adrenaline rises as long as you run. You have great trust in each other as a team – and in all the other sailors on the course. Things can go wrong quickly in these foiling machines, and the level of trust you need in those around you has to be high. And that’s what really unites you as a team.
The speeds at which you travel are phenomenal, and the g-forces are so strong – there are times when you’re trying to sprint across the boat, and you’re not actually moving anywhere. Other times you collect bruises from slamming from shell to shell.
You learn so much about yourself on the F50; more than I have experienced on any boat before. You’re put in these really intense situations, and you find out how you react under pressure. It’s fascinating.
You can also find yourself in some pretty horrifying situations. Racing in San Francisco with the New Zealand SailGP team, we almost landed on the French boat.
A shock wave washes over you at that moment, but you have to keep sailing. It’s only when you watch footage of the race afterwards that you realize you nearly hurt people badly. It’s pretty crazy.
Everyone learns from a situation like this, but at the same time it highlights that you are racing in the most extreme environment in sailing right now. That’s what makes it so exciting and what we all train for.
It’s my second season in SailGP, and I feel like I’ve come a long way in understanding the level I need to reach to race the 50.
Racing these boats is incredibly cool; the technology behind them is amazing. Even what it takes to get the boat on the water is on another level.
It set a whole new standard of what I want to do in sailing. I love everything about it.
I’m lucky to be able to learn – and learn from some of the best sailors in the world. Peter Burling, Blair Tuke and the rest of the New Zealand team really enjoy having me and the other women on board, and teaching us as much as they can – they give you lots of opportunities to learn and ask questions , but also to hold you back. high esteem. They give you as much space as possible to make mistakes and learn from them.
It’s one of the hardest things about this environment – it’s so intense and you have such tight deadlines when you’re with the team training on the boat. So it’s very hard to make mistakes because you just don’t have time to do it.
But the guys on our team are really empowering and they allow us to make a mistake – but not to make it twice. And I really learned from that.
Change is happening and the gap between men’s and women’s sailing is gradually narrowing, even in just the second season of SailGP’s women’s programme. Having a woman aboard every boat in the nine-team series is part of the event’s strategy to promote inclusion, inspire change and provide better opportunities at all levels of sailing.
It gave me and Erica Dawson an unparalleled opportunity to sail these super-fast catamarans and learn from the best. Now Jo Aleh joins the team for the British Sailing Grand Prix this weekend in Plymouth.
I don’t know what full gender equality in sports looks like yet, I don’t think a lot of people do. However, I am convinced that we are heading in the right direction.
There are so many talented and hardworking women who deserve to show that they can be at the top of the sport and it will show.
Does true equality mean mixed sailing or a clear separation between men and women? I am not sure. I really enjoy sailing with both genders. The inequality within the SailGP teams comes from our level of experience, which is so different from that of the men. But my experience working with Pete, Blair and the guys has been nothing but positive – where they respect me, teach me and value my opinion as well. We just need to have those opportunities to be thrown in the deep end.
It was also great to meet other women who share the same values and the same vision as me. We want to be the best in the world, we want to sail these boats and we want to have the same opportunities as male sailors.
All women on board the F50 occupy the sixth role, called strategist or helmsman. We decided in our team that women should steer the boat out of maneuvers, in addition to assuming a communication role.
So I cross the boat with Blair before each maneuver, and when I get out of the boat, I control the helm while Pete runs to the other side.
It’s fantastic to spend time at the helm and a great way to understand the feel of the boat. My goal is definitely to be at the helm one day.
The other key element of my role on board is communication. It’s about the language, how we contribute on the boat with what we say. This communication obviously needs to be clear, calm and concise, because only one of us can speak at a time and things happen so quickly.
My job is to paint a picture of everything that happens in our periphery. With boat-on-boat situations, I try to paint a picture of what the rest of the fleet is doing. It is a role that is constantly evolving.
Another part of my job, which I don’t do often, is grinding. When the winds become too weak, we get two men off the boat, and the matelote becomes sharp. I definitely feel under-practiced on the grips, but it’s a great challenge and I enjoy the physicality of it.
On the first cast, I look around and everyone is sending it out, pushing the boat to the edge, and you’re thinking, ‘That’s not true’. Those first few minutes of racing are so intense and you push the boat to the absolute limit – it can be ridiculously fast, but it’s so much fun. Joining the 50 knot club was definitely a highlight.
It’s great that Pete and Blair have set up Live Ocean Racing, a commitment to accelerate women sailors’ journeys to events like SailGP and the America’s Cup – especially now that there will be a women’s regatta. America’s Cup in Barcelona.
I loved helming the ETF26, a high-performance catamaran sailing with three to four people on board. The circuit is really competitive and it’s a great opportunity to get more amazing high speed foiling experience for Kiwi women. We have already taken part in four events this year and the pace of learning has been enormous. So far we have had nine Kiwi women involved in the team and hope to bring more.
The positive effect that the announcement of the ETF, SailGP and America’s Cup is starting to have on New Zealand sailors is really cool. By talking to some of the young women at home, they are more motivated to get up to speed and may actually start to see a conceivable purpose in sailing. Not being able to see a lot of female role models in sports is tough and something I struggled with, so hopefully that will change.
It’s an amazing project, and it’s just the beginning. I really want to help build a strong team and hope to inspire more women in sport, especially on the high performance side. It will also be very exciting to see SailGP in Christchurch next March.
The change for women in sailing is underway, from high performance to grassroots. It’s hard because you want it to happen fast and it definitely feels slow. As long as there are women sailing foils and pushing – across Moth sailing, ETFs, SailGP and the America’s Cup – change will come.
* Coverage of the British Sailing Grand Prix in Plymouth will air on Sky Sport 1 on Sunday and Monday at 1am.