Great Britain strategist Hannah Mills has called for SailGP’s Women’s Pathway Program to evolve into a mixed gender league with a 50/50 split between male and female athletes.
Speaking to SailGP’s Deep Dive podcast, Mills was asked whether she would prefer the program to evolve into a separate female-dedicated league or a mixed female/ male league.
“My vision is definitely one league with mixed boats," she said. Sailing lends itself to mixed gender teams, Mills said, adding that there are ‘some roles’ on board, specifically the Driver, flight controller and wing trimmer, where the ‘physical barrier isn’t a problem’.
“There’s no reason that once the female athletes have been given the time on board and got the skills, that they can’t compete with the guys for these roles,” she said.
She added that a mixed league would ‘inspire so many girls and boys to look up to what’s going on in SailGP and think slightly differently about men and women.”
Podcast presenter David ‘Freddie’ Carr, who fronts the podcast with Stevie Morrison, agreed with Mills, arguing that the only thing currently separating the male and female athletes is an ‘experience imbalance’.
“Once that time on the tools and time on the boat has been equalled, there’s going to be the possibility for anything," Carr said.
Elsewhere in the podast, Mills discussed her role as strategist on board the Great Britain F50 in more detail, revealing that it's her job to anticipate the thought processes and decisions of Driver Ben Ainslie.
“I am thinking about what Ben’s thinking about, what’s he not seeing up the course, what’s the next decision that needs to be made that he’s not made yet because he’s distracted by another boat,” she said.
“I’m just trying to re-empt what is useful for Ben in any moment and communicate that at the right time.”
Mills, who is currently sitting out most of the season due to pregnancy, said her temporary absence from an on-board position is opening the door to more female athletes joining the team. Hannah Diamond and Nikki Boniface entered the league in Season 3 and are currently taking on the strategist role in rotation.
“Being pregnant means I can’t be on the boat but it also means we’ve got a really good opportunity to get more amazingly talented female sailors on board as part of the team.”
This includes training Boniface and Diamond in the positions of flight controller and wing trimmer while ‘embedding them in that strategist role’. “It’s been very cool to see their development,” Mills said.
Reflecting on Great Britain’s Season 3 performance so far, Mills admitted the team is ‘not doing a good enough job of switching into attacking mode’ when it comes to the three boat winner-takes-all final race.
Great Britain secured second and third place finishes in Bermuda and Chicago respectively, but failed to beat Tom Slingsby’s Australia to the finish line in both events.
While the team has adopted a more consistent racing strategy in the nine boat fleet race, Mills said they haven’t yet nailed the format of the final race.
“The three boat final is much more punchy and risky in terms of your strategy and that’s probably the area that we haven’t switched enough from those two races on the Sunday to the final race,” she said. “To really change the strategy to work for the three boat final is hard.”
Looking ahead to the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix | Plymouth next week, Mills said the home support is certain to ‘up the ante and add to the excitement’.
“We can’t wait for the home support and for people to be cheering and getting behind us,” she said. “Ben hasn’t raced in the UK for five or six years so he’ll be absolutely buzzing.”
The Deep Dive podcast is available on all major podcast platforms and will feature new episodes ahead of each event of SailGP Season 3.