It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I got to race for the first time on an F50 as part of the Great Britain SailGP Team. So much has happened for me personally since and it feels like Cadiz last year was such a momentous occasion for women and girls in sailing. A catalyst for so much more to come. The below might read like a love letter, but in many ways, it is - a love for the sport, the WPP sparked a huge opportunity and pathway for women and girls in sailing.
Looking back at Cadiz last year, I still remember the huge onset of nerves before that weekend - finding out female athletes would actually be racing as the strategist on board. I’d previously spent around 10 days at various SailGP events training on the boat with GBR in the 6 th person role, but I had limited input into the racing at this point because I wasn’t onboard whilst the team was actually racing.
Landing in Cadiz I had 2 days to get up to speed with as much of the technical information displayed on the wing to be able to input directly, effectively and succinctly into Ben (Ainslie) to help him make the best decision possible in the moment. It was a steep learning curve, understanding the course boundaries, course mapping and different numbers on the wing display was one thing, but then being able to use this at the right time and when relevant for Ben - alongside getting my head out and looking at the wind and other boats on the water was a challenge. I absolutely loved it. I was amazed at how similar it was to the racing I’d been doing my whole life but at a much slower pace in the 470. How relevant the communication skills I’d learnt sailing a two- person boat, helped me step into this role in a larger team too.
A few months after this incredible experience, I became pregnant and so for me, time racing on the F50 was at a stop. However, it presented a brilliant opportunity to be able to bring on more female athletes within GBR and work with Ben on how we could build a larger pathway programme for young talent within our home country.
I particularly want to highlight how incredible it’s been over the last 9 months or so to work with a team who have kept me involved and feeling like part of the team, right up until now when I am almost ready to have a baby! I’ve been incredibly lucky to attend most of the SailGP events since Cadiz, helping with the team’s sustainability strategy and mentoring other female athletes. Getting to work with Hannah Diamond and Nikki Boniface, who we brought on to rotate through the different events and see them starting to shine and thrive in this environment has been brilliant.
Nikki in particular has had some challenging experiences onboard, with a big wipe out on the boat during training in Bermuda at the start of this season and then Copenhagen when the team missed racing due to hitting an unmarked object in the water. But the way she has bounced back each time and never given up has been awesome to watch. Hannah has also been massively growing in confidence and solidifying her role within the team at the events she’s been at, making some brilliant strategical calls in St Tropez last time out and steering during manoeuvres. For me it just goes to show that when your given an opportunity and you’re ready to grab it with everything you have got, then you really see what can be achieved.
On top of the WPP that SailGP have launched, Ben and I were also keen to build something within the UK that would give more female and youth sailors an opportunity to up-skill in this type of high-performance racing. The Athena Pathway programme was born and with the support of Rolex we launched the programme in August at Cowes week and purchased an ETF 26 foiling catamaran which we keep in Weymouth, UK. Through this and other boats, we can bring new people into this environment, expose them to this type of sailing and hopefully create many more opportunities for women within the sailing industry, whilst also widening the pool of talent for the SailGP GBR team and also building the British Team for the Women’s and Youth America’s Cup.
Next week Athena Pathway begin their racing on the ETF circuit, it’s been so exciting to see the team develop each time they train. We’ve taken huge game-changing strides for women in high performance sailing over the last year, but it’s just the start, the future is super exciting!