Women will race aboard foiling 50-foot catamarans in the SailGP global league for the first time starting this weekend at the Spain Sail Grand Prix in Cádiz.
Each of the eight teams will have a woman racing in the sixth sailor position behind the driver as part of SailGP’s Women’s Pathway Program, introduced to provide women with the experience needed to sail the high-performance catamarans.
The addition of the women raises the number of crew members to six per boat in the normal configuration and four in light wind.
Joining the U.S. team for her first competition is 18-year-old CJ Perez of Honolulu. Perez, who last week won the 2021 USA WASZP National Championship, is the youngest sailor to compete in SailGP and the first Latina.
Sailing on the F50 catamarans “feels like a rocket ship,” said Perez, who has extensive foiling experience. “We’re moving at speeds never experienced before and flying so high out of the water. I’m most looking forward to fighting it out at the starting line this weekend. I can’t imagine how exciting that will be.”
Joining the British team is Hannah Mills, who became the most successful female Olympic sailor when she won a gold medal at the Tokyo Games to push her career total to two golds and one silver.
“It’s a really great step forward for the female athletes to be in the thick of it, witnessing it all, getting in and helping wherever we can — tactics, strategy, and communications,” Mills said. “I am really excited for that. The adrenaline rush is going to be massive, it already is when we do the practice racing.”
Mills joins British skipper Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor ever with four golds and one silver. Ainslie, who recently bought a majority stake in the British SailGP team, also is a former America’s Cup champion.
The other women joining the fleet are Nina Curtis of Australia, Katja Salskov-Iversen of Denmark, Amelie Riou of France, Sena Takano of Japan, Erica Dawson of New Zealand, and Andrea Emone of Spain.
Cádiz is the sixth of eight regattas this season. Teams began the year recruiting and training women sailors. Each team has had at least one woman embedded with the crew, gaining insight and onboard experience.
SailGP was founded by American tech tycoon Larry Ellison and New Zealander Sir Russell Coutts, a five-time America’s Cup champion.
“It is our responsibility as a global league to ensure we create a culture and sporting championship that has gender equity,” Coutts said. “It is no secret that there is currently an experience gap among women at the top of the sport. … We recognize we have to go further to close the gap and work quicker to accelerate change, which is why we are taking this next step. It is imperative to break existing boundaries and create a more inclusive environment.”
Perez recently joined US SailGP skipper Jimmy Spithill, a two-time America’s Cup winner, and crew members Andrew Campbell and Alex Sinclair in putting on a Foiling First: Learn to Foil Camp for Chicago youth.
It was the first time she met her new teammates. Having just turned 18, this will be the first time she will sail with them.
“I can’t wait to sail with them and basically learn everything that they’ve been doing a lot of their lives and take it for myself,” Perez said.
“I’ll be taking wisdom from all the coaches and sailors around. A lot of it is just learning from the whole atmosphere of being with the team, not only just sailing, but learning how to rig up the boat and put it away, and debriefs, which is something that will help a lot. I’ll also get some training time on the boat, which is key.”
Perez said she’d ultimately like to become a skipper or take on one of the technical positions like flight controller or wing trimmer. She is a freshman engineering student at UC Berkeley, studying online so she can sail.
With three regattas left, the U.S. team is fighting to remain in the top three to have a shot at the $1 million, winner-take-all prize that will be determined in San Francisco in March.
Japan tops the fleet with 37 points, followed by the United States and Australia with 35 each, Great Britain 32, Spain 31, New Zealand 30, and Denmark and France 28 each.
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