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America's Cup: "You’re inspiring women to go chase their own dreams"

by Suzanne McFadden 3 Mar 2019 14:05 PST 4 March 2019
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 4, Melbourne to Hong Kong, day 05 on board Dongfeng. The beautiful Carolijn Brouwer smiling, good vibes today onboard dongfeng. © Martin Keruzore / Volvo Ocean Race

Carolijn Brouwer knows that, floating somewhere in the world wide web, there’s a photo of her holding the America’s Cup aloft on the edge of the Waitemata Harbour. The caption reads: “Dreams never die."

The photo was taken back in 2003, on the day that Swiss team Alinghi wrested the world’s oldest sporting trophy from Team New Zealand.

Brouwer was torn that day. One of her best mates, Pieter van Niekerk, was the Alinghi team manager, which was why she was allowed to hold the revered Auld Mug.

But Brouwer, a Dutchwoman who'd been crowned World Sailor of the Year, had a close affinity with New Zealand. For years, she’d spent Kiwi summers in Auckland, sailing on the Hauraki Gulf in the lead-up to her Olympic campaigns.

So it’s not really surprising that, 18 years later, Brouwer will return to Auckland trying to grab the America’s Cup off the New Zealanders again.

Her own dream has never died.

If all goes according to plan, and Brouwer proves herself to be the fastest at the wheel for the rookie Team The Netherlands (aka DutchSail), she will become the first woman to helm a challenger yacht in America’s Cup history.

She follows on from New Zealand sailor Leslie Egnot, who in 1995 was the first helmswoman of a boat in the Cup's defender trials, in the almost all-women crew of America3.

Taking on Brouwer, now 45, as part of the Dutch crew is no cursory nod to women sailors. Skipper Simeon Tienpont, who offered Brouwer the role over the phone, has made it clear she was chosen because of her wealth of experience, and her understanding of how professional sailing campaigns are run.

There’s no question Brouwer has the credentials. She has sailed at three Olympics and in three Volvo Ocean Races. Twice she has been named World Sailor of the Year. Last year, she and Frenchwomen Marie Riou and Justine Mettraux, became the first women to win the round-the-world race, on board Chinese boat Dong Feng.

“What’s happened in sailing history is that girls have come on board big boat crews often because they are lighter. They start off with the clean-up jobs,” Brouwer says.

“But there’s no point putting me up on the bow or up the mast. My added value is in trimming and driving. It’s an area I know I can compete against a lot of very experienced, knowledgeable guys.”

She’s aware of the significance of her helming role, and the example it sets for women and girls.

“But that isn’t the reason why I’m doing this,” she says. “I wanted to win the Volvo, and I’ve always wanted to win the America’s Cup. Whether it’s with all-women or with guys, I don’t give a damn. As long as I’m part of it.

“But, as a result, you’re inspiring women to go chase their own dreams. And that’s great.”

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