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McConaghy 2022 - MC63p & MC75 LEADERBOARD

Womens professional sailing: "They allow us to make a mistake - but not do it twice" - Liv Mackay

by Liv Mackay/ 28 Jul 17:55 PDT 29 July 2022
Liv Mackay driving - NZSailGP team in a practice session ahead of SailGP San Francisco - March 2022 © Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

In the thrilling, supercharged world of foiling, women need to leap on every opportunity on the water, writes top Kiwi sailor Liv Mackay, to ensure female professional sailing keeps heading in the right direction.

It's an experience that's hard to describe in words. It's like stepping into a whole different world; high-paced, exhilarating. I can't get enough of it.

The F50 has some of the latest technology in the sport and SailGP is the type of sailing that once you put your helmet on, you have to be switched on, every time. You know the stakes are high.

Your adrenalin is pumping for as long as you’re racing. You have a lot of trust in each other as a team - and in all the other sailors who are out 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 bonds you as a team.

The speeds you’re travelling at 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’re collecting bruises being slammed from one hull to the other.

You learn so much about yourself on the F50; more than I’ve experienced on any boat before. You’re put into these really intense situations, and you discover how you react under pressure. It’s fascinating.

You can find yourself in some pretty hair-raising situations, too. Racing in San Francisco with the New Zealand SailGP team, we almost landed on top of the French boat.

A wave of shock comes over you at the time, but you have to carry on sailing. It’s not until you’re watching footage of the race afterwards that you realise you came this close to seriously hurting people. It’s pretty crazy.

Everyone learns from a situation like that, but at the same time, it emphasises that you’re racing in the most extreme environment in sailing right now. That’s what makes it so exciting and what we all train for.

This is my second season racing in SailGP, and I feel I’ve come a long way in understanding what level I need to get to, in order to race the 50.

Racing these boats is insanely cool; the technology behind them is incredible. Even what it takes to get the boat on the water is at another level.

It’s set a whole new standard of what I want to be doing in sailing. I love everything about it.

I’m fortunate to be in a position 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 are really embracing having me and the other females on board, and teaching us as much as possible - they give you plenty of scope to learn and ask questions, but also hold you in high regard. They give you as much space as they can to make mistakes and learn from them.

That’s one of the hardest things in this environment – it’s so intense and you have such short time frames when you’re with the team to get training on the boat. So it’s really hard to make mistakes because you just don’t have the time to.

But the guys in our team are really empowering, and they allow us to make a mistake - but not do it twice. And I’ve really learnt from that.

Change is happening, and the gap between men’s and women’s sailing is gradually closing, even in just the second season of SailGP’s women’s pathway programme. Having one woman on board every boat in the nine-team series is part of the event’s strategy to promote inclusion, inspire change and provide better opportunities across all levels of sailing.

It’s given me and Erica Dawson an unrivalled opportunity to sail these lightning-quick cats, and learn from the best. Now Jo Aleh is joining the team for this weekend's Great Britain Sail Grand Prix in Plymouth.

I'm not sure yet what full gender equality in the sport looks like, I don't think many people do. I do, however, strongly believe we are heading in the right direction.

There are so many skilled and hard-working women who deserve to show they can be at the top of the sport and that will show through.

Does true equality mean mixed sailing or a clear divide between male and female? I'm not sure. I really enjoy sailing with both genders. The inequality within the SailGP teams comes with our experience level, as it's so different to the men's. But my experience working with Pete, Blair and the guys has only been positive - where they respect me, teach me and also value my opinion. We just need to be given those opportunities to be thrown in the deep end.

It’s also been great to meet other women who share the same values and 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 male sailors have.

All females onboard the F50 are in the sixth role, called the strategist or helm assist. We've decided in our team that the women should steer the boat out of manoeuvres, as well taking on a communication role.

So I cross the boat with Blair before each manoeuvre, and as the boat exits, I control the wheel while Pete’s running to the other side.

It’s fantastic to get time on the helm, and a great way to understand the feeling of the boat. Definitely my goal is to be helming one day.

For the rest of this story

Liv Mackay is a professional sailor who's part of the New Zealand SailGP team and helm of the Live Ocean Racing team.

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