Four years ago, the closest Australian Olympic sailing medalists Lisa Darmanin and Nina Curtis could get to the America’s Cup was by taking jobs in a hospitality lounge on site in Bermuda.
They’ll be back in Bermuda in just a few days, this time with the defending champion Australian team in SailGP as part of a developmental program designed to fast-track the inclusion of women into the global league.
“It’s exciting because Nina was with me doing the same sort of hospitality thing. So it’s cool for us to go back together and represent women in a more exciting way,” Darmanin said from Sydney.
Darmanin and Curtis were part of SailGP’s inaugural season in 2019, but not as sailors. Darmanin was a TV commentator and Curtis worked in the guest chaser program, where guests got a close-up look at the racing from speed boats.
“It was a cool job but I’d much rather be sailing,” Curtis said.
Darmanin and Curtis will be immersed with the team in Bermuda for the opening regatta of Season 2 on April 24-25. Following the preseason training and development, one of them will be selected to join the team for the rest of the season.
Darmanin said it’s a privilege and a big responsibility “to prove that as women we can actually do a good job. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to get on the boat and see what it’s about.”
SailGP was founded by five-time America’s Cup winner Russell Coutts of New Zealand and tech tycoon Larry Ellison after their Oracle Team USA lost the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda. It is contested in souped-up versions of the foiling 50-foot catamarans that were used in that America’s Cup.
While SailGP doesn’t have the same cachet as the America’s Cup, it has more teams than were entered in the most recent edition of sailing’s marquee regatta and is loaded with the world’s best sailors from the America’s Cup and Olympic ranks. Among them are Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who last month helped Emirates Team New Zealand successfully defend the America’s Cup. The losing helmsman, Jimmy Spithill of Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team, is taking over as CEO and helmsman of the U.S. SailGP team.
Australia SailGP Team CEO and helmsman Tom Slingsby said there’s no specific timeline other than having a female crewmember onboard sometime later in the season, first for practice racing and then in a real race.
“As soon as we hit the water in Bermuda, those girls are part of our sailing team,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup winner who steered the Aussies to the Season 1 SailGP championship and the $1 million prize.
Once they’ve been familiarized with the boat, the women will start getting experience in the role they’re interested in, such as flight controller, wing trimmer and even helm.
Darmanin’s first cousin and Olympic sailing partner, Jason Waterhouse, is Team Australia’s flight controller, so she might eventually be going after his job. They’ve sailed together for years, including winning the silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in the high-performance Nacra 17 mixed gender catamaran. They’ve earned a berth in the delayed Tokyo Games.
Darmanin knows it’ll be tough for one of the men to have to give up his job, “but it’s just as tough for us. We’re just trying to catch up from not having the opportunity in the past when these guys did.”
Darmanin and Curtis know the learning curve is going to be steep.
“Russell actually said to us not so long ago, ‘These boats are tough for anyone to sail, it’s not just because you’re women that it’s going to be hard,’” Darmanin said. “Anyone coming in trying to learn these boats, it’s going to be a challenge.”
Curtis was part of the Aussie women's match-racing team that won a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics and also sailed with Team Brunel on the final five legs of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race. Among her crewmates on the team that finished third were Kyle Langford, the Australia SailGP Team wing trimmer, and Burling.
“I’m really hoping it’s going to be a similar experience because it was one of my favorites in my career jumping on board that boat,” Curtis said. “It’s just that up until now there hasn’t been much to aspire to for females in terms of America’s Cup and foiling boats. And so I’m really looking forward to that.”
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