Back to top anchor
Close main menu
Open main menu Close main menu

'No better time to go all in': America's Cup sailors share advice with future female stars

Issue date

If she weren't sailing, Liv Mackay would almost certainly be working on a farm. Gemma Jones would be in an office or a boardroom, and you'd find Veerle ten Have scoring goals on the hockey field.

However, these top sailors are instead excelling on the water, thanks to a boom in opportunities for females in the sport.

"It is an incredible time to be a woman in sailing," said Mackay at the Emirates Team New Zealand Women and Youth America's Cup question-and-answer session last weekend. 

The event was titled Shaping the Future of Sailing and was hosted by Kohimarama Yacht Club as part of the PredictWind Girls Champs regatta. 

"Female sailors today have so many more opportunities and pathways than those who came before and the timing couldn't be better [to get into sailing]."

Mackay would know - the 28-year-old has just been selected to represent Emirates Team New Zealand in the inaugural Women's America's Cup in Barcelona later this year, after spending the last few years as a key member of the New Zealand SailGP team and helming the Live Ocean Racing Team in the ETF26 Grand Prix since its inception in 2022.

She was joined at KYC by two-time Olympian and ocean sailor Jones, and ten Have, the country's top female windfoiler who will make her Olympic debut in France in July.

Jones will sail with Mackay at the Women's America's Cup while ten Have is the only female in the five-strong youth team.

Liv Mackay shared advice - and her autograph - at the event. Photos / Kohimarama Yacht Club

Liv Mackay shared advice - and her autograph - at the event. Photos / Kohimarama Yacht Club

Speaking to many of the 120 sailors at the girls-only event, the trio offered a glimpse into the future of sailing in the country.

"Having a team in the America's Cup is massive for women's sailing," Mackay said. "Many people are putting in a huge amount of work to ensure we show how good we can be at the event but, even more importantly, we all want to keep this momentum going and to grow [female participation and retention]."

These opportunities aren't limited to only the America's Cup either, Mackay said.

"There are so many other avenues in sailing now and you only have to look around social media to see how the whole sport is changing. There is a real desire for more women and girls to come through and take those opportunities. If you're a girl, there is no better time to go all in."

Ten Have is proof that not every sailing story follows the same script.

"I didn't start sailing until I was about 14 and I've only ever been in a sailing dinghy maybe 10 times," she said. "I enjoyed horse riding at school, and I played water polo, volleyball and hockey competitively and I only tried out windsurfing when my horse broke her pelvis, and I couldn't go riding anymore.

"At first I hated it. It was wet and cold, and I was scared, and I was losing but I stuck to it because I loved the speed and the freedom that it offered me."


Many of the 120 sailors competing at the PredictWind Girls Champs took part in the Emirates Team New Zealand Women and Youth America's Cup question-and-answer session. Photos / Kohimarama Yacht Club

While ten Have had a relatively late introduction to the sport, Jones jokingly described herself a "purebred sailor" referring to the exploits of seven-time America's Cup winner dad Murray Jones, and mum Jan Shearer, who won 470 silver at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

Gemma finished fourth in the mixed multihull Nacra 17 at the Rio Games but took a break from sailing three years ago to established herself as a senior business consultant with EY in Auckland. Late last year, the chance to again become part of a sailing team - this time with Emirates Team New Zealand - came up.

That same sense of being part of a group is key to retaining more girls, she believes: "The social aspect is really important. Training together and making really good friends will keep girls sailing longer."

And, of course, more events like the Girls Champs.

"As a windsurfer, I spent a lot of time alone when I was growing up and regattas like this just show that many other girls are sailing," ten Have said.

"It creates a feeling of inclusiveness; it makes you feel like you belong somewhere."

Raynor Haagh, Yachting New Zealand's national sport development director, thanked the sailors for sharing their respective journeys at the event. 

"There hasn't always been an abundance of female role models for our young sailors, but Liv, Gemma and Veerle are true trailblazers. They will be making history at the America's Cup and our younger girls can all look up to them," Haagh said.

 "A key focus of Yachting New Zealand's women and girls in sailing strategy, through initiatives like SheSails NZ, is on retaining females in our sport. Having strong role models like these three women is a crucial part of that."