For the first time in the 173-year history of the America’s Cup, there will be a stand-alone Women’s event – the Puig Women’s America’s Cup – open to all female athletes regardless of age.

Alongside the established America’s Cup teams from New Zealand, Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy, USA and France (who will all field a Women’s Team), a further six yacht clubs have entered Women’s Teams including: Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, and Australia. This ultimate pathway event is aimed at bridging the experience-gap in America’s Cup regattas going forward and allows female athletes to upskill on the vagaries of modern foiling monohulls both in dedicated simulators and on the water in the AC40 class yachts.

A look at the history of women’s participating in the America’s Cup can be seen back as early as 1886 when Susan Henn, the wife of Lieutenant William Henn sailed aboard the Irish Challenger ‘Galatea.’ Legend has it that Susan insisted that her pet monkey ‘Peggy’ and her pet racoon came onboard as she kept the race timing.

Ian Dear Archive/PPL

 PHOTO CREDIT: Ian Dear Archive/PPL  ***Circa 1886: Mrs Henn 

In 1893, the Honourable Enid Wyndham-Quinn, the daughter of Lord Dunraven, sailed aboard the Valkyrie II as a valued and popular member of the crew but in 1934, the ‘Golden Era’ of the America’s Cup, two prominent women featured.

Elizabeth ‘Sis’ Hovey was the first women ever to win an international sailing event. The daughter of famous yacht owner Chandler Hovey, and an accomplished helm in her own right, in 1934 she sailed onboard the winning J-Class yacht ‘Rainbow’ as the Americans sailed to a 4-2 victory over Sir T.O.M.

Ian Dear Archive/PPL

PHOTO CREDIT: Ian Dear Archive/PPL Mrs Sherman Morss (Sis Hovey) at the helm of the US J-class yacht RAINBOW

Sopwith’s ‘Endeavour’ that also featured a woman in the America’s Cup Match in the form of Sopwith’s wife, Phyllis Sopwith.

Ian Dear Archive/PPL

PHOTO CREDIT: Ian Dear Archive/PPL  ***Circa 1934: Mrs Phyllis Sopwith at the helm of his British J-Class yacht ENDEAVOUR

Undeterred by defeat Phyllis Sopwith returned with her husband in 1937 aboard Endeavour II which was resoundingly beaten by ‘Ranger’ – widely considered the pinnacle of J-Class design. Onboard ‘Ranger’ there was Gertrude Vanderbilt, the wife of owner Harold Vanderbilt II with whom she raced and cruised extensively.

In the modern America’s Cup, the legendary American sailor Dawn Riley has arguably done more for gender equality than any other. In 1992, she sailed aboard Bill Koch’s America 3 programme in the Defender Series and by 1995 was team captain leading the defeated ‘Mighty Mary’ IACC campaign, again backed by Koch, in what was a ground-breaking moment for female athletes in the America’s Cup.

Bob Fisher Archive/PPL

PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Fisher Archive/PPL – 1995 America’s Cup – San Diego USA Dawn Riley, skipper of MIGHTY MARY

Leslie Egnot, the Olympic silver medallist was appointed as helm with Annie Nelson, fifty-time championship winner doing tactics and the ‘Might Mary’ syndicate went deep into the competition taking multiple race wins off Dennis Conner’s Stars ‘n’ Stripes and Kevin Mahaney’s ‘Young America.’ Throughout the boat, Dawn Riley had appointed athletes of the highest calibre bring in Olympic rowers like Amy Baltzell, Marci Porter and Stephanie Maxwell-Pierson, world renowned weight-lifters such as Stephanie Armitage-Johnson and body builders like Shelley Beattie. JJ Isler, Olympic sailing bronze medallist and twice World Sailor of the Year came in alongside veterans of Riley’s round the world campaign in 1993/94 such as Merritt Carey.

This was a blueprint being set that proved beyond any doubt that women could compete against the best in the world – and remember these were the days of coffee-grinders and simply enormous rope loads. The female athletes took it all on, won races and smashed the glass ceiling of the America’s Cup with sponsors ‘proud to be a part of the changing face of sailing’ – one even using that exact phrase in their advertising.

However, the lack of commitment to go again with an all-female crew after defeat in the Defender trials of 1995 saw Dawn Riley come back to the America’s Cup in 2000 in a management role to lead the ‘America True’ campaign, and in 2007 was the General Manager of the French ‘Areva Challenge’ in Valencia.

Bob Grieser/PPL

PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Grieser/PPL – 2000 America’s Cup, Auckland, New Zealand: The American IACC yacht AMERICA TRUE dialling up for the start of a match race against YOUGH AMERICA during the Louis Vuitton Cup challenge trials. 

As the end of the IACC era came to a close after the Valencia America’s Cup in 2007, the pinnacle of the sailing world changed with the arrival of catamarans after the Deed of Gift Challenge in 2010. Almost immediately, by 2013, the boats were flying on foils and again the loadings went up and the gender balance went down.

Shoreside there were still plenty of positions for women throughout the teams but with 50% of the audience for the America’s Cup being female, the kernel of change started to be formed at the 2021 regatta where the awesome power of the AC75 was released. After the dominant victory of Emirates Team New Zealand in that regatta, Grant Dalton and his management team recognised the gap that was emerging and so, with the advent of a new design in the AC40 class, the opportunity presented itself to create something very special for Barcelona in 2024.

For the first time in the 173-year history of the America’s Cup, there will be a stand-alone Women’s event, the Puig Women’s America’s Cup, that is open to all female athletes regardless of age.

This ultimate pathway event is aimed at bridging the experience-gap in America’s Cup regattas going forward and allows female athletes to upskill on the vagaries of modern foiling monohulls both in dedicated off-water simulators and on the water in the AC40 class yachts. The challenge to bridge the gap has been taken up with aplomb all around the world by the very best female athletes and with extensive trials either going on right now, or having been concluded, the talent that is coming through is immense. Highly prized are the foiling and high-performance Olympic classes and looking across the teams, the talent is immense.

Emirates Team New Zealand have the likes of Gold & Silver medallist Jo Aleh, and silver medallist Molly Meech. INEOS Britannia is spearheaded by the double gold and single silver medallist Hannah Mills, silver medallist Anna Burnet and gold medallist Saskia Clark whilst in the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team, the likes of three-time Olympian Giulia Conti and two-time Olympian Giovanna Micol have been appointed.

The Olympic Games however is not the only pathway into the teams and we’re seeing new talent emerging through the dedicated foiling classes, which is an interesting and new dynamic to reaching the pinnacle of the sport. Current world Waszp and International Moth world champion Hattie Rogers has made the Youth Team for INEOS Britannia whilst Olivia Mackay, the World Champion Red Bull Foiling Generation has made the Emirates Team New Zealand Women’s squad. Talent, wherever it comes from is being courted and pushed through at pace.

Furthermore today, within the teams there are numerous high-profile women in a wide number of key shoreside and design roles and to pick just a few, we have Aurore Kerr for Alinghi Red Bull Racing being a key Structural Engineer working on the foil packages, Elise Beavis appointed as Performance Engineer and Data Analyst for Emirates Team New Zealand and Sophie Heritage one of the key boat captains for INEOS Britannia. And that’s the tip of a very large iceberg – women are taking key roles in the Louis Vuitton 37th America’s Cup.

The pathway is lit for female athletes to take their rightful place at the very apex of world sailing with the Puig Women’s America’s Cup Match-race Final taking place in the glare of the global media spotlight in-between races of the Louis Vuitton 37th America’s Cup Match. We will see the future and the finest female athletes going head-to-head in a winner-take-all race that will propel female participation to the next level.

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