New Zealand Olympic sailor Gemma Jones has been invited to join the first all-female crew in the Extreme Sailing Series next month.
Jones, who was the only woman at the helm of the mixed gender Nacra 17 class in the medal race of the Rio Olympics, will join the Thalassa Magenta Racing team in the penultimate event of the GC32 circuit in Lisbon.
The 22-year-old harbours ambitions to helm the New Zealand entry in next year's Youth America's Cup in Bermuda, and said the opportunity to race on the foiling GC32 catamarans will provide valuable multihull racing experience. Jones has applied to be a part of the joint Team New Zealand-Yachting New Zealand entry at next year's youth event, which is sailed in the one-design AC45 catamarans currently used on America's Cup World Series circuit.
Jones, who with crewmate Jason Saunders finished fourth in the Nacra 17 class in Rio, said she is excited to get the opportunity to test herself in a foiling class.
"It's what I really enjoy, it really suits my style of sailing so I'm lucky that it all seems to be moving that way into foiling," said Jones, the daughter of America's Cup legend Murray, and Barcelona Olympic silver medallist Jan Shearer.
"I really love being out of my comfort zone with the speed and that high performance side of the sport, so that is definitely the alley I want to go down."
Should Jones be picked for the New Zealand entry, she would almost certainly be the first woman to helm one of the high-speed foiling catamarans - a major breakthrough for the female sailors. The Thalassa Magenta Racing team is a part of a growing movement for greater representation of women on the professional sailing circuits.
The team was started in partnership with the Magenta Project, which aims to give female sailors opportunities and pathways to compete at the highest performance levels of the sport. The team's entry into the Lisbon Act is part of a long-term ambition to create an all-female crew capable of being competitive in the Extreme Sailing Series.
"I think it is a really good time for female sailing as well, it's becoming a lot bigger and there is a lot more opportunities like with the Volvo [Ocean Race] talking about having compulsory spots for women on each boat," said Jones.
The Thalassa team is led by New Zealand Olympian Sharon Ferris-Choat, who now sails for Canada, and will race with six crew members as opposed to five on the all-male boats. Jones has been earmarked for the mainsheet role, and will also serve as back-up helm to Ferris-Choat, the only women currently racing on board a GC32.
"I've never even seen one of these boats, so it will be a steep learning curve. Luckily we have a few days training together before the event and we'll mix around and see what suits everyone seeing as everyone is so new to it."
The participation of Thalassa Magenta Racing at Lisbon follows a GC32 training week earlier in the year for the all-female crew that saw a huge progression in skill and technique for the team.
"To be the first all-female crew in the Extreme Sailing Series is a proud moment for all the girls in our GC32 squad. We have so many girls wanting to compete at an elite level of sailing - there is an absolute need to create this opportunity," said Ferris-Choat.
The team is the second wildcard entry to be announced for the Lisbon Act, following the news that Norauto, skippered by Kiwi match-racing ace Adam Minoprio, will also make its Extreme Sailing Series debut at the penultimate Act of the year, bringing the tally to of teams on the starting grid to nine.