The youngest person to sail across the Tasman solo has revealed he almost gave up on the sport due to fears about coming out as gay.

Cory McLennan was just 19 when he sailed from Port Taranaki to Mooloolaba in Australia, becoming the youngest sailor ever to complete the voyage alone.

He had planned to take part in the Vendee Globe solo round-the-world yacht race but was close to giving up on his dreams as he was afraid of how his sexuality would be received.

"I went into hiding," McLennan said.


"I was scared that someone would find out, scared of what would happen to me. I nearly gave up sailing because I didn't believe that I would be accepted, and I felt I couldn't do it and be myself."

Now 23, McLennan has decided to inspire others who are scared of the stigma surrounding homosexuality in New Zealand sport.

He's launched Rainbow Racing, a project that will see him compete in high-profile races over the next 10 years while promoting a message of acceptance and inclusiveness.

"The aim is to make people feel safer, and feel they can be included. I want to use sailing as the gateway.

"Sailing is quite a masculine sport like rugby, and it's something that is quite close to me. Hopefully with me out there out there on the water they'll see and think 'why's that boat wrapped up in rainbow flags' and hopefully we can get that message across and get people to think about it."

McLennan told the Herald he struggled to come to terms with being honest about who he was.

"I had the perception that [sailing] was seen as a masculine sport and I wouldn't be accepted. Especially in New Zealand - we have quite a bad problem with homophobia and the perception of homophobia."

Out on the Fields, a 2015 international study, found 87 per cent of the nearly 9500 participants had witnessed homophobia.


McLennan came out two years ago, and said before he did he was "scared of the unknown".

"I'm from the West Coast of the South Island originally and it's quite an old fashioned way of thinking. It's a place where men are men and that type of stuff, there was a bit of fear.

"It's the perception that it's not going to be all right. I talked myself out of that because of the fear. It was a huge thing to come to terms with and when I did actually [come out] I was a lot better for it."

Cory McLennan hopes to take his message of acceptance internationally. Photo / Supplied
Cory McLennan hopes to take his message of acceptance internationally. Photo / Supplied

He plans on taking his message internationally through racing from New Zealand to Australia - where same-sex marriage is illegal - and the Pacific Islands.

"It's a good chance to spread this inclusion message further afield than New Zealand. It allows other people to think about what they're doing."

"It's a huge political message but it's about saying to people over there this is what we're doing down in New Zealand."

McLennan said he was inspired to affect change by his childhood hero Sir Peter Blake.

"He was able to pull people together and have everyone as a community following his adventures and that's really the word I want to use."

Yachting New Zealand has thrown their support behind the project.

Chief executive David Abercrombie said they believe their sport is "inclusive".

"There are opportunities for everyone. Yachting New Zealand and World Sailing are aligned in their strategic direction and one of the aspects of that is inclusivity.

"We wish Cory well with his campaign and sailing ambitions."

McLennan aims to compete in the Solo Trans-Tasman Yacht challenge in April next year before tackling June's Auckland to Noumea race.

"It's not easy to come out - it means putting myself out there and conquering my own fear - but if what I'm doing can help just one person with their fear, it'll be worth it."

The Waterboy is an organisation that has started a series of talks with prominent sporting figures, including All Black Tawera Kerr-Barlow on the issue of homophobia in New Zealand sport.

Chief executive Thomas Nabbs said New Zealand is making progress in accepting sexuality differences but there is "still a long way to go".

"I personally feel there is a large portion of Kiwis who know that we ought to be accepting in principle but are still not comfortable with it in reality. I still hear teenagers calling things 'gay' on a daily basis, and using homophobic slurs as put-downs.

"I've noticed a correlation between staunch macho cultures and acceptance of sexual diversity. The correlation being, the more staunch and macho the culture, the less accepting they are of sexual diversity. "