Lisa Darmanin is eager to break the glass ceiling on the Australia SailGP Team, even if it means dislodging her cousin and Olympic sailing partner, Jason Waterhouse.
Darmanin was one of three top Aussie women sailors who participated in an invitational camp recently in Sydney as part of a new program aimed at accelerating the inclusion of female athletes in SailGP, the global league co-founded by New Zealander Russell Coutts and tech titan Larry Ellison.
The women sailed WASZP one-person foiling dinghies, giving skipper Tom Slingsby the chance to assess their potential ability on the 50-foot foiling catamarans used in SailGP.
Darmanin said she’d be interested in being the flight controller or wing trimmer with the Australian team. The Aussies dominated the inaugural season in 2019, including a victory in the $1 million winner-take-all season finale.
Waterhouse, who is Darmanin’s first cousin, is currently Australia SailGP Team’s flight controller. 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 class.
“We’ve already had that discussion,” Darmanin said in an interview. “I said, ‘I don’t want to take your job, mate.’ He said, ‘Well, if it’s not you, it could be somebody else, so definitely give it a go.’
“That’s the cool thing,” she added. “I’ve learned a lot about the F-50 from Jason, just because I’m interested in the technology. It’s the pinnacle of sailing. He’s a fantastic teacher. Yeah, it would be tough for him, but he has had experience in the America’s Cup; he had a bit of a coaching role there. He just wants to see the Australian team do well. He’ll do whatever’s best for the team. It’ll be interesting, but he’s cool about it.”
Darmanin and Waterhouse won the ISAF Youth Worlds in 2009 in a Hobie 16 and later moved into the Nacra 17. She pointed out that all their successes have been shared.
“He’s just had a few opportunities that I haven’t had, like Youth America’s Cup, the Extreme 40 Series, which then gave him the door opening to get into the America’s Cup, which gave him the door to get into SailGP,” she said.
“It’s that one door that opens, opens the rest. For me, none of those doors has opened, so I haven’t had the chance to get any big boat experience, fast boat experience to then get on the SailGP.
“That’s why as a female who’s really passionate about women in sport, I don’t want to have to be mandated. That’s not the way we really want to do things. To be realistic, that’s the only way it’s going to happen. We’re too far behind.”
If Darmanin is given a door, “I hope I kick it down pretty hard,” she said.
Others participating in the camp were Nina Curtis and Natasha Bryant. Mara Stransky and Hayley Outteridge were also selected for the camp but were unable to attend due to COVID-19 border restrictions in Australia.
Outteridge’s brother, Nathan, is skipper of Japan SailGP Team, as well as an Olympic gold and silver medallist in the 49er class. The Outteridges campaigned in the Nacra 17 for a spot in the delayed Tokyo Games, but Darmanin and Waterhouse were selected to make a return trip to the Olympics.
Curtis also is an Olympic silver medallist and sailed with Team Brunel in the 2017/2018 Volvo Ocean Race, which allows teams to have bigger crews if they add women. Bryant was named the Youth World Champion in 2016 for the 29er class and also recently campaigned for the Olympics in the FX class.
Two of the women will be selected to join the Australian team when SailGP’s pandemic-delayed second season restarts in Bermuda on April 24-25.
Following the preseason training and development in Bermuda, at least one of the athletes will be selected to join the team for the rest of the season.
“I think it’s a good thing to open the pathway for women. Unfortunately, they probably haven’t had the opportunities as the men have had in the past,” said Slingsby, who won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics and then helped Oracle Team USA win the America’s Cup in 2013 with a stunning comeback.
Slingsby said he’ll likely let the women pick which role they’d like to try out for and then give them plenty of training time.