Ocean Fifty UpWind by MerConcept

How UpWind by MerConcept is preparing for the Route du Rhum 2026

The seven female sailors involved in the UpWind By MerConcept project have just been selected following four days of testing and sailing in ConcarneauFocus on this Ocean Fifty project supported by 11th Hour Racing and skippered by Francesca Clapcich.

Of the 120 applications from 30 different nationalities received by MerConcept – “some of which were of a very high quality”, emphasizes Louis Giard, the team manager of UpWind by MerConcept – 16 were chosen for this week of selection combining interviews, physical tests and sailing in Diam 24s and on Ocean Fifty, Armel Tripon’s ex-LesPtits Doudous.

Our aim was not to recruit the best female sailors for each position and create a crew of superstars,” continues Louis Giard, ” but rather to create a balance with experienced female sailors who have the goal of sailing single-handed in a multihull, in this case the Route du Rhum 2026, such as Anne-Claire Le Berre and Élodie-Jane Mettraux, as well as female sailors with an appetite for sailing with a crew and already possessing advanced technical expertiseLike Tiphaine Ragueneau – who has sailed quite a few J70s and J80s -, the American Sara Stone – on the Sail GP circuit and in the Women’s America’s Cup with the American team – and Arianne van de Loosdrecht, also involved in the Cup with Holland. The UpWind team also includes two young talents “who we wanted to give the opportunity to sail multihulls: the South African Michaela Robinson and the Austrian Lisa Farthofer.


“The Ocean Fifty ticked all the boxes”


The aim of MerConcept is in fact “to provide these female sailors with a wealth of skills which could feed into other classes“, emphasizes François Gabart. And when you ask the founder of MerConcept about the genesis of the project, he immediately refers to the Route du Rhum 2022. A race in which he had been surprised “by the very low female representation as well as the absence of women in multihulls, despite the fact that this race has historically been marked by female victories, such as those of Florence Arthaud and Ellen MacArthur”.

François Gabart continues: “We wanted to set up a project to develop women’s access to multihull sailing and top-level ocean racing, and the Ocean Fifty ticked all the boxesIt’s a class that complements the Ultim and Imoca we’re already involved in. “It’s also one of the only classes where there’s a mix of inshore and offshore racing,” adds Francesca Clapcich.

While the project immediately appealed to 11th Hour Racing – “which was also in discussions with Francesca to set up a project”, emphasizes François Gabart – the American foundation is essentially there to give this project its first impetus. “The idea is to find other partners to ensure that the project continues beyond 2026,” adds Louis Giard.


“Great human discoveries”


This week of selection “was very rich, ” says Élodie-Jane Mettraux, ” both in terms of the people we met, the sharing of experience between sailors from different backgrounds and the caring environment in which we all worked. Anne-Claire Le Berre agrees: “These were wonderful human discoveries, based more on mutual support than competition. And Le Berre explains that she is as much in favour of “the structure of the project and its international aspect as she is of its mindset, which provides the necessary resources to build a professional women’s team in an fascinating and committed sport.

Coming from the Olympic circuit (470 and Yngling), Anne-Claire Le Berre will be continuing her Class40 season as co-skipper of Amélie Grassi(La Boulangère Bio) alongside the UpWind project, on which she will be able to build on her multihull experience, which “currently boils down to Formula 18 and sailing from Vigo to Lorient aboard Laurent Bourguès’ Ocean Fifty”, she adds.

For her part, Élodie-Jane Mettraux has been sailing multihulls for a number of years, including D35 on Lake Geneva, two seasons on the World Match Racing Tour in M32, the Tour de France on a Diam 34 and a season on the Leyton Ocean Fifty in 2021. The Swiss sailor was also behind “the Leyton Magenta for Women project”, which involved women sailing Multi50s. In that sense, UpWind “is a bit of a continuation of that project.


First race in Saint-Malo


The sailor who is also involved in The Famous Project (the 100% women’s Jules Verne Trophy objective aboard the maxi trimaran IDEC Sport) also appreciates the fact that the women sailors in the UpWind project are treated “like professional sailors. There’s no discussion about whether you deserve a salary, which was the discussion with Alinghi, where I was told that I was no more valuable than a 20-year-old with no professional experience [which is why she gave up on taking part in the Women’s America’s Cup, editor’s note].”

UpWind’s first race on the Ocean Fifty circuit will be in Saint-Malo, from 22 to 26 May, with a reduced crew. MerConcept will then very quickly have to identify two sailors with a wealth of offshore experience to take part in the Med Max, a double-handed race in the Mediterranean which will get underway in September, as Francesca Clapcich will be racing in the Women’s America’s Cup at that time. “It’s going to be a very busy year, ” confirms the Italian sailor, “which is why it’s important for us to have a solid team.” With her sights set on the Vendée Globe 2028, she will be handing over the helm of Ocean Fifty after the Transat Jacques Vabre 2025 and one of these seven sailors will take on the role of skipper for the Route du Rhum 2026.

I’m really proud to be part of this project, ” continues Francesca Clapcich. It’s a first step towards greater diversity, but it’s also a responsibility as a skipper, because I don’t want to be the last. I think I have to show the way to other female sailors, to show that sometimes, even if the doors don’t seem very open, you have to go through them to take part in big events.”

Photo: Qaptur

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