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Ocean Fifty Series: UpWind by MerConcept announces all-female crew and is ready to roll in Saint-Malo

Yacht Racing Podcast

UpWind by MerConcept, the brand-new all-female training hub for offshore multihull sailing, has announced its squad for the first Act of the 2024 Ocean Fifty Series. Skipper, Francesca Clapcich (ITA) will be joined by Anne-Claire Le Berre (FRA), Elodie Mettraux (SUI), Tiphaine Ragueneau (FRA), and Sara Stone (USA).

Launched in February 2024, this is the first season of Ocean Fifty racing for the UpWind team. UpWind’s mission is to provide female sailors with expert knowledge and experience of multihull sailing in order to have a female Ocean Fifty skipper on the startline of the transatlantic Route du Rhum in 2026, and longer-term to have a larger pool of female talent to be drawn from for mixed-gender teams for Jules Verne Trophy attempts – for the fastest non-stop circumnavigation of the planet under sail.

As the Founding Sponsor of UpWind by MerConcept, 11th Hour Racing shares its ambitious vision to create a more sustainable and equitable future for all.

Over 120 applications were received from around the world for the UpWind training hub, with sixteen candidates shortlisted and invited to Concarneau, France, for four days of physical, mental, technical knowledge, and performance tests. Seven were ultimately chosen, a mix of more established sailors joined by emerging talent, and who are all supported by the experienced technical and performance team based at MerConcept.

Image © G. Gatefait | MerConcept

“At last the time has come to go sailing!” commented Skipper Francesca Clapcich. “It’s been an intense process up to now, launching UpWind, the application and selection, and the ongoing technical improvements of the boat. We’ve had one week of training all together before the delivery from Concarneau up to Saint-Malo and we are really looking forward to lining up against the eight other boats.

“With six established teams, the standard of racing is going to be really high – I know already that it is going to be intense. We are going to have to remain focused at all times but I’m surrounded by very talented sailors who I know are going to give it their all. I’m stoked to be here and can’t wait to get going.”

Saint-Malo kicks off the 2024 Ocean Fifty five-Act series, which includes three Grand Prix events, one Mediterranean crossing, and an East to West transatlantic from Saint Pierre and Miquelon, the French archipelago south of Newfoundland to Saint Brieuc, France. There will be nine fifty-foot trimarans on the racecourse in Saint-Malo, five returning teams, and four rookies, including UpWind by MerConcept. Four days of racing are planned, two inshore days, with five crew onboard, and two coastal races, with three crew.

Cécile Andrieu, Director of Racing at MerConcept commented, “Arriving here in Saint-Malo is day one of the next chapter for offshore multihull racing. Our UpWind squad is a mix of talented established sailors and rising stars, giving intense training, delivery, and racing opportunities to female sailors to ensure they have the skills, knowledge, mileage, and experience to be considered on an equal footing for future multihull projects including the Jules Verne Trophy. The status quo is shifting in offshore multihull sailing and I’m very proud that at MerConcept, along with 11th Hour Racing and Francesca Clapcich, we are driving that change.”

Lorraine McKenna, Sponsorship Director of 11th Hour Racing said, “At 11th Hour Racing, our commitment to sustainability and innovation in marine sports is exemplified through our sponsorship of UpWind by MerConcept, Francesca Clapcich, and IMOCA. These partnerships push the boundaries by creating opportunities, accelerating women in competitive sailing, and ensuring a sustainable and equitable future for the sport.”

Anne-Claire Le Berre (FRA) says the group’s preparations have been going really well so far.

“We have had one offshore technical sail to fix as much as possible with Elodie, Tom Laperche, and the MerConcept technical team, where we learned a lot about the boat,” she said. “We then had ten days preparing all the equipment and safety gear, and working on performance, and just last week five days of team training. It’s been great to have the five of us onboard, with up to 20 knots of wind, so tough conditions for our first sail all together!

“It’s great to be in the UpWind Team and I’m excited to be lining up against the other boats, comparing our speeds and technical setups. We’ll be fighting for every position on the water.”

Elodie-Jane Mettraux (SUI) is making a return to the Ocean Fifty class after a hiatus of two years. “It’s been two years since I last raced in Ocean Fiftys and I’m pleased to see the evolution of the fleet and the new boats coming into the circuit,” she said. “We are racing on a boat that we don’t yet know very well but we’ve had our first training session which went really well. We know we have a lot to learn, but it is all going in the right direction.

“It’s super great to be here and I’m looking forward to racing against the other boats. We are going to focus on our sailing targets and our speed, sailing as a crew together well, and working on our communications.

“When racing, we know we will have to concentrate on good maneuvers because if we take good starts, good lay lines, and have good maneuvers we’ll have a good race.”

Tiphaine Ragueneau (FRA) confirmed the crew roles on board. “Francesca is driving, Anne-Claire on tactics and navigation, Elodie is foresail trimmer, Sara is on the bow, and I’m in the pit, and we are all really looking forward to getting going.

“The objective in Saint-Malo is to find our level and make good decisions, all working well together. We need to settle in and find our feet in each of our roles for the inshore races, and then Frankie, Elodie, and Anne-Claire will be the squad racing in the coastal races at the weekend.

“Personally, I’m really proud to be part of UpWind by MerConcept. I’m discovering this new circuit and I don’t know the Ocean Fifty boat at all. There is no apprehension though, we are all just looking forward to being in Saint-Malo. I’m enjoying getting to know the other women in the team, and I’m getting to know my place within the team! There’s a great spirit, with everyone really eager to learn and get on the first start line!”

Sara Stone (USA) said she was looking forward to going Ocean Fifty racing for the first time.  “This first event in Saint-Malo is a mix of Grand Prix fleet racing with up to four races per day and five crew, and then two days of coastal racing with three crew.

“As our first event with a new team and a new boat, we are going to focus our attention on refining our playbook with each of our roles onboard, and work on how we communicate with each other. We will be jumping right into the deep end, but I can’t wait to get racing with our all-female crew.”