UpWind by MerConcept is a new initiative with the ambitious aim of getting a female skipper on the Ocean 50 startline of the next Route du Rhum race

In a newly announced move, MerConcept, the offshore sailing and sustainable tech hub in Concarneau, France, has unveiled a new multihull racing program named UpWind, which is dedicated to empowering female sailors in the world of offshore multihull racing.

Aimed at fostering inclusivity and diversity, UpWind by MerConcept will recruit, train, and support a squad of six talented female sailors for the Ocean Fifty offshore sailing circuit, with the ambitious goal of having a female skipper at the helm for the 2026 Route du Rhum.

Start of the Route du Rhum. Photo: ALEXIS COURCOUX

Backed by Founding Sponsor 11th Hour Racing, UpWind is aiming to spearhead a transformation in offshore sailing. With a vision for a more inclusive and diverse sailing community, the program seeks to provide equal opportunities for all, ultimately expanding the pool of skilled female sailors available for selection in mixed multihull crews for iconic challenges like the Jules Verne Trophy.

Based in the heart of the Brittany (the Mecca of the offshore sailing world), MerConcept was founded by François Gabart, the fastest person to sail around the world, and he is at the forefront of this initiative. “Our mission at UpWind is to support and empower female sailors, breaking down barriers and creating a welcoming and safe space for everyone. We believe that diverse talent enhances team performance, and by fostering a critical mass of skilled female sailors, we aim to pave the way for mixed crews in future challenges like the Jules Verne Trophy,” Gabart says.

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The application process to join this groundbreaking program is now open to female sailors worldwide, with the deadline for submissions set for 24 March 2024.

Cécile Andrieu, MerConcept’s Director of Racing, emphasises the program’s spirit of performance and diversity, welcoming applicants with a range of racing experience. Two groups will be formed – a performance-focused squad for Grand Prix and transatlantic races, and a second group supporting training and deliveries, gaining valuable sailing experience for their CV.

Francesca Clapcich, the accomplished skipper who clinched victory in The Ocean Race with 11th Hour Racing Team in 2022-23, will lead the sailing squad. Gabart praises Clapcich as the ideal skipper, with an impressive sailing CV across various disciplines and a strong advocacy for women in the sport.

Francesca Clapcich will lead the sailing squad. Photo: G.Gatefait | MerConcept

MerConcept’s acquisition of the Ocean Fifty trimaran, previously owned by Armel Tripon, adds to the program’s excitement. The trimaran is currently undergoing a complete refit and is set to launch at the end of March, ready for the 2024 Ocean Fifty circuit, which will include four events between June and October.

11th Hour Racing’s role as Founding Sponsor underscores its commitment to diversity, opportunity, and access in sailing. Michelle Carnevale, president of 11th Hour Racing, states, “UpWind by MerConcept marks a substantial progression for women in sailing, and we look forward to witnessing its positive influence on the future of ocean racing.”

The race schedule for 2024 is yet to be officially announced, but this initiative could well be poised to make history.

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