State Street Marathon Sailing Team’s Francesca Clapcich and Jesse Fielding are Chasing Olympic Gold
Editor’s note: This “Double Up!” story, the second in a series on all aspects of doublehanded big boat racing, is compiled from the State Street Marathon Sailing Team blog.
As the sailing world anticipates the debut of the Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat Event at the Paris 2024 Olympics, State Street Marathon Sailing Team’s Francesca Clapcich and Jesse Fielding are focused on representing the USA…and topping the podium.
Growing up in Trieste, a small town off the Northeastern coast of Italy, Francesca had her first formal sailing course at 6. “I’ve been dreaming about the Olympics and a gold medal since I can remember,” she recalls. A member of the Italian Sailing Federation from 2002 to 2017, she won both the World and European 49erFX Championships in 2015. A two-time Olympian (Laser Radial in 2012 and 49erFX in 2016), she was a crew member on Turn the Tide on Plastic in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18. A First Senior Airman in the Italian Air Force, she’s also a Functional Training coach, Kettlebell coach and CrossFit Lever 1 Trainer.
Hailing from Wickford, RI, Jesse Fielding’s path to professional sailing, adventuring and ocean racing began at an early age. “My parents were looking for some childcare as both of them were avid sailors,” he explains. “It just made sense for me to join them on their boat and learn the sport.”
While attending the University of Rhode Island, Jesse was selected for the cast of Morning Light, a Walt Disney Pictures documentary about the youngest crew in the 2007 Transpacific Yacht Race. Produced by Roy Disney, Leslie DeMeuse and Paul Crowder (the award-winning filmmaker of the surf film Riding Giants), Morning Light is an inspiring film with an excellent soundtrack (notably “Long Time Coming,” co-written and performed by Jesse and teammate Robbie Kane). [View it with your kids tonight. – Ed.] Joining several Morning Light alumni on the Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team, Jesse competed in the Transatlantic Race 2011 and subsequently finished second in class (third overall) in that year’s Rolex Fastnet Race.
As this issue went to press, Francesca and Jesse were sailing their Beneteau Figaro 3 Opportunity in the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race, with the Solo Maitre COQ in Port Olona, France up next in March. “As teammates,” says Jesse, “Francesca and I have an amazing opportunity to showcase sailing as an equal sport for men and women, which is groundbreaking from a global standpoint.”
As Francesca and Jesse work together to achieve their goal of competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics, we will be witnessing the transformation of two expert sailors. First, they will master single-handed sailing so as to transform into one very formidable double-handed team.
When racing as a team on big boats, it is most common to have specialties. When you ask your friends what they “do” on the boat, the answer is typically, “I trim main” or “I’m a headsail trimmer” or “ I do bow.” In solo sailing, which is typically what many kids start out doing in Optis, Sunfish or Lasers, you are in charge of it all. “Big boat” solo sailing is mostly enjoyed by cruisers in this country, but the pandemic has made double-handing racing increasingly popular.
Unlike solo racing, working as a double-handed team requires that both sailors take equal ownership of the different tasks associated with the race — everything from sailing to navigating becomes a two-person job. They need to function as a single entity and that entails trust, teamwork and a constant effort to build both mental and physical stamina. In this type of race, there’s always the chance that each team member will need to sail single-handedly so they must prepare for that as well.
Francesca and Jesse have extensive experience in lengthy offshore races. Successfully integrating their distinct capabilities to amplify their team performance depends on their dynamic and a clear understanding of their specific roles and responsibilities while on the boat.
“We are constantly preparing for all kinds of situations,” says Jesse points. “If at any point all goes awry, we know who is in charge of navigation, while also simultaneously keeping track of our speed and performance in the race.” From navigation techniques and coastal tactics to risk management, Francesca and Jesse communicate openly. In their races and training sessions, they gain from each other’s knowledge and skills, and build confidence in one another. “I completely trust Jesse, and there is a lot of respect between us,” says Francesca. “If I am down below on the boat getting rest or food, I know he is out there pushing 100 percent.”
The two- to three-day Marathon Sailing race is the lengthiest event in the Olympics. “This sailing discipline requires that we be physically and mentally present at all times,” says Jesse. “As a double-handed team, each of us are acting as co-skippers who need to be ready at a moment’s notice to take on full charge of the boat should anything come up.”
A rigorous training regimen comprises many hours of physical training through a mix of gym and outdoor workouts such as well as dexterity and mobility training. They also participate in sailing-specific training sessions that include weather routing, scenario planning, racecourse mapping, and other racecraft including how to take care of and get the most out of their gear. “We aspire to race in the Olympics, and that means we need to focus on building multiple skills and ensuring that our boat and equipment are in great shape,” says Francesca.
One Team, One Mind
With each race and training session, Jesse and Francesca are uncovering more about each other as sailors and as human beings. From training to complement each other’s skill sets, to identifying ways to become a stronger team, they have truly embraced the thinking of “one team, one mind.” Over a short period of time, they have built a notable partnership. With their intensive training efforts and passion for sailing, they are a perfect team and hold immense promise to make both their sponsor State Street and the USA proud. ■