© G.Gatefait | MerConcept

Concarneau, France

MerConcept, the high-performance hub for offshore sailing and sustainable technologies based in Concarneau, France, has announced the launch of its brand-new racing program to provide female sailors with experience in offshore multihull racing. UpWind by MerConcept will recruit, train, and support a squad of six female sailors as they compete in the Ocean Fifty offshore sailing circuit, with the ambition to have a female skipper on the startline in a multihull for the 2026 Route du Rhum.

Backed by Founding Sponsor 11th Hour Racing, UpWind by MerConcept’s overarching goal is to be a driving force in the transformation of offshore sailing. UpWind’s vision is for the sport to become a more inclusive and diverse community, providing equal opportunities for everyone while increasing the pool of female talent available for selection to join mixed multihull crews for record-setting challenges like the Jules Verne Trophy.

MerConcept is based in the heart of the international offshore sailing world in Brittany, France, and was founded by François Gabart, the fastest person to sail around the world. Gabart commented, “Our mission at UpWind is to support and empower female sailors to excel in high-performance, multihull offshore racing, breaking down barriers, and creating a welcoming and safe space for everyone.

“Teams perform at their best when they comprise diverse talent. A first step to achieving this is to support the growth in the critical mass of talented female sailors with offshore multihull experience so that all teams taking on challenges like the Jules Verne Trophy will have mixed crews in the future.

As the sailing industry, we have to change the status quo, and at MerConcept, we are excited to be part of the solution,” concluded Gabart.

The application process to join the program is now open, and female sailors from anywhere in the world are invited to apply by completing the form on the UpWind by MerConcept by March 24, 2024.

Cécile Andrieu, MerConcept’s Director of Racing, outlined the candidates they are looking to recruit. “We’re very excited to launch our worldwide call for applications today. The spirit of UpWind is both performance and diversity and therefore we’re open to a wide range of profiles and backgrounds. Ideally, our applicants will have some good racing experience, whether it is offshore, inshore, match-racing, or Olympics, and have a genuine desire to get involved and bring this new racing team to life.

“At the end of selection week, we hope to have recruited two groups. A performance-focused squad to take part in the Grand Prix and transatlantic races and a second which will support in the training and on deliveries, with a view to gaining valuable sailing experience and miles for their CV.”

Francesca Clapcich, the only Italian to win The Ocean Race – racing as part of the winning crew with 11th Hour Racing Team in 2022-23 – has been appointed as the Skipper, leading the sailing squad.

 © G.Gatefait | MerConcept

Francesca is the perfect skipper for UpWind by MerConcept,” commented Gabart. “Her sailing CV is impressive, with experience at the Olympics, the Women’s America’s Cup, the Solitaire du Figaro, and The Ocean Race. She is competitive and driven on the water and is a champion for supporting women in the sport at all levels. We are really pleased she will be leading what we hope will be a truly international squad of female sailors.”

At the end of 2023, MerConcept acquired the Ocean Fifty trimaran previously owned by Armel Tripon, which is currently undergoing a complete refit. The boat is scheduled to be launched at the end of March.

The race schedule for the 2024 Ocean Fifty circuit is still to be officially announced and is anticipated to include four events between June and October, including a transatlantic race from west to east.

The Ocean Fifty is the ideal high-performance training and racing trimaran for UpWind by MerConcept,” said Clapcich. “The platform is big enough that can have a rotation of sailors throughout the campaign, allowing more access and opportunities for the sailors to get hands-on experience on the boat.

When racing, the series has long offshore courses as well as short inshore, round-the-buoys-style racing, so we’ll need the skills and ability to quickly switch between the two modes. It’s going to be a lot of hands-on learning, and I can’t wait to see the application process open and get started!” commented Clapcich.

A shortlist of 12 applicants will be invited to Concarneau to be put through their paces during a selection week in April, with the aim of identifying six female sailors to join the team.

11th Hour Racing has joined UpWind by MerConcept as the Founding Sponsor as the Newport, RI, USA-based organization broadens its ocean health-focused work to include diversity, opportunity, and access in sailing.

Michelle Carnevale, president of 11th Hour Racing, said, “Sponsoring MerConcept signifies our commitment to increasing diversity in high-performance sailing and aims to set a precedent for other sports organizations. For more than a decade, our sponsorships have centered around sports, strategic innovation, and sustainable technologies. 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.”