Francesca Clapcich, our interview on the eve of The Ocean Race
Francesca Clapcich, our interview on the eve of The Ocean Race
With only a few days to go before the race starts, Giuliano Luzzatto interviewed for PressMare Francesca Clapcich, one of the two Italian sailors taking part in The Ocean Race.
PressMare: We know that racing in the ocean will be quite different from the first In-Port Race held on January 8 in Alicante with a light and very unstable breeze. So, what are your feelings after meeting the other teams at sea for the first time?
Francesca Clapcich: Certainly the In-Port Race is an invaluable exercise. It is a chance for us to check and prepare ourselves and the boat for what might occur during the start of a leg, until at least the first disengagement. We have, therefore, tried to bring the race as real as possible, by recreating all the maneuvers we might find ourselves performing, even in the most complex ocean conditions, from course changes to peelings. It was, in addition, very interesting to see the performance of the other boats. On paper, everyone may have their own ideas and visions, but only once you are at sea, side by side, can you truly understand the potential of the opponent. Obviously, the In-Port Race is only a 45-minute race, which is very different from an ocean leg of a week or more, but the fact that we were able to get off to a good start despite having a few problems and manage to finish second makes us feel very positive and confident towards the start of the first leg.
PM: How much your Olympic sailing background will be an asset, in In-Port Races rather than ocean stages?
F C: Of course, the Olympic experience is very important, especially for the In-Port Races. On Sunday, for example, I shared the roles of tactician and navigator with Jack, I was trying to make boat-to-boat calls, while he was more focused on the overall aspect of the race and trying to be fast. This is still a very important aspect in general as well. The start of each leg will still be in close quarters and potentially, if the boats' performances are very similar, we will also be in the middle of the ocean doing fleet navigation. So all the years of experience with Olympic classes pay off.
This is your second experience at The Ocean Race. Are you having new and different feelings before the start?
F C: For sure it is a quite different edition than the last one, both as boats and as a course. Also, I have also changed, I have a family, here among the docks there is my wife with our little girl, and I have learned to handle emotions in a different way than a few years ago. But The Ocean Race is always a very important event, so many months away from home and the hazards are very high, so there is a lot of concentration and a lot of work behind it. It is important to be able to deliver a good regatta, not only for us, but also for the whole shore team (technical, sustainability, and communication) behind it. So even when if we find ourselves in the ocean and we want to quit, we have to grit our teeth and keep giving it our all because it's not just for us, it's for everyone who gave us the chance to be here.
PM: After so many miles of training on the IMOCA, what do you see as the most significant differences from VO65?
F C: The two boats are definitely different. I did the last edition with VO65s, and now I'm aboard an IMOCA, it's a different story. VO65s are one-designs boats and so the big difference is made by the crews, their experience on board, and how the boat is run. Each IMOCA, on the other hand, is its own story, there are design and performance gaps between one boat and the other that depend on a number of aspects. It's going to be a very open race since a leg with a light wind may be slightly more favorable to one team, while a leg with a stronger wind is more favorable to another, but we still hope to have a well-fought round-the-world race. At the same time, life aboard an IMOCA60 is not a vacation, you always have to have at least one hand available to save yourself from falls, in this sailing aboard a VO65, which is definitely wetter, is easier.
PM: 11th Hour Racing was designed to sail fully crewed, but also with a more all-round hull for expected upwind gaits based on a course that has since been modified. Do you feel you were penalized?
F C: Our boat was designed for what was the original round-the-world course, with a leg in China and many upwind days. So our design is a little less extreme than that of the others, who have boats designed for the Vendée Globe, and therefore purely for downwind sailing. As for us, I don't think we will be particularly penalized by our choice. Our boat is very powerful, with very large foils, and has a less scow bow than the other teams I don't think is a huge problem, we will see. Definitely, the Southern Ocean will be a good test to understand various performances.
PM: Let's rewind for a moment. Your effort to organize an Italian team ran up against the challenge of raising the required budget. Do you have any complaints?
F C: It's quite right that I had attempted to set up a team of my own, with solid Italian delegation. I believe that Italy should be represented in this sort of regattas, we have very talented sailors with high capabilities, but unfortunately, there are no funds. We have bumped our heads so many times trying to find the funding we needed that we have lost faith and even the Italian sailing federation has not helped us. I am of course very pleased to have Austrian Ocean Racing powered by Team Genova's VO65 here in Alicante, which will participate in The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint Cup with the support of the City of Genoa with two Italian sailors on board (Cecilia Zorzi and Alberto Bona, ed.). To have VO65 in Genoa for The Grand Finale, an event that the city has worked so hard on is undoubtedly a beautiful thing.
How did your joining the team that everyone assumes to be the favorite come about?
F C: I am not timid about it. I think we could be seen as the favorites and we should be touted as the favorites. We've spent a lot of time on board, and we've had a few years to prepare for this event, but at the meantime, as is often the case, the newspapers have been talking a lot about us. This had already happened to me before the Rio Olympics, in which I competed with Giulia Conti, they were giving us among the top 5 favorites for a medal or even Gold, but in the end, we ended up off the podium. So you can't just rely on being the favorite, but you also have to give it 100%. At the end of the regatta, in Genoa, we will look at the leaderboard, and then hopefully the result will mirror all the words we said to each other this year, but you cannot just go out on the water thinking you are the frontrunner. To have the expected result you have to be able to do that, with the team and with all the decisions made. I have tried to have this mentality, which honestly I think is the one we all have, I don't feel the pressure to be the favorite, we just have to do our best throughout the regatta, and the result will only be the consequence of that.
PM: Your official role is trimmer, but it's easy to imagine that with only four sailors you won't be limited to that...
F C: I think this is just a role written on a piece of paper, to give an idea of what you do on board. Just during the In-Port Races, I do the trimmers, some tactical calls and navigation, but when we're offshore everybody does everything, we have an autopilot and we only have two people on watch. So our positions are always varied and we have to be able to cover whoever is on break. I am learning a lot, as we can work on pretty much everything every day.