The race gets underway from Le Havre on the northern French coast headed for Martinique on 7th November.

Transat Jacques Vabre: women aiming to become the first female sailor


02/11/2021 - 19:49

Only three women have ever won the Transat Jacques Vabre. Incredibly, for a race so embedded in the French sporting psyche, only one of those women is from France, the other two are British.

Karine Fauconnier won the multihull 50 class back in 2007 alongside Franck-Yves Escoffier. You have to go back 22 years for the only other time women have won the race. Britons Emma Richards and Miranda Merron completed the route to Colombia in 1999 aboard their 50 foot monohull called Pindar.

These achievements are what this year’s female competitors are looking to emulate. “It would be great to win” says Switzerland’s Justine Mettraux who’s partnering British sailor Simon Fisher aboard  11th Hour Racing Team’s IMOCA Alaka’i.  “There’s still work to do to encourage women in the sport. But if we won it, it would show you can perform as a mixed team and if that gives other females more confidence then that’s great.”

11 of the 14 women sailing the Transat Jacques Vabre this year are French and include established names like Marie Tabarly and Alexia Barrier in the IMOCA class whilst in the Class 40 Marie Riou sails with Amélie Grassi as one of only three all-female crews in the race.  

Briton Sam Davies sets off on her 7th Transat Jacques Vabre race partnered by Nicolas Lunven of France on her IMOCA Initiatives Coeur. She thinks the race format makes it a perfect springboard for upcoming female skippers. “It’s a great race because it’s a double handed race and so there’s an opportunity for women who don’t have as much experience to get a Transat under their belts. There are plenty of experienced skippers who are happy to do that.”  

Two women experiencing the Transat Jacques Vabre for the first time are Julia and Jeanne Courtois (see headline photo). The 29 year old twins from Brest in France are the winners of a contest aimed at helping new crews enter the race. Organised by Transat Jacques Vabre and sponsor Saint-James the pair won €40,000 plus mentoring and coaching assistance.

Between them the pair have an impressive sporting pedigree, boasting 5 Ironman triathlons, 3 ultra-trail races and plenty of offshore sailing too. However, it’s the Transat Jacques Vabre that has held them spellbound for so long, “Certainly the double-handed element of the race suits us. But beyond that, being able to say we’ll be at the start of this mythical event that’s been in our dreams since we were ten, is so cool.”

At the other end of the age scale, but also experiencing the race for the first time, is Canadian Melodie Schaffer. The 53 year old took up offshore sailing three years ago when her children left home.

She’ll be sailing in a Class 40 with fellow race rookie Ryan Barkey and believes the mixed double-handed concept works well, “I don’t really look at sailing as a men or women thing. I just do it because I love doing it. I’m not a big strong person although I can do everything on this boat because I find strategies to do it. In some ways it’s an advantage because if I have trouble grinding something in, generally it means something has gone wrong. Whereas with a big strong guy they can power through it and might cause damage.”

Transat Jacques Vabre: women aiming to become the first female sailor
Transat Jacques Vabre: women aiming to become the first female sailor

Sam Davies echoes the idea that co-skippers should have complimentary skills and personalities, “In choosing my co-skipper this year I was looking for someone who I could learn and progress with and make my boat go even faster” she says about Nico Lunven.

“After the big crash I had in the Vendee Globe, which really scared me, I wanted someone who I could be confident would drive the boat both hard and safely.”

Transat Jacques Vabre: women aiming to become the first female sailor
Transat Jacques Vabre: women aiming to become the first female sailor

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