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First all-female crews for New Caledonia Groupama Race

by Lisa Ratcliff / OCC 23 May 20:06 PDT
One of the Groupama's first-ever all-female crews - New Caledonia Groupama Race © Groupama Race

The New Caledonia Groupama Race international fleet of 24 boats will race the clock and each other next month to circumnavigate the beautiful South Pacific Island in the fastest time.

Entry has closed and between the three participating nations, Australia, New Zealand and French New Caledonia, 24 combined monohull and multihull entries will vie for a piece of the silverware in the sixth biennial race starting June 17, 2018. Within individual race crews the international web stretches much further, none more so than among the Groupama's first-ever all-female crews.

Record-breaking solo Australian sailor Lisa Blair will join the French New Caledonian crew of Dove-Défi des Filles as skipper of the Young 11 owned by Laurence Bouchet, event manager at the host club Cercle Nautique Calédonien (CNC).

Blair will arrive a week prior to the start date to commence training with the Défi des Filles team, a moniker that translates to 'challenge women' and has the support of sponsor Dove. She will also present a talk at the CNC on the evening of June 11 on becoming the first woman to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around Antarctica in 2017.

"There's one woman from France on the crew and the others are based in New Caledonia," Blair said. "It's great to recognise their enthusiasm; they are super keen and it's the perfect opportunity for them and me to encourage women in sailing. New Caledonia is a beautiful part of the world. I did the Brisbane Noumea Race in 2015 and spent a couple of days' there. We'll have a week of training before the Groupama begins and I'm looking forward to spending time getting to know the rest of the crew."

A second women's crew will campaign the 40ft trimaran Ave Gitana led by Kiwi Sharon Ferris-Choat, skipper of the first female team in the Extreme Sailing Series. The Magenta Project, the international movement with the goal of increasing women's participating in sailing, particularly at major events, is supporting Ave Gitana's entry.

Having considered close to 60 applicants from around the world, a team of Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and French sailors was announced mid-May. One of those joining the multihull crew is Tasmanian Jo Breen who last month completed the rigorous double-handed, 5,500 nautical mile Melbourne to Osaka Race on the S&S 34 Morning Star, the smallest entrant.

Sibby Ilzhofer and her Farr/Cookson 47 Dare Devil are linking up with the Groupama Race once the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's reinstated PONANT Sydney Noumea Yacht Race feeder race, starting June 2 from Sydney Harbour, delivers them and the rest of the Australian field to the region.

The coinciding arrival of the Royal Akarana Yacht Club's contingent in the Auckland Noumea 2018 yacht race will bring the neighbouring countries together for the planned waterfront festivities and respective race trophy presentations.

CNC's Groupama anti-clockwise course will take the fleet from the Noumea start on June 17 at 10h around New Caledonia, through the Cap N'Dua in the south and through the Grand Passage and inside the UNESCO World Heritage listed turquoise lagoon before finishing back at Noumea.

Minus a dominant maxi yacht, the sprint for line honours in the monohull division is wide open and features numerous quality challengers within the 45-55-foot size range including Ran Tan, Brian Peterson's Elliott 50 from New Zealand, and Graeme Wilson's RP IRC 52 Miss Scarlet with Franck Cammas, skipper of the French challenger Groupama Team France in the last America's Cup, on board. Dare Devil and Tony Kirby's Ker 46 Patrice should be in close company at the pointy end of the fleet.

Based on waterline length and pedigree the pre-race favourite for the multihull line honours trophy is Drew Carruthers' Rushour from Queensland.

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