“It was absolutely fantastic, a beautiful amazing race and such a challenge” is how skipper Sharon Ferris-Choat described her experience of the New Caledonia Groupama race on board multihull Ave Gitana

In June 2018 owner Antonio Pasquale teamed up with two time Olympian and Extreme Sailing Series skipper Sharon and the Magenta Project to provide an opportunity for an all female crew to race Ave Gitana, a Crowther 40, in the 654nm New Caledonia Groupama race.  Through open applications and a rigorous recruitment process four female sailors were then selected to form the Thalassa Magenta crew

The New Caledonia Groupama race proved challenging, with two low pressure systems fighting against each other and conditions ranging from no wind to 40 knots, calm seas to 2m waves and massive storms

As Sharon said “The race was hectic, full on, but awesome. Most of us on board had never experienced anything like it before, we went from zero wind to 40 knots of wind in 5 minutes, with seriously rough seas. We did everything necessary to get round the course safely without flipping or damaging the boat and to keep in the race”

The team had not raced together before and for some it was their first multihull offshore experience. There were also specific navigational challenges with the race course running alongside a reef. So how did the skipper and team cope? For Sharon it meant no sleep “I only had 3 hours sleep during the race but adrenaline kept me going, I had dinner at 2am and breakfast at 4pm the next day!”

Acting as both skipper and coach Sharon shared her knowledge and experience, supporting the team to work together and build confidence in the boat, the team and their ability to deliver their individual roles. “Anyone can helm a boat” said Sharon “but keeping Ave Gitana flying and getting an extra 3-4 knots of speed requires a commitment to learning, significant practice and self-confidence”

For some the experience also teaches them to be a part of an offshore team. “Raising awareness of how your behaviour affects others on the boat is important – for example if you are someone who can be loud and boisterous, when you are on watch and other crew members are sleeping you may need to tone down your behaviour. You can still have fun but you need to respect that others are sleeping”

For the crew racing on an unfamiliar boat required a steep learning curve. Crew member Jo Breen commented “Our biggest challenge was getting to know the boat, knowing the sail crossovers, how hard we could push the boat, but by the end of the race we were really starting to figure it out..it was hard, really challenging, none of us got a lot of sleep and we were all up for every manoeuvre, but it just made it all the better when we crossed the finish line”

For each crew member there were also personal challenges “I was one of the drivers on board” said Jo “and there were a few times when Sharon was driving and we had a bit on, it was my turn to take over and I was a bit nervous because it [the boat] was very powered up. The biggest thing I learnt was that Ave Gitana is actually very light to drive and that when I did take over all the nervousness went away – I just got straight into it and loved it and couldn’t get the grin off my face!”

Having seen how well the team had worked together and supported each other, owner Antonio Pasquale made an amazing offer on their return – the opportunity for the Thalassa Magenta Team under Sharon’s leadership to continue to race the boat in a number of key regattas this season. In a win win situation, Thalassa Magenta racing get to provide female sailors with the opportunity to gain multihull experience through racing and delivery trips and through working on the boat, whilst also helping Antonio look after Ave Gitana and ensuring she is ready for when Antonio races

In addition to the New Caledonia race Sharon has sailed Ave Gitana from New Caledonia to Brisbane and participated in the 2018 Brisbane to Keppel Tropical Yacht Race, with a mix of crew members from the New Caledonia Race and others. Going forward they will be participating in:

  • Hamilton Island Race Week (August 19 – 25)
  • Magnetic Island Race Week (August 31 – Sept 5)

They are also aiming to set some new speed records in Ave Gitana, given the lack of sailing speed records in the Southern hemisphere.

Ave Gitana is skippered by Sharon Ferris-Choat with the following crew:

New Caledonia Groupama race crew:

  • Jo Breen (AUS); Anna-Sophie Dhenin (FRA/AUS); Paige-Maree Cook (NZL) and Val Doan (CAN).

 Hamilton Island race crew:

  • Liz Alonzi (USA); Jo Breen (AUS); Bex Gmuer Hornell (AUS); Alison Kent (NZL)

 Magnetic Island race crew:

  • Krystal Weir (AUS); Jo Breen (AUS); Bianca Cooke (NZL); Paige-Maree Cook (NZL)

Good luck to the Thalassa Magenta team, we will be following your races closely! Follow the team Facebook Page and the Magenta Project Page for updates

A massive thank you to Antonio Pasquale for providing this opportunity for Team Magenta

Photo credits: Caroline Frey Mounier-Vehire, Sugar Photographie.com

If you own a race yacht or multihull, or know someone who does, and would be willing to enable female sailors gain experience doing regattas and delivery trips then get in touch  contact@themagentaproject.org

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