The New Caledonia Groupama Race is now underway with our own Team Thalassa Magenta on Ave Gitana, skippered by two time Olympian and Extreme Sailing Series skipper Sharon Ferris-Choat

We caught up with Sharon just before the start of the race to find out how she and her crew of four have been preparing and the challenges they face

“We are really excited about the race. The biggest thing is because New Caledonia is an island and quite isolated the weather is changing so rapidly. Every day, every hour, the forecast is changing and we know we have a low front to contend with on Tuesday. But we are prepared for anything, we know the race is certainly not the standard windward leeward that is in the Trades, we’ve got a lot of reaching in the forecast at the moment and only 19% upwind which in a trimaran I can tell you is heaven for us!

The forecast winds are quite light for the beginning of the race, only 5-10 knots, so the big challenge is to get through the Wooden Canal and the Havannah Passage in the south before the tide turns. There can be very strong currents, anything up to 4 or 5 knots, so whoever gets through before the tide turn is going to have a big advantage”

On board Ave Gitana are a crew of 4 sailors recruited by Sharon and the Magenta Project through an open application process: Val Doan (CAN); Jo Breen (AUS); Anna-Sophie Dhenin (FRA/AUS) and Paige-Maree Cook (NZL). Team Magenta have had a lot of preparation to do – both to get the boat ready and to get some practice time together, having never sailed before as a team

“The challenge at the beginning was that the boat encountered some quite horrible conditions on the way to New Caledonia, which caused a lot of damage for many boats. The Ave Gitane crew managed to sit out the worst of it for 24 hours in a bay, but we have still needed to do some work on the boat on its arrival. Each crew member has been given an area of the boat and took on the responsibility for getting that area fixed or repaired and in shape. Once the boat was ready we were been able to sail 4 or 5 times together

Because we are on such a tight time sequence we have put everyone into a position for all the manoeuvres and we have kept people strictly in those positions. As we get to do more races in the future we will adapt that and people will try more positions” said Sharon

The opportunity for the Magenta Project Team to take part in the New Caledonia Groupama Race came about due to the generosity of Ave Gitana boat owner Antonio Pasquale. As Sharon explained “I have known Antonio for over 3 years now, he is a good mate and he has supported us with the GC32 racing. Out of the blue I got a phone call from Antonio asking me if I wanted the boat to go and do the Groupama race and I said to him ‘Are you crazy? It’s New Caledonia, its full of reefs and lagoons and atolls and all sorts of things’. But Antonio persuaded me this was a golden opportunity for us girls. He’s amazing and is incredibly passionate about seeing us be successful”

Owner Antonio has three daughters and is keen to provide opportunities for women to compete at an international level at the same standard as their male counterparts. He is one of very few boat owners who demonstrates that support and commitment by sharing his boat to enable female sailors to race at the highest level, a model we are encouraging others to follow. As Sharon said “For women to be competitive we have to do our apprenticeship we have to do our miles and we just need experience, you can’t compete, can’t even begin to compete, against someone who has done 100,000 miles offshore. If there are 100 boats opportunities for guys there might be maybe 7 or 8 out there for women, its all about opportunities. That’s slowly changing through the work of the Magenta Project and their partners, such as Antonio”.

There is no question that there is a huge desire among female sailors to race at this level. Here at the Magenta Project every time we advertise a racing opportunity we receive a massive response and there are over 30 women competing in this edition of the New Caledonia Groupama race. As well as Sharon and Team Magenta on Ave Gitana, Lisa Blair is skippering all female team Dove – Defi Des Filles, Sibby Ilzhofer is skippering Dare Devil and there is another boat with a 50/50 mixed team. Sharon said “Winning is definitely our goal. We’ve said that they (Dove-Defi Des Filles) are going to win the monohull division and we are going to win the multihull division, so in a way yes we are competing against them, but we are not really as we are in two divisions in the same race. We are fully supporting them and we will be cheering them on. We are also going to try and make the 50 footers lives really difficult!”.

Ave Gitana is expected to take 2 days and 20 hours to complete the race, according to the routing software, though this depends on the conditions and when the front comes through on Tuesday. Though the race start is in light winds with the front comes 25-30 knots which will make a big difference to the boat speed.

So is this a one off or will we see Team Magenta racing on Ave Gitana again?

“After this we’re going to take the boat to Australia and do 3 regattas in Australia. Antonio and the boys will do one of the regattas and we will do the other two. We are aiming to keep the base of the team the same but it all depends on commitments of the team members. Everyone wants to do it if they can, but we will also look at giving one new person the opportunity in each race because we have received so much contact through girls wanting to have a go”

Follow the team Facebook Page and the Magenta Project Page for updates, and follow the race on the tracker and the results on the race Facebook page

A massive thank you to Antonio Pasquale for providing this opportunity for Team Magenta and also to Caroline the local ‘godparent’ from the race who has supported the team massively in the race preparation week

Photo credits: Caroline Frey Mounier-Vehire, Sugar

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