Ocean sailing for equality
The FNOB is made up of men and women working for a cause which benefits society as a whole. That also means that we support initiatives aimed at real social equality, on International Women’s Day and every day. The activity at the core of the FNOB’s work is ocean sailing, one of the few top-flight sports where women and men compete alongside each other, with no gender divides on the scoreboard.
Female sailors have shown time and again that at sea, male or female makes no difference when it comes to courage, resilience and the ability to manage a project and formulate racing strategy. That’s why men and women compete on exactly the same boats in the same category. The Barcelona World Race is a great example of this; organised by the FNOB, female entrants have included: Servane Escoffier in 2007/08, and Michèle Paret in 2007/08 and 2010/11, also the edition in which the first entirely female crew took part, formed by Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella, who was back for the 2014/15 edition.
The next edition of the Barcelona World Race, which starts on the 12th January 2019, already has interest from three female skippers: Britain’s Samantha Davies, Franco-German skipper Isabelle Joschke, and Spanish Pilar Pasanau although it’s likely they won’t be the only women on the starting line.
In the wake of pioneers
The Barcelona World Race is sailing in the wake of pioneers in ocean racing. In November 1990, Florence Arthaud shook up the world of ocean racing when she spectacularly won the Route du Rhum, the Atlantic crossing from Saint-Malo to Guadeloupe. The 33-year-old Frenchwoman broke the record for the event on her trimaran Pierre 1er.
Her victory signalled the start of a continued female presence and some outstanding successes for women in top-flight ocean racing.
The BOC Challenge 1990/91 had Isabelle Autissier as the first woman to race round the world, finishing in 7th place, despite having endured a broken mast in the second leg. In 1994 the skipper went on to log a spectacular record for the New York to San Francisco run via Cape Horn. In 1996, French sailor Catherine Chabaud became the first woman to complete a non-stop circumnavigation of the globe, taking on the Everest of ocean sailing, the Vendée Globe, and finishing in 6th place.
The presence of women has become commonplace on the starting lines of ocean races and in the Vendée Globe 2000/01, Catherine Chabaud took the starting line alongside Britain’s Ellen MacArthur, a 24-year-old yachtswoman. MacArthur sailed an extraordinary regatta, finishing in second place, after almost tipping past leader Michel Desjoyeaux on the final stretch of the North Atlantic.
In 2002, MacArthur won the Route du Rhum. 12 years after Florence Arthaud's victory, another woman took the top spot in the famous transatlantic challenge, dominating the competition with utter superiority over the mainly masculine list of participants.
Ellen MacArthur didn’t stop there, and moved into multihull sailing. In June 2004, she smashed the overall record for a North Atlantic crossing (solo or crewed). One year later, she pulverised the solo round the world record, setting the bar at 71 days and 14 hours, held at the time by Francis Joyon, shaving 1 day and eight hours off the record.
In 2008, it was Britain’s Samantha Davies who sailed a regatta to remember, with an incredible fourth place in the Vendee Globe 2008 on Roxy, a boat two generations older than the newest models taking on the round the world challenge. Davies has already signalled her interest in taking on the next Barcelona World Race.
A year later, Dee Caffari broke the mould again by sailing round the world, solo, non-stop from East to West, going against the prevailing winds. In 2009 Caffari also finished the Vendée Globe and in doing so became the first woman to sail solo round the world in both directions. A year later she joined Anna Corbella for the Barcelona World Race.
Corbella had already become Spain’s first woman to complete a Mini-Transat and alongside Caffari she became the first to complete a non-stop round the world regatta. Last year in Spain, Pilar Pasanau became the first Spanish woman to complete two Mini-Transats.
The list of females who have shown that women are fully capable of racing just as well or better than men goes on. The reduced number of wins is down to a statistical fact: the male presence in the sport is far superior in terms of number. That has to change, and surely will as society moves towards real social equality for everyone