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Secret behind French offshore success

Published on November 10th, 2020

Christian Le Pape

Christian Le Pape is the Director of the Finistère Offshore Racing Training Centre in Port Laforêt, Brittany, France, and has been a driving force for positioning offshore sailing as a major nautical sector in France and growing a significant field of professional sailors.

His experience in giving offshore sailors the best training they need to perform at the highest level for offshore shorthanded sailing – specifically singlehanded or double-handed sailing with the Figaro and IMOCA class – is unrivaled.

Le Pape provided some insight on how the offshore high-level community must provide space for women, to help the Double Handed Offshore sailing discipline to continue its growth.

Could you give a bit of background on your role and experience?

I’m the founder and Managing Director of the Training Centre at Port-La-Forêt, and have been for 30 years. We manage detection and selection programs, as well as training programs for talented offshore racing sailors.

The Training Center is also an association, and members of this association have won the Vendée Globe five times: Michel Desjoyeaux (2001 & 2009), Francois Gabart (2012) Armel Le Cléac’h (2016), Vincent Riou (2004); The Ocean Race twice: Franck Cammas (2012), Charles Caudrelier (2018); the Route de Rhum four times; and the single-handed annual Solitaire du Figaro event 25 times.

The Training Center has made significant efforts to open its doors to both foreign (non-French) and female sailors over the last 20 years, including Samantha Davies, Emma Richards, Liz Wardley, Boris Herrmann, Damian Foxall, Iker Martínez, Alan Roberts, Henri Bomby, and Sam Goodchild.

There were no women on the Vendée Globe starting line last time out, but this year there will be six. How do you explain this? Do you believe female offshore sailors are now seen as equal to their male counterparts?

I don’t think this edition of the Vendée Globe is a revolution for women in offshore sailing. There have been several other women (French and international) that have competed in the Vendée Globe in the past; Florence Arthaud and Ellen MacArthur, for example.

They have already proven their ability to compete equally with men in these events. All the same, the fact that there are six women participating at the Vendée Globe this year is an encouraging sign for the development of women in offshore sailing.

It is important to grow female participation in sailing in general. What has been done in France to increase female participation in the offshore single handed world?

Since 2019, the French Sailing Federation (FFVoile) and the Training Centre at Port-La-Forêt have organised an additional [is there a better word than detection?] selection on the Figaro Bénéteau 3 boat, exclusively reserved for women between the age of 18 and 25.

The winner of the selection is provided with a Figaro 3 boat along with an annual operating budget (including a salary) for a two-year period, in order to participate in the Figaro Bénéteau 3 circuit of events each year.

With this programme, we hope to create an important group of female offshore sailors with a high level of experience and performance, capable of winning the Vendée Globe or the new Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat Olympic event. This additional investment for female offshore sailors goes hand-in-hand with the significant growth and organization of the double handed mixed offshore events.

Can we expect well-known French solo sailors to campaign for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in the Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat Event?

For the moment, I’m not aware of anyone from the French single-handed circuit that has announced their intention to participate in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. However, there could be several that are waiting for clarification of this new event for Paris 2024. Following these clarifications, you can be sure that there will be several French offshore sailors competing for a place at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

NOTE: Recently launched, the Offshore Doubles organization seeks to strengthen the community of sailors, events, and boat classes who are already making Double Handed offshore sailing the fastest growing segment of the sport.

Source: World Sailing

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