Yachting World editor Helen Fretter takes a look at 10 women who are driving success in competitive sailing at the moment

With a Women’s America’s Cup due to start in 2024, a gender balanced sailing event at the Paris Olympic Games, and female entries lining up for this year’s Vendée Globe, female athletes around the globe are driving hard for success and representation in sailing. And not just onboard, but behind the scenes too.

As many of these women’s stories demonstrate, there are still many areas of competitive sailing where there is still much work to be done towards the goal of gender equality, but we highlight and celebrate some women sailors who are driving change right now:

Pip Hare. Photo: Lloyd Images

Pip Hare

Pip Hare needs little introduction to Yachting World readers, having set herself a target of making it to the start of the last Vendée Globe, and getting there through incredible hard work and force of will.

She applied that same determination to her race, pushing the positively ancient – in IMOCA terms – Medallia around the course to an incredible 19th place, showcasing her competitive talents despite sailing a much slower, more unwieldy boat than almost all of her rivals. Now she has a foiling IMOCA 60, and continues to push hard to be competitive against highly funded male French skippers.

Pip is a phenomenal example of doing things on your own terms – she forged her own path into the world of professional solo ocean racing, and never shies away from the fact that she, as a 50-year-old woman, will be sailing her boat differently to the younger men she is starting against.

Having also admitted to a degree of ‘imposter syndrome’ in her early IMOCA days, Pip is now a respected advocate for women in sailing and uses her voice to highlight causes that are important to her, including mental health. She is an absolute inspiration, in every sense of the word.

Pip is currently seeking qualification miles for the 2024 Vendée Globe, and the skipper who heads up the selection table is a fellow British female sailor, Sam Davies, who’ll be lining up for her fourth Vendée with her new Initiatives Couer in November.

Other experienced women ocean skippers competing for a place in the Vendée this year include Isabelle Joschke and Justine Mettreaux.

Clarisse Cremer. Photo: Olivier Blanchet/Alea/Vendée Globe

Clarisse Cremer

Clarisse Crémer is the fastest woman ever to sail around the world non-stop, having finished 12th in the last Vendée Globe and set a new record time of 87 days 02 hours 24 minutes.

But Clarisse has demonstrated another remarkable trait over the past year: she doesn’t back down. When she was dropped by sponsors Banque Populaire, apparently after taking a year out to have her first child left her qualification in doubt, Crémer posted a furious response on social media.

That’s unusual – usually skippers who lose their backers quietly shift into another fleet. But the fact that Crémer’s case centred on her becoming a mother was incendiary – the story became a huge news storm, and led to Banque Populaire dropping out of the Vendée altogether.

Crémer secured a new team and new backer, and has been working hard to get into this year’s Vendée Globe – only for another firestorm to erupt around her when anonymous emails purported to show she had cheated during the 2020 race by discussing routing with her husband. Once again, Crémer did not stay quiet – she waived anonymity to discuss the allegations made against her, and to vehemently refute them. This week the French Sailing Federation cleared both her and her husband of any misconduct.

In a world where pro female sailors are often left feeling that they should be grateful for any opportunities that come their way, Crémer has shown that she refuses to be intimidated or cowed.

Cole Brauer. Photo: Cole Brauer – First Light @colebraueroceanracing/Globe Solo Challenge

Cole Brauer

Cole Brauer sailed into the history books yesterday when she became the first American woman ever to sail around the world solo non-stop. It is truly remarkable that Brauer’s 2024 Global Solo Challenge race 2nd place finish was the first time this has been achieved, but she also showcased ocean racing to a whole new audience along the way.

Brauer, 29, posted hugely entertaining and relatable videos throughout the race, building a huge social media following (nearly half a million followers on Instagram for starters) who followed her every step, including being thrown across the cabin in a broach and having to self-administer an IV drip after severe seasickness.

At just 5’2”, Brauer says she has always been motivated by people saying she is too small, or too young, to take on such a challenge. There is already chat of a possible future Vendée Globe campaign for the Long Island sailor.

Hannah Mills. Photo: C. Gregory / INEOS Britannia

Hannah Mills

Not only the most successful female Olympic sailor in history, Hannah Mills is bidding to become the winner of the first ever Women’s America’s Cup.

As CEO of the British Athena Pathway, Mills is leading the British women’s and youth teams at the 37th America’s Cup this year, but since retiring from Olympic sailing she has also been a driving force in increasing opportunities for women sailors to compete in high-profile foiling events, particularly SailGP, where she has raced as strategist, a role she has shared with fellow Brit Hannah Diamond.

Diamond, along with sailors like Emily Nagel, are part of a new generation of female sailors with strong analytical skills who have competed in both ocean racing and with foiling teams.

Dee Caffari (left) and Alexia Barrier (right) doing some team building in the alps

Alexia Barrier & Dee Caffari

Alexia Barrier’s co-skipper Dee Caffari describes her as ‘a force of nature’, so when Barrier announced that she was forming an all-female challenge for the Jules Verne Trophy it was clear she was serious. The Famous Project has made huge strides forward since its launch last summer, taking delivery of both a MOD70 and Francis Joyon’s former 103ft Idec Sport, and securing sponsorship from global tech company Wipro.

Together with fellow female trailblazer Dee Caffari, the pair have assembled a talented team of female sailors, and are working with some of the best multihull racers in the business as they prepare to push the giant trimaran around the world non-stop. Although their initial aim is to set a benchmark time for an all-female crew, this is a performance-driven team who have already proven that they are not to be underestimated.

Photo: INOES Britannia

Jo Grindley

Flick through the ‘senior leadership’ pages of most America’s Cup team websites, and there are vanishingly few women. Jo Grindley is one exception, as Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Commercial Officer of INEOS Britannia, the British Cup challenger.

Jo has been there from the start – having worked alongside Sir Ben Ainslie for 17 years, including through three Olympic campaigns, before the pair decided to set up a British America’s Cup team, the first of three challenges (Land Rover BAR). An America’s Cup team depends almost entirely on its funding, and as CMO/CCO she has delivered three campaigns with solid backing – no small achievement and a major part of Britain’s bid to bring the Cup home.

Celebrations as the crew of Pen Duick VI take line honours in Leg 3. Credit: Rob Havill/Ocean Globe Race

Heather Thomas and Marie Tabarly

The Cape Horn leg of the Ocean Globe Race was won by Marie Tabarly, on Pen Duick VI, followed by Heather Thomas skippering her all-female crew on Maiden. Both are skippering iconic yachts through some of the toughest waters in the world, and with the fleet now on their final leg, Maiden is challenging for the overall race lead. If they were to achieve it, it would be the first time an all-female team has ever won a round the world race.

Francesca Clapcich

Clapcich broke down boundaries when she was part of the 11th Hour Racing team which won the 2022-23 Ocean Race, not only a key member of the first US team to take the win, but also speaking out about LGBTQI+ issues, and being a mother in the offshore racing world.

She is now spearheading the Upwind by MerConcept programme to give women sailors more offshore multihull racing opportunities in the Multi 50 class.

Hannah Snellgrove, Laser Radial

Hannah Snellgrove

Hannah is the most recent member of the British Olympic sailing team to be announced but her path to the Games is inspirational for her tenacity in overcoming many obstacles along the way. “I like to think that enthusiasm and stubbornness have made up for a possible lack of natural talent,” she joked on her social media page when it was announced she would sail the ILCA 6 at Paris this summer.

“It’s 25 years since I failed my Salterns Red Pennant, 23 years since I was told I had no potential, 9 years since I was dropped from funding, and 2 years since I thought an injury would end my career.

“I guess where I’m going with this is that for anyone who needs to hear this today… the view can sometimes be nice when you take the scenic route.”

Neuschäfer finds time for a selfie while up the mast on Minnehaha. Photo: Kirsten Neuschäfer/GGR2022

Kirsten Neuschäfer

The awards have just kept coming for Kirsten Neuschäfer, winner of the Golden Globe Race in 2023, and the first woman ever to win a solo around the world race in doing so. She’s currently up for an prestigious Laureus World Sports Award – previous winners include such household names as Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt, Roger Federer and Lionel Messi.

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