An all-female team has been formed to challenge for the Jules Verne Trophy, the non-stop crewed around the world record, in 2025.
French former Vendée Globe skipper Alexia Barrier announced her plans for the ‘Famous Project’ last year. Since then the project has gathered huge momentum, and Barrier and her team now have the use of two giant trimarans, including a MOD70 and the 103ft record-breaking Ultim trimaran IDEC, and around half the funding required.
Barrier has teamed up with British around the world skipper Dee Caffari to co-skipper the team. For Caffari, who has completed solo and crewed races and records, both eastabout and westabout around the world, the project had immediate appeal.
“The call came in the second half of last year. And I was immediately: yes! As a sporting challenge, that’s the last Holy Grail for me,” she told Yachting World.
“But then the momentum and the speed at which everything has come together has been super quick, and probably even surprised Alexia.”
Barrier and Caffari initially spent a week ski touring in the Alps together to see how they worked as a duo. “It was good to put us in a situation of both testing ourselves physically and mentally and seeing how we communicate with each other,” Caffari reflects.
In Easter this year the team took delivery of a MOD70 (ex-Spindrift, now named Limosa), and began training with coaching from Brian Thompson and Tom Dawson, plus team director Johnny Malbon, sailing out of La Grand Motte.
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A strong Mistral breeze arrived mid-way through the team’s first training block. “With a Mistral, you either go for a record or you sit on the dock,” recalls Caffari. “So we decided to go for a record. And to do that in your first week, after we’ve been on the boat for three days, was just awesome. I think we gave Brian Thompson a few extra grey hairs, but it was a really good way to put everything we’d practised together under pressure.
“When everything’s at 30 knots, the transitions are massive. If you need to do a sail change, it’s a massive dial down. You have to think so far ahead, the speed of thought is much quicker. So it was really good to put us under pressure because you don’t choose to train under pressure that often.”
The team set a benchmark time for one of a series of speed run courses established by offshore racer Kito de Pavant. Later this year the team also plan to attempt an around Corsica record, followed by the Rolex Middle Sea Race in October in the MOD70.
In June Barrier also took delivery of the 31.5m (103ft) trimaran IDEC Sport, in which the team will attempt their non-stop round the world. IDEC Sport is the current holder of the Jules Verne record at 40 days (set in 2017 by Francis Joyon).
IDEC will go into refit this year, and Barrier says they have had good technical support from the boat’s many previous skippers, including Franck Cammas, and designers VPLP, before an intensive sailing programme in 2024 both racing the MOD70 and aboard the Ultim, training and record attempts. They intend to go on standby for the Jules Verne record attempt in the autumn of 2025.
Once on standby, the crew will be seeking a viable weather window, rather than the tiny optimal time frames the Ultimes have been waiting for. “I think we’re keen to go on schedule and go for it because although we want to go for the record, ultimately, lap one is about us finishing, and if we finish, that’s the first female reference record,” explains Caffari.
The maxi trimaran will race with a crew of eight. Alongside Barrier and Caffari, the crew currently includes Helena Darvelid, who holds multiple speed records, Volvo Ocean Race sailors Marie Riou, Sara Hstreiter and Elodie Mettraux, Irish Figaro and IMOCA sailor Joan Mulloy, who has co-skippered with Barrier, and Marie Taberly. They are also welcoming applications from young female sailors.
A big part of the project’s aims, Barrier says, is to achieve parity in pay for her female crew with male offshore professionals. “I want to pay women like men, and in our sport that doesn’t really exist,” she explains.
‘We are still paid around a third of what the men are paid – when we are paid, because there are so few opportunities for women to do projects like this that sometimes you have to accept that you come for free, but that’s not the way you can be a professional sailor.
“So for me, it’s a big goal and why we are looking to have a proper budget to do it.”
Impressively, Barrier has secured around 50% of the funding needed for the project in just one year with founding partners including CIC and IDEC. Running costs are around €3 million a year, for three years, which leaves the title sponsorship available at what could be a veritable bargain compared to a foiling Ultime campaign.
For Barrier, the project dates back to her childhood dreams. “Since I was 12, I wanted to do the Vendée Globe and I was dreaming of the Trophée Jules Verne,” she recalls. She achieved her Vendée ambition in the last edition, finishing 24th with a shoestring campaign. “But there were no women doing the Trophée Jules Verne, so for me it was just impossible,” she recalls.
“I did try many times to jump onto a project, but it never worked. So I think it’s just the lack of opportunities for women which drove me to lead this project. It’s not a choice that I don’t want to sail with other teams, it’s just there is no space for women so I have to build my space.”
Female Jules Verne challengers
It’s been 25 years since the last all-female Jules Verne record attempt:
- Tracy Edwards, Royal & Sun Alliance (1998), with an all-female crew including Sam Davies, Emma Richards, Sharon Ferris, Helena Darvelid, Adrienne Cahalan, Emma Westmacott, and Miranda Merron. The attempt ended when the 90ft catamaran dismasted 2,000 miles from Cape Horn.
- Ellen MacArthur, Kingfisher 2 (2003). MacArthur was skipper and sole female member of the crew. The 110ft maxi catamaran Kingfisher2 also dismasted in the southern Indian Ocean.
- Dona Bertarelli, Spindrift 2 (2015). Bertarelli, who funds her own Spindrift campaign, is currently the fastest woman to sail non-stop around the world, having been a full member of the crew of 12 aboard the 140ft trimaran during a 2015 Jules Verne record bid. It was the third fastest lap of the planet ever completed, finishing in 47d 10h 59m 2s, and the fastest ever by a female sailor.
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