What if it was her? At 46, the Briton Samantha Davies, author of a beautiful fourth place in the Vendée Globe 2008, is by far the best placed of the six women entered in this ninth edition to do at least as well as Ellen MacArthur, second in 2000 Could she even become the second woman to win a major solo oceanic race since Florence Arthaud, winner of the 1990 Route du Rhum?
“I put a coin on her, she has a lot of experience, she won a Volvo stage (race around the world with a crew, Editor’s note) with a female crew, she is an engineer by training and knows how to prepare a boat wonderfully. ” The prognosis should be taken seriously, since it comes from Catherine Chabaud, the first woman to have completed a Vendée Globe (6e in 1996). “The only box she does not tick is that her boat is not the fastest, but to win, you have to come back, and Samantha knows how to save her horse”, continues the former sailor who became a Member of the European Parliament (Modem) in 2019.
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The person concerned takes the compliment with the joyful relaxation that characterizes her, while confirming: “A third of the fleet is made up of new generation boats and not one has been entrusted to a woman, it is an inequality that remains and it is regrettable”, explains the sailor, who is still happy to see so many women at the start. “Parity is on the march”, she says.
The inequality of means remains
“The hardest part is no longer to navigate, it is to find a budget to leave”, rebounded Isabelle Joschke, the fastest of the five other sailors behind Samantha Davies. She herself could not take the start in 2016, just like the Spanish Anna Corbella, who had nevertheless sworn to “Not to leave a Vendée Globe without a woman”. This is what happened due to lack of budget. Thus the previous edition had no participants, like the first and second in 1989 and 1992.
In all, seven women in five editions (1) will have tried the adventure before the pistol shot of the ninth Vendée Globe, Sunday, November 8 in Sables d’Olonne. All returned safely (with the exception of Sam Davies, who retired during his second participation, in 2012), classified or not, like Isabelle Autissier, disqualified in 1996 after having to stop for repairs. And if the six sailors of 2020 have different levels, “There is no tourist”, rejoices Isabelle Joschke, who notes the move upmarket of “sailboats”. None set off without a solid track record in the world of ocean racing. “Samantha Davies and Miranda Merron both have professional seafaring companions or husbands and they are both better than them,” she asserts.
We will also have to reckon with the youngest, Clarisse Crémer, who will leave aboard the winning boat in 2012 (François Gabart’s ex-Macif). Some criticize the young woman who graduated from HEC for having benefited from a form of positive discrimination from the sponsor Banque Populaire, who wanted a woman at the helm. Then to have been formed and propelled by a man, Armel Le Cléac’h, winner of the 2016 edition. ” So what ?, retorts Isabelle Joschke. The only one who could have trained her so well is Samantha, who was not going to give weapons to a competitor. “
“In any case, at one point or another, you stop being a man or a woman to become a sailor and you have moreover a little tired of this different look”, annoys Catherine Chabaud, who has never suffered from sexism. “Some boaters looked at us with disdain, but the real runners showed us, Isabelle (Autissier) and me, respect, when they were interested in our navigation methods”, she continues.
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Other methods? “ Of course you have to find ways to compensate for the athletic deficit when you are, like me, 1.59 m, explains Isabelle Joschke. The boys always have the strength for one more tack, we don’t always. “ The girls maneuver less, which implies more… thinking, before triggering or not a transfer, which will cost a good hour of effort to the sailor and… to his boat. “We go a little slower in the short term, but we break less in the long term”, confirms Catherine Chabaud. Not to mention the little manufacturing secrets that allow you to tire less during maneuvers. Samantha Davies’ boat, for example, is full of these tips, but shhh, top secret until she returns. Then, she promises, “I’ll share it with everyone. Men and women included ”.