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44Cup teams set sail with female crew

by 44Cup 1 Mar 19:58 GMT 1-5 March 2023
Nine RC44s are set to be on the start line tomorrow - 44Cup Oman © Martinez Studio

In another step towards re-energising the 44Cup, the rules for the International RC44 One Design class have been revised for 2023 so that going into the 44Cup Oman, which starts out of Muscat's Al Mouj marina tomorrow, all nine teams will race with at least one female crew.

While not a completely new development, like so many professional sailing circuits it is possible to count on one hand the number of female crew that have competed during the 44Cup's 16 year existence. This will change for 2023.

To date 44Cup crews have only been permitted to race with four World Sailing Category 3 'pro' sailors on board. Now this has been amended so that the remaining positions on board, can now not only be filled with WS Cat 1 'amateur' sailors, but also each team's boat captain, plus women and under 30-year-olds - even if they are pro sailors under World Sailing's classification.

Racing with female crew is not mandatory, but the maximum weight limit rules have been altered making it beneficial to do so: a crew with a female or a substitute direct family member (several owners very much enjoy sailing with their children on board) can have an all-up crew weight of 730kg, whereas for a crew without it is 680kg. An all-female crew, should one ever materialise, can have a total crew weight of 760kg.

As a result there has been a strong recruiting drive for all teams with the exception of Hugues Lepic's Aleph Racing, which had the prescience to have Slovenian sailor Lara Poljsak already racing with them. Similarly Flavia Tomiselli, who previously raced on Peninsula Racing was quickly snapped up by Nico Poons' Charisma, the 2022 44Cup champions. Meanwhile, two time Slovenian Olympic 470 sailor (and two time European Champion) Tina Mrak joins Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860; Team Aqua has Tinka Visser from the Netherlands; Artemis Racing has Italian Elisa Mangani; Spain's Júlia Miñana joins John Bassadone's Peninsula Racing; another 470 Olympian Federica Salva is with Team Nika. Oman Sail's crew will rotate Ibtisam Al Salmi and Maria Al Khaifi. Uniquely Christian Zuerrer's Black Star Sailing Team has two women on board, Anina Fässler and Celia Willison as bow-woman.

One of Christian Zuerrer's aims with his team has been to develop young sailors. His Black Star new recruits are, by coincidence, both trained nurses but otherwise have very different backgrounds. From Switzerland, Fässler has mostly raced offshore on former Volvo Ocean Race boats running corporate/charter programs. Meanwhile, a graduate of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's youth training program, Willison is a successful female match racing helmsman whose Edge Match Racing Team were 2019 NZ Women's National Match Racing champions. She came to Europe in 2022 to seek her fortune as a pro-sailor and has ended up on the RC44 after spending a season racing various keelboats in the UK, including winning the UK Cape 31 Nationals. She admits she has not worked the bow for years but is pleased that the opportunity has arisen making it more possible for women to race RC44s.

The increased female participation, was welcomed by 44Cup champion, Charisma's Nico Poons: "Time will tell how it will change the dynamic on the boat. Flavia is very experienced on the RC44, but it will be an adjustment. But it will be the same across the fleet as every team will have a woman onboard. It will bring some fresh energy to the fleet."

An issue for all the teams is that crew positions are so well defined that integrating an extra person will take time. Of her role Flavia Tomiselli says: "I am always a floater. It depends on the boat, but it is always a very similar job. I try to fit in and discover how I can be more useful." The Palma-based Italian sailor raced for four seasons on the 44Cup before stopping after 2019. "I started working with North Sails as a sail designer and they wanted me to spend more time in the office," she explains. However this has eased and her role now allows her also to keep abreast of RC44 sail developments. Of the increased women's role she says: "For sure it helps people get used to having more girls around and more work to do to get everyone better distributed into more positions on the boat. I hope it will come, but it will be slow."

She was also responsible for recruiting another Palma-based Italian, Elisa Mangani to Artemis Racing. With degrees in both yacht design and aerospace engineering, Mangani is also deeply in the marine trade, working for hardware manufacturer Ronstan but is a sought-after sailor too. Having grown up racing dinghies, she has graduated up to keelboats and recently has raced on the Swan 50 Earlybird and the Ker 46 Lisa R, on which she won last year's Rolex Giraglia.

On board her principle role is 'mainsail caddy'. "I am working closely with the mainsail trimmer [Iain Percy] so I have to trim and adjust the traveller car, outhaul, etc. I'm lucky - it's a good role and I am learning a lot." She is also part of the bow team dropping the jib and helping in gybes.

Italian two time Olympic 470 sailor Federica Salva was also well positioned to join Team Nika as she has already been sailing on their Melges 20 since 2020. Aside from being a two time bronze medallist at the 470 World championships during the 1990s, she has since continued her Olympic dream in the Nacra 17 as well as numerous keelboat classes including the Swan 50, RS21 and J/70.

She too admits that they are still trying to nail down her position: "We are still studying that because it is very difficult to find the right place because the guys are very used to their playbooks. You have to be very pro-active and positive and a good team player because as the only woman among a lot of men, sometimes it is not comfortable but [on Team Nika] they are all nice. If you like sailing, then this is the right place and the right boat."

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