It's been 27 years since Italy last had a female sailor in the Volvo Ocean Race but Francesca Clapcich is about to change all that.
Chosen for her Olympic experience and contagious attitude, she will fly the Italian flag onboard Turn the Tide on Plastic for the first time since 1989-90.
These are Francesca's thoughts on the next big move in her sailing career.
It's been 27 years since Italy last had a female sailor in the Volvo Ocean Race – but Turn the Tide on Plastic's newest recruit Francesca Clapcich is about to change all that.
With plenty of Olympic experience and a successful trial period under her belt, the 29-year-old is the third sailor announced by skipper Dee Caffari for the 2017-18 edition.
Hi Francesca! You've got a lot of experience in the Olympic circuit, but the Volvo Ocean Race is all new to you – describe your first experiences on a Volvo Ocean 65...
The first time I was at the helm of a Volvo Ocean 65 was during team trials in Lisbon, there was about 25 knots of wind and at the time I wasn't sure how I felt but then I realised afterwards that I had loved it. If I'm honest it's not the fastest I've driven but then again I have very little experience on this kind of boat. Technically it's still sailing but for me, it's almost a completely different sport. You've got to have the 'feeling' when at the helm but at the same time you've got to understand the boat from a technical point of view.
Offshore racing through the harshest oceans and conditions on the planet is very different to what you've been used to – what's been the reaction from your friends and family?
It was actually Giulia Conti, my co-skipper during Rio 2016, who first said to me 'you're crazy'! Obviously, she is very proud of me, and even though our sporting paths have separated our friendship has and will remain strong. Of course, she acts like a mother to me sometimes and I think the first thing she said was 'take it easy, take it easy'.
What's it like to sail with Dee Caffari as a skipper – it must be a dream come true for you?
For me, she's a legend. I'm sailing with a legend, and I have to pinch myself sometimes. The first time I went up the boat with her I felt the feeling of sailing with a hero, she has a real presence. She is actually quite quiet and when we are in complicated situations she radiates calmness and tranquillity. She is very good at talking to us, motivating us, pushing us. Her leadership should be a great example for everyone. She keeps it real.
Your crew is still coming together, but it seems like you had a great atmosphere onboard during Leg Zero. How has mixed crew sailing been for you?
I think our crew is going to be amazing. We will have a perfect balance. On a personal level, I find it much better to navigate with a mixed crew than with an all-female crew. You learn a lot more, everyone is involved with everything, everyone brings a different experience to the table. I think Dee has been smart in who she has chosen and I think our team fit together very well.
Your team is amplifying an amazing campaign to tackle ocean plastic pollution – but on the racetrack, what are your objectives?
I think it's about starting and ending the journey together. It's about everyone giving their best performance and getting the most from the project, in every respect. For sure, we're not the team starting out with victory within our grasp but we will improve at every stage, we won't give up and we will fight. We might not be starting as strong as some of the other teams but we will finish just as strong, I'm sure.
Has doing the Volvo Ocean Race been a long-term ambition of yours?
For sure – when I was younger I had two dreams: make the Olympics and complete a Volvo Ocean Race. My parents had a boat, not a big one or anything but every summer we were on a family cruise, in Croatia. The passion for the sea has always been in me. Then I saw all the videos, the Whitbread, the Volvo Ocean Race... the giant waves, the wind, the challenge of a lifetime. You feel it in your heart when the Volvo Ocean Race is calling.