Neighbors of Park City

How one Olympian made her way from Italian shores to Park City’s peaks

Q&A with professional sailor and Parkite Francesca Clapcich

Neighbors of Park City: I’d love to hear how it all began. Where did you grow up, and why Park City?

Francesca Clapcich: I am originally from Trieste, Italy, a small town in the northeast. It’s actually on the water, so a lot of people are sailing or rowing. Everything is pretty much related to the water. At the same time the mountains were close, so everyone grew up doing some skiing. 

My parents had a small boat, so we were spending the summers sailing around when I was young. In the beginning, I wasn’t super passionate about it; I had fear around it. At the time, I was way more passionate about skiing and spending most of the weekends on the mountain. I was part of a local ski club until I was about eleven. Then it became really hard. We experience this here in Park City, where most of the kids who grow up living here are able to access skiing and training every day. The gap between kids who can live it every day versus those who can train a couple days a week makes it impossible to compete. In the end, I chose to do more sailing, but coming here to Park City was actually very special, and we spent enough days here that we could ski and enjoy the community that we really love.

NOPC: Tell me about the Olympics. How did that come about, and what drove you to want to compete at that level?

FC: I qualified single-handed for the 2012 London Olympics. After London, I switched from single-handed to double-handed. My sailing partner and I then qualified for Rio in 2016. Unfortunately, we didn’t medal. We won the world championship the year before and had high hopes for medal contention; that was such a hard experience, personally. But I always try to look forward to what’s next, which was off-shore sailing. The person who helped me join the team, Sally Barkow, is actually now my wife, a great sailor herself. I knew of her but didn’t know her personally until our paths crossed. She’s been really important in my career moving forward after the Olympics. Now, a few years later, we are married with an 18-month-old daughter.

Francesca Clapcich with wife Sally Barkow and their daughter. Photo: 11th Hour Racing // Harry K

NOPC: It’s so incredible when life works out that way. Tell me more about Sally and how the two of you work together.

FC: Sally is really involved in the sailing industry. She’s working with U.S. Sailing (The National Federation) and with the Olympic team. We both chase our passions, and it’s pretty amazing how well we understand each other. Sometimes, we are both away in two different places at the same time, but we support each other in a crazy life, and we are happy to live that crazy life together. 

NOPC: How amazing for your daughter to grow up with each of you as her role models. Has she joined you on the boats yet?

FC: She travels a lot already! She is with us all the time, that’s quite nice. She’s at an age now where she isn’t just sleeping and eating. She’s starting to discover things; she understands when she’s in a new place and it’s an adventure. Being able to see the world through her eyes is a different experience. When I raced around the world last year, they joined me during some of the stopovers, so we were able to spend some time together. Even though she was super little, I hope one day she will remember and at least be able to see the photos of it. 

NOPC: When you say “around the world,” what is that race like, and how long does it take? 

FC: The race is called The Ocean Race; it’s the longest, toughest team sporting event in the world. I am the first Italian to win in its 50-year history. The crew is configured with four sailors and an on-board media reporter who just documents the voyage. That took us sux months doing legs of 15-30 days, but we were stopping. In the 2023-24 race we started in Alicante, Spain, and raced to Cape Town, South Africa, Itajaí, Brazil, Newport, Rhode Island, Aarhus, Denmark, and The Hague, Netherlands, before finishing in Genoa, Italy. 

There is another event that is called the Vendée Globe that is a race around the world, but you are solo, by yourself on the boat, and that race is non-stop. It starts and ends in France, and you go around the world in about 80 days.

Francesca is training for the Vendee Globe. Photo: 11th Hour Racing // Amory Ross

NOPC: Have you ever sailed long distances like the Vendée Globe alone?

FC: Not yet, but that’s my goal. I’m really happy to share that I have secured sponsorship for the next couple of years to do more offshore sailing with an end goal of doing the Vendée Globe in 2028, which is very exciting; it will come around quickly. The sponsor is called 11th Hour Racing. They are a U.S. organization, so they are really focused on sustainability, and the goal is to focus on both climate sustainability and ocean health while also bringing attention to diversity in a sport that’s still mostly male-driven. It’s a hard sport to access for different categories of people. The end goal is to use the sport as a platform to raise awareness, champion solutions, and develop a stronger voice on all these subjects. 

Athletes, and sports in general, have so much power to reach people, more than lawmakers in many cases. We have more followers and more connections to people with passions about certain issues, and for me, it’s quite an honor to be able to use my voice and my privilege to have such a strong sponsor supporting me.

NOPC: Have you found the same opportunities to connect and inspire here in Park City?

FC: We are huge fans of the Park City Library, Lucky Ones coffee, and all the guys working there. It’s my favorite place. When our daughter is not at daycare, we just go there. Miss Katrina is telling the stories and we grab a coffee at Lucky Ones.

I’m also part of the LGBTQi Task Force here in Park City. I wanted to do something more with the community that I live in, be part of something that I’m proud of, and to engage in something special. And of course, the ski resort. I’m a ski instructor at PCMR. I love working with the kids. I love the community here. I come from so far away but in the five years I’ve been here I feel so at home. It’s nice to bring a different point of view, culture, country, and language. It’s all things that I believe make us richer. 

NOPC: Being on the water and living in Park City feel like two completely different worlds. Can you talk about why you feel the two are more connected than we think?

FC: All the water we have in the mountains, the snow and the rivers, most of that ends up in the open ocean. There is a massive connection between pollution and rising temperatures impacting both environments. We can see we don’t have the same snowpack that we had years ago, and the temperatures are really high. At the same time, that affects the ocean in the same way. It’s pretty special for me to live in both of these worlds, to see the mountains and understand the oceans and bring both points of view back to the table.

NOPC: Ok, I have to ask. What are the lodging and meals like out on the open ocean?

FC: The food has changed a lot in the last few years, especially with mountaineering and outdoor sports. Sailing has benefited from more worldwide sports like climbing, backpacking, and camping in the way of a variety of options. It used to be just some kind of pasta, repeated every day. Now we can almost go for two months without having the same meal everyday. It’s nice! We also have snacks like bars, dried fruit, nuts and ramen. 

For water, we have water makers. There is a system of pumps that pump salt water from the ocean. It goes through and takes all the minerals out, giving you fresh water. In 40 minutes, you get 30 liters of water, which is quite efficient. The issue is that it’s pure water, so we have to supplement with electrolytes to get the minerals that our body needs. You can feel it right away if you forget: massive headaches. 

NOPC: The desalination piece, what an interesting way to, at least on a small scale, collect some data on efficient desalination of ocean water for use.

Francesca Clapcich at the cockpit hatch as the sun goes down. Photo: 11th Hour Racing // Amory Ross

FC: Yes. On top of that, we had a scientific machine on board that was testing the water from the various locations we sailed. We were able to get data from remote places in the world such as pH, temperature, microplastics, and containment water samples. 

We are not scientists, but we have the opportunity to be in places where even just a research boat would struggle to get there. So data was constantly being sent off the boat, we brought samples back, sent samples off to a lab in the U.S., and now we have data that’s completely public for any scientific research. 11th Hour has many grantees and ambassadors who are all connected, from water to ocean, to Protect our Winters (a nice connection to my mountain passion). It’s a great honor and pleasure for me to be a part of their community. I see it also as a responsibility to be sponsored by this organization. I’m empowered that I can do something.

NOPC: When you talk about sailing to remote places, how do you adjust and navigate in these high-risk situations? Especially in places where you are so isolated from land and human contact?

FC: There is a point called Point Nemo, the point on the planet where you are furthest away from land, where you are the most isolated. You navigate this point on the boat during The Ocean Race. The waves are big, and there are strong storms because there’s no land to dissipate them. We have satellite technology now, but 30 years ago, it was a different story. We have data collection, weather forecasts every few hours and satellite images. It’s still very much about preparation, not just data, but reading data, rerouting, and debating speed. We have computers on board that have navigational software where we can input data and get some feedback for ideal routes. Then again, it’s ultimately up to the sailor. Algorithms only tell you so much.

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