Hard to believe, but Mariana Lobato, the co-skipper on Biotherm, is about to become the first Portuguese sailor ever to take part in the Transat Jacques Vabre-Normandie Le Havre.

We caught up with the 35-year-old former Olympic sailor and world match racing champion and asked about her background in sailing and her preparations for her first two-handed transatlantic sprint in the IMOCA Class alongside Paul Meilhat.

Mariana, it’s great to talk to you here in Le Havre. Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us when you started sailing?

Well, my parents put me on board their cruising yacht when I was three months, so I had no choice! Mariana laughs, something that often punctuates her conversation.


And what was your first boat?

I had an Optimist.


And your first race?

When I was 10, I did a race from Lisbon to Madeira on a Beneteau First 40.7


Wow…so that didn’t put you off?



And are you still enjoying your sailing as much as ever?

Yes I am still enjoying it – I love it.


Now, tell us what it’s like being the only Portuguese sailor ever to do this race?

Yeah. It’s strange, but it’s good too. It feels good because it means I have been trying to work and create my pathway and it’s working!


What’s your profile like back home in Portugal? Is the media interested in the fact that you are now sailing in the IMOCA Class?

Yea, yeah…of course they are interested and I’ve been doing a lot of interviews in Portugal. It’s good to finally have a Portuguese doing the TJV.


Another remarkable thing about you, is that unlike almost all the other sailors in this fleet, you are not interested in the Vendée Globe or sailing solo?

Yes, for sure, the Vendée Globe is not for me. What I really enjoy on a race, whether in big boats or a small one, is really the team work.


So do you find it strange to be around all these people who are so focused on sailing solo across the Atlantic or round the world when you don’t want to do that?

Yes, it’s a concept that’s a bit new to me. It can be strange because their main goal is to do the solo race and it’s interesting to see how they work and how they organise it and how they feel on board and what they can achieve.


What’s it like sailing with Paul?

He’s very funny and sailing with him is really simple and it’s really good because I learn a lot and my goal is to do that, so it’s perfect…


He never stops working to try to make the boat go faster does he?

Yes – it’s interesting because he is really competitive and he never relaxes with the boat – he’s always pushing. What is good on board with us too, is we talk a lot about what we think – should we push more here or do this, or change that? That way we are aligned and we make sure we are doing the best and trying to get the best performance out of the boat.

How do you work with him on board – do have separate roles or do you share everything?

During The Ocean Race (Lobato sailed the last four legs of that race on Biotherm), I was more on the manoeuvre side and the trimming. But it was a really good step for me to learn more about navigation, so now I am getting confident with that. We are sharing a lot – we are both doing everything. Of course, Paul has more experience with navigation, but I have been learning a lot and can understand more to help reach decisions on board.


And what would be a good result for you and Paul in this race because the boat has had some not very good ones and technical issues towards the end of The Ocean Race?

Yes, we had a lot of issues. I think we have prepared the boat a lot – the shore team has been working hard. I can feel that it is ready and we had time to do it, whereas we were always in a rush on The Ocean Race. So we can do some good results now…


And what is your relationship like with this boat – she can be tough in big weather but she can fly on flat water?

It’s a different boat of course and it can be pretty violent. But now I know the boat and I know how to deal with it, whether we have more or less wind. And I know how to anticipate, so we don’t destroy the boat and make the most of it.


Where is the boat at its strongest – in which conditions?

Ten-to-12 knots – we are light and we can be fast and furious in those conditions.


Do you ever feel a bit intimidated in this fleet with all the rockstars on the pontoon, or are you quite happy and confident?

Yes, I feel confident. I have my skills. Of course they may be different than the others, but I have skills and I’m ready to learn and be involved with the others. I did The Ocean Race Europe with Yoann Richomme and sailed with Sam Goodchild on the Ocean Fifty, Leyton. So it was good to share experiences with them and see how they work.


And finally, tell us about your future sailing plans?

For now, I have nothing planned but it will come. I would like to do more IMOCA sailing and The Ocean Race again and The Ocean Race Europe, for sure. 

© © anne Beaugé

And would you go back to other classes as well?

Yes, I think it’s always good to sail as many different boats as you can. So I could go back to Ocean Fifties or to small boats. Two months ago I was sailing a J70 in Portugal and it was quite interesting changing from an IMOCA – it’s so different but, in the end, it is always the same team work and communication that counts…


Many thanks Mariana and good luck in your historic Transat Jacques Vabre…

Ed Gorman