Hailing from Geneva, where she started sailing with her parents as a child, 36-year-old Justine Mettraux is something of an enigma. You won’t find her talking herself up or striking a pose for the cameras. She’s an athlete who manages—in this era of sponsor-driven exposure and social media—to maintain a relatively low profile.
But her record speaks for itself. Mettraux was the first female sailor to finish on the podium in the series class in the Mini Transat, when finishing second in 2013. She was part of the Team SCA crew in the Volvo Ocean Race in 2014-15, then part of the winning Dongfeng Race Team in 2017-18. Most recently, she has been a key member of the victorious 11th Hour Racing Team in the first IMOCA Ocean Race.
Mettraux has also achieved impressive results in the Solitaire du Figaro solo championship—she was seventh in 2017—and is now a force in the upper reaches of the IMOCA fleet at the helm of Jérémie Beyou’s former Charal 1. Now rebranded in the colors of her longtime sponsor TeamWork, Mettraux finished seventh in the 2018-vintage VPLP-designed foiler in the 2022 Route du Rhum. The next big challenge is the 2024 Vendée Globe, in which a top-five finish is by no means out of the question.
So, who is Mettraux? What is making her the most competitive female sailor in this area of the sport? And what attributes does she have that make her so effective? Simon Fisher, the veteran British navigator with the 11th Hour Racing Team who sailed doublehanded with Mettraux during the 2021 season and again as part of the crew in The Ocean Race, knows her as well as anyone.
He says the woman he refers to as “Juju the Machine” is deceptive. “When you first meet Juju, she is quite shy, but underneath that exterior is actually a fierce and determined competitor, and I’ve certainly seen that sailing with her both crewed and doublehanded,” he says.
Fisher reckons there are few in the sport who are more committed to their chosen calling than Mettraux. “We call her ‘the Machine’ because we are pretty sure she thinks about sailing almost 24 hours a day,” he says. “And certainly, when everyone else is thinking about a day off, she will be the one thinking about getting back out there. She’s got an incredible appetite for our sport. She’s incredibly focused on it and, based on her level of commitment, I am sure she will put together a great Vendée Globe campaign.”
All who have sailed or trained with her mention Mettraux’s methodical and thorough approach to learning and racing. She is famous for taking notes throughout her races and training camps, notes that she stores away and uses in race debriefs and to remind her of settings and techniques that otherwise would be forgotten.
Her rival female IMOCA skipper, Pip Hare, remembers being on a training course with Mettraux in Brittany in the buildup to the Mini in 2012. She paints a picture of a hard-working athlete determined not to miss a thing. “From the first moment of meeting her, you could see that Justine is a really serious person,” Hare recalls. “There was no question at all, she was there to absorb everything. In everything that we did, she was meticulous. She asked questions in the debriefs, and it was always Justine leading the questioning. I remember her taking heaps and heaps of notes. Her attention to detail was unbelievable. And on the water, I really rate her—she is a phenomenal sailor.”
Tenacity, stamina and determination are all qualities that get mentioned when people talk about Mettraux. Fisher says her capacity for hard work on a boat is endless. “I always tease her because she loves stacking—she’ll take any opportunity to move a few hundred kilos of kit around the boat if she thinks it’s going to improve performance, for however brief a period of time. She’s incredibly hard-working,” he says.
Mettraux is also noted for keeping her emotions in check, and she rarely, if ever, gives much away. Friends say that should not be mistaken for a coldness in her personality and talk of a warm and caring character. Mettraux herself says keeping a level emotional state is part of the winning game. “As a solo sailor, when you do offshore races, you go through highs and lows,” she says. “You have to keep a steady mood all the time. For sure there are tough moments or there are good moments, but it is all about consistency, and managing my emotions helps me to focus more on performance.”
Tenacity, stamina and determination are all qualities that get mentioned when people talk about Justine Mettraux.
Mettraux comes from a remarkable family. She has four siblings, all of whom are top-class professionals in the sport. Her brother Bryan sails on the Alinghi America’s Cup boat, her sister Elodie-Jane has sailed in two Ocean Races, and sister Laurane is on the Swiss SailGP team. They owe their passion for the sport to their parents—her father is a retired policeman; her mother worked in the Swiss post office—who bought a cruising boat that they enjoyed on Lake Geneva as kids.
There was no racing. “They never pushed us,” Mettraux says, speaking in fluent English, a language she delivers in a rapid-fire staccato. “They were really not into competition. So that’s maybe why we all do that because it was a personal choice for each of us. Although they didn’t plan it, they are happy to see we can enjoy our passion and that we are in good shape and enjoy what we do.”
Mettraux started sailing on her own at 16, inspired by Ellen MacArthur, whose first book she bought and devoured. For almost 10 years she served her apprenticeship, training with Swiss sailing camps, learning to be a skipper and how to manage a boat. In 2009, she joined Donna Bertarelli’s D35 Ladycat Racing on Lake Geneva, and the visibility gained from that led to her Mini Transat campaign.
When talking about motivation, Mettraux, who trained as a school teacher, always mentions performance. The level of it is what obsesses her, and improving it is a constant goal. “I put a lot of energy into my projects, always trying to keep improving, to improve my performance,” she says. “That’s what motivates me.”
These days, the big goal is the Vendée Globe, and Mettraux is approaching it with modest ambitions. “My goal is to finish it, for sure,” she says. “I don’t have a new boat, but I have a good second-generation one, so yes, I have the opportunity to do well. It is hard to look for a certain result in the Vendée Globe; you have to give it your best, try to sail a good track, keep the boat in one piece, and try to be happy with the way you sailed. If you do all that, then I think you will have a good result.”
A striking feature of her career has been the long relationship with her sponsor, which started with the Mini campaign and has continued ever since. TeamWork is a Swiss management consulting and data analysis company whose CEO, Philippe Rey-Gorrez, and his wife have become close friends of Mettraux. She is not the only sailor or athlete the company sponsors, but the way TeamWork has stayed with her and backed her successively through Figaro sailing, then Class40s and now the top echelon in IMOCA tells you all you need to know about her qualities as an individual.
“It is really a relationship based on trust,” Mettraux says. “I was 25 when I started with them, so I was a lot younger. But they always thought I was doing my best in my projects, trying to work seriously. It has always been transparent in terms of how the budgets are managed and where the money is going. And over the years, it has become a really friendly relationship, or a family relationship, and that is how they manage their projects in general.”
Mettraux says she is the sort of person who finds it hard to sit still. When not sailing, she enjoys the outdoors, wingfoiling, surfing or biking. Indoors, she takes refuge in novels on the rare occasions when she finds time away from the sea. But the dream now is all about the Vendée. “That’s the big goal for me, for sure,” she says.
A lot of people will be watching to see how she gets on, not only on the course around the world, but also in the big IMOCA races that lead up to it, including this fall’s doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre. One person who has full confidence in Mettraux is another of her crewmates from the 11th Hour Racing Team, the impressive Italian sailor Francesca Clapcich, who has trained with Mettraux and raced in The Ocean Race in-port series alongside her.
She says the Swiss sailor has the mental and physical toughness to do well on the global course. “I think her work ethic got her to where she is now,” Clapcich says. “In a few months, she will go around the world by herself, and she has absolutely 100 percent got the capacity to do it and do it really well. And that doesn’t come for free. It comes with a lot of work and a lot of perseverance.”