Boating Business | Profile – Marie-Claude Heys

PROFILE – MARIE-CLAUDE HEYS

HOMENEWSPEOPLEPROFILE – MARIE-CLAUDE HEYS

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MARIE-CLAUDE ONLY WANTED TO SAIL

MARIE-CLAUDE HEYS TAKING PART IN THE ROUND THE ISLAND RACE

MARIE-CLAUDE WITH THE KEY YACHTING TEAM

MARIE-CLAUDE WITH THE J DREAM CREW, WINNERS OF THE J CUP

MARIE-CLAUDE TOOK PART IN THE SINGLE-HANDED FIGARO RACE IN 1983

MARIE-CLAUDE ONLY WANTED TO SAIL

MARIE-CLAUDE HEYS TAKING PART IN THE ROUND THE ISLAND RACE

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02 Jun 2020

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INDUSTRY DATABASE

KEY YATCHING LTD

Key Yachting MD, Marie-Claude Heys, is the epitome of the phrase ‘follow your dreams’. Her passion for sailing, coupled with incredible tenacity, determination and self-belief, resulted in more than 20 years of competitive racing, culminating in crewing for two Whitbread Round the World races.

Marie-Claude’s parents trained in medicine in Paris and moved to Brest with her two elder brothers before she was born. “My parents had a passion for outdoor sports – sailing, mountaineering, skiing etc – and regularly raced. My mother helmed and my father skippered.”

From the age of seven, Marie-Claude sailed. “I initially thought about being a vet or going to art school, but from 12 onwards I only wanted to sail. For me it was more than a hobby; it was a lifestyle.”

At 16, Marie-Claude was allowed to skipper her parent’s boat, a 28ft cruiser. “This gave me a great sense of responsibility, for the boat and the people on board.”

A year later, in 1977, Marie-Claude dreamed of sailing around the world, particularly Cape Horn. “I saw this as a huge adventure, an opportunity to be with people, to enjoy the camaraderie, yet be on your own with so much freedom.”

Charter business

And so the journey began. After two years studying English and Spanish at university, she left to concentrate on offshore sailing and to build a charter business using her parents’ boat.  What followed was a two-year adventure in professional sailing, sailing from Brest to Tahiti via England, the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, islands in the Pacific and through the Panama Canal.

Upon her return to France, and eager to learn more about sail-making and boat building, Marie-Claude honed her skills by working for local firms. “Alongside racing boats, I wanted to know everything about them and these two areas matched my skill set.”

In 1983, Marie-Claude entered the single-handed Figaro race, crossing to Ireland, back to France, then Spain before returning. “It’s a sprint across shipping lanes and in those days, there was no GPS and an intermittent auto-pilot, so you were reliant on your skills and endurance.”

She also competed in the 1987, 1990 and 1991 races and skippered female crews for the Tour de France a La Voile in 1985 and 1986.

Transatlantic race

By 25, Marie-Claude completed her first successful transatlantic race – Monaco-New York on Lady Elf. The crew were victorious and during the 1986 Paris Boat Show, she heard about Tracy Edwards and her plan for a female crew in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race. Marie-Claude applied and was invited to serve as first mate.

Despite preparing the boat ‘Maiden’ for the voyage, things didn’t work out and Marie-Claude wasn’t to compete in the Race until 1993-94, as part of a 12-women crew on ‘Heineken’ (at the helm and sail-making). Four years later, she crewed in the Southern Ocean leg of the Race on ‘EF Education’.

In between another transatlantic race and sailing a variety of J boats in numerous UK-based events (including Cowes), Marie-Claude skippered charters between the Mediterranean and Caribbean, managed shore logistics for a French Round the World Race entry and taught French. It was only when she met her future husband, Paul Heys, that life began to settle down.

History

“I met Paul in 1993, before setting off in ‘Heineken’. I cleaned boats at his brokerage and when I returned a year later, he offered me a job in after sales. We started a business together in 1996, married in 1998, and the rest as they say is history.”

Key Yachting has exclusive distributor rights for J Boats, Grand Soleil, Tofinou and Nautitech Catamarans, covering the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands. “We treat our customers like family. We’re here 24/7 and run racing events so everyone can come together.”

Marie-Claude was widowed in 2019 and received the British Yachting Lifetime Achievement Award obo Paul in December. This she says, ‘reflects the warmth of feeling and respect people had for him’.

After many years ‘living out of a suitcase’ and working on different projects, Marie-Claude looks back at her time sailing as ‘a dream fulfilled’. “It’s not a lifestyle that suits everyone; there’s no safety or security, but this is the price you pay for freedom.”

Marie-Claude still enjoys sailing, but nowadays focuses on Hamble-based Key Yachting and her second home in south east France. Her resilience is demonstrated by her motto ‘live your dream, be kind and don’t let people hurt you… rise above it’.

via Boating Business | Profile – Marie-Claude Heys.

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