Sunday, 7 June 2009

L'Equipe de France de Match Racing: Part Four - The ISAF #1: Sébastien Col

Seb Col in his RC44 Team Ceeref gear. Image copyright Anne Hinton. All rights reserved.

Anne Hinton continues her series of interviews with the top French Match Racers. This week, Sébastien Col, the current ISAF #1, runner up on the World Match Racing Tour in 2008, and helmsman of K-Challenge, is in the spotlight. Anne Hinton caught up with him prior to Match Race Germany, after his RC44 match racing in Cagliari, Sardinia.

Seb reveals that he thoroughly enjoys and competes in a wide range of sailing, but will concentrate on match racing this year, which he has been doing in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, RC44s, the World Match Racing Tour and other events. His tip for the winner of the World Match Racing Tour in 2009 is compatriot Mathieu Richard, currently the ISAF #2.

Seb Col and his French Match Racing Team - winners of the Korea Match Cup 2008. Image copyright Christopher Cameron/World Match Racing Tour.

AH: How did you start sailing?

SC: I was practically born on a boat! I got into sailing by travelling on boats. The first time I went to a school was at the age of 9 years - before that, school was on board the boat, taught by my parents somewhere in the Atlantic or on the Mediterranean. I only started racing aged 13 years - so quite late!

AH: How did you start match racing?

SC: In 1998 I was in the French Laser Youth team, but I was not tall or big enough for the Olympics, so tried different dinghies and match racing.

AH: ...and how did you get involved with the America's Cup?

SC: I got into the America's Cup while living in Sete, in the south of France. The French America's Cup team trained there for 1992 and 1995 under the direction of Marc Pajot. My mother was the logistics manager of the team.

Seb Col at Match Race St Moritz 2008. Image copyright Loris von Siebenthal/ Match Racing Tour.

AH: ...and the French Match Racing team?

SC: It has become stronger since the last America's Cup as Areva wanted to keep supporting French match racing after the America's Cup.

There are five teams - Philippe Presti is the most senior, and Pierre-Antoine Morvan the youngest, then there are Mathieu Richard, Damien Iehl and me, who have sailed together a lot, and got 1st, 2nd and 6th in the ISAF rankings at present [AH: in the latest release they are now 1st, 2nd and 8th, with Philippe Presti ranked 6th]. We are a little proud of that!

Every year a different one of us leads. We have been competing since about 9 to 10 years. We always have a good relationship, and are very grateful to our trainer, Marc Bouet.

Thanks to Areva and Marc Bouët we now have more resources for training - double the budget. New Zealand doesn't have the resources to support more than one team on the World Match Racing Tour. We don't need any more resources than we have. It is not possible to make a living from match racing, but we can do so by sailing elsewhere too.

In terms of human resources, we have a coach or two, and a physical trainer, just like a team, with especially good access to such people in the year after the OIympics. We have 'No excuse to lose'! There are only five teams on the circuit, and two in the World Match Racing Tour (Col and Richard). If Damien [Iehl] keeps his present place he will be in on the World Match Racing Tour card next year. Before this year the World Match Racing Tour didn't have a policy on who could compete, so clubs went for a spread of nationalities, rather than the top match racers.

Seb Col battles against long-time friend and fellow French Match Racing Team member Mathieu Richard in the Marseille International Match Race 2009. Image copyright Gilles Martin-Raget/World Match Racing Tour.

AH: How did match racing lead into the America's Cup for you?

SC: In 1999 I joined the French America's Cup team as training partner. We only had one boat and it was a very late challenge. I didn't go to Auckland.

I did the match racing circuit at the end of 1998 and in 1999. It was my first time sailing with America's Cup sailors. However, I watched the America's Cup from home.

In 2001 there was a new campaign with Areva as sponsor from 2002. I joined this as training helmsman and strategist for the racing, and learnt a lot. Philippe Presti was the helmsman delegate.

In 2006 we achieved first place in the ISAF match race rankings and won three stages of the World Tour. In 2007 I was helmsman of Areva Challenge for the America's Cup.

After the America's Cup in 2007 I tried something completely different and did the double-handed Transat Jacques Vabre [with Kito de Pavant on Groupe Bel], finishing 6th in class.

In 2008 I came back on to the World Match Racing Tour. A tactician was not available in March, so initially we had no tactician and then tried people out, aiming for 2009. We had fourteen different guys as tactician and trimmer during 2008. It was a very good experience. We were there to learn, and did not plan for good results. However, we won both ways. [AH: They finished second on the World Match Racing Tour in 2008.]

My present tactician was at three events last year (finishing 1st, 2nd and 6th), and he has become our tactician based on the results and our relationship. I have Philippe [Presti]'s former tactician. We changed tactician after the first two events this year.

There are twenty-five people in the French Match Racing Team, so it is easy to chop and change. Mathieu, Damien and me are all roughly the same age, so we have a good relationship. We are all in the World Match Racing Tour. We will try and do more Grade One events too.

The World Match Racing Tour has 10 events, but needs to put pressure on some of the events to respect their commitments. Not all our prize money from last year has reached us yet.

Seb Col defeats Ian Williams in the finals of the Korea Match Cup 2008. Image copyright Christopher Cameron/World Match Racing Tour.

AH: And the Kiwi BlackMatch team on the World Match Racing Tour - what do you think of their progress?

SC: They are a growing team. They are talented and have sailed together a while now. They are progressing and improving, going upwards. Mirsky is more up and down.

BlackMatch may progress faster than us as they have more to learn. They may end up in front of us - but not so far! They have talent and the momentum of the learning curve.

AH: Who do you see as the others to watch out for on the World Match Racing Tour this year?

SC: The guy ready to win the World Championship is Mathieu Richard. He has the talent.

Ian Williams has been fresh from the winter, not training too much.

The main challenge for us this year will be the match racing.

Sébastien Col helms Pataugas by K-Challenge during the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series off Auckland earlier this year. Image copyright Juerg Kaufmann/Go4Image. All rights reserved.

AH: How did you like the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in Auckland?

SC: It was a very good event. It would be good to have more such series.

AH: Did the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series help to keep you in the match racing groove over the Northern winter?

SC: It is very different sailing big boats in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series compared with the small boats that we sail on the World Match Racing Tour. It is different for the trimmers too. We have both tacticians and navigators on the big boats to tell us where to go!

RC44 Team Ceeref, with Seb Col third from the right, next to owner Igor Lah (fourth from the right). Michele Ivaldi is on the extreme right. Image copyright Anne Hinton. All rights reserved.

AH: You are sailing on the RC44 Team Ceeref this season?

SC: I am replacing James Spithill until he returns from his BMW ORACLE Racing multihull commitments. There is a clash with Match Race Germany, so I shall miss the next RC44 event on Traunsee, Austria, while I go and do Match Race Germany, as it is part of the World Match Racing Tour.

I enjoy sailing with Team Ceeref. Michele Ivaldi, James Spithill's tactician, is a very good tactician.

The RC44 concept is good with match racing and tactician positions for me. The pro/am nature of the Class means that we sail a lot more with the owners, who learn quicker as a result.

The boats are fast. The class helps bring Dean Barker and others into it, so we can sail against people whom we wouldn't sail against elsewhere.

Seb Col helming the RC44 Team Ceeref in match racing in Italy. Image copyright Anne Hinton. All rights reserved.

AH: What other sailing are you doing this year?

SC: I have three main goals, in addition to match racing, this year. The first is the Melges 24. I won the Europeans and Worlds in this Class before [in 1998 and 2004, respectively]. I will be tactician to Flavio Favini on his boat. Favini was with Mascalzone Latino in the last America's Cup and has previously won the Melges Worlds as helmsman.

The second goal is the Tour de France à la Voile. This is with friends, such as Erwan Israel, from my Laser sailing days. Erwan will be tactician and I will helm the boat. It is good to have more small boat helming time!

My third goal is to spend more time with my family. In 2008 we were waiting for America's Cup events, so we were unsure what to do/where to be. Now we have moved to Le Touquet, in northern France, near my partner's family. We have two children, so this is easier on my partner.

AH: Thank you very much indeed for your time and all the best for your wide-spanning sailing career.

Sébastien Col
Federation Français de la Voile - l'Equipe de France de Match Racing

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