Friday, 19 April 2013

Vendée Globe : Not just a question of IMOCA class rule changes...

Hugo Boss finishing the Vendée Globe in third place. Image copyright Christophe Launay/ @SeaLaunay

by Anne Hinton

When the MOD70s began construction, some Vendée Globe sailors – Roland Jourdain, Michel Desjoyeaux and Seb Josse – went into the class. Due to insufficient sponsorship funds, this year, Jourdain sold his boat to the USA, while Michel Desjoyeaux has his in storage, as is that of Steve Ravussin (who has the first MOD70). Meanwhile, Jean-Pierre Dick has now bought a brand new MOD70. It is something of a case of if your mates get into a particular sailing class, you join them.

Dick has three Vendée sailors on his boat – himself, Jourdain and Vincent Riou. This would seem to tie up three individual team sailors on one boat – i.e. a change from three IMOCA boats to one MOD70. This is a potential issue for both classes, although the reason is undoubtedly related to the lack of sponsorship funds for individual teams, first and foremost, and only as a consequence of this are these people sailing together on the one boat, rather than competing against each other.

The Vendée Globe situation is not just one of changing the IMOCA class rules, it is heavily related to:

a. Economics - which was a prompt for seeking to change the class to a more one design rule (however, there are potential economic issues with this too, as one designs can lead to monopolies for the supply and purchase of specific items, forcing prices up, for example)

b. “multimania” as Michel Desjoyeaux calls it in his autobiography, Coureur des Océans. This led to the advent of the MOD70s with multihull racing returning to fashion in a big way after the building of two large multihulls for the 33rd America’s Cup

c. A group of Vendée sailors, who are also friends, moving into the MOD70 class

Perhaps another lesson to be learnt from this is that events should not just depend on noted “names” or celebrities in sailing returning to an event year after year, but should more pro-actively encourage and seek to attract new sailors to the event. This also helps to broaden the competition, and opens the event up to following from wider sectors of the public, as people do not just follow an event, but also follow individuals, who they either see as reflecting values they themselves support, or are impressed by the individual team’s work and results in regard to an event.

MOD70 Race for Water. Image copyright Christophe Launay/ @SeaLaunay

A word of caution: attracting new sailors into an event is not only difficult at times, but it can be tricky in getting individuals or teams who attract an immediate public following, which is a major factor in ensuring the success of an event. Such celebrities not only have high return for their own sponsors, but give high return on investment for the event sponsors too. Michel Desjoyeaux, with his two Vendee Globe wins, and François Gabart, with his record time in winning the Vendée this year, are obvious examples of such celebrities, who greatly enhance an event, simply by their presence amongst the competitors.

That people participate in the Vendée for a wide variety of reasons is evident from simply reading Michel Desjoyeaux’ autobiography and that of Samantha Davies (Une Fille dans le Vent), which were both written after the 2008-9 race. Michel Desjoyeaux specifically mentions that he looks at his position in relation to the competition, and that it is the other competing boats which attract him to race around the globe. However, Sam Davies is not so concerned with the other competing boats, but more with sailing the best course possible. Both books hold great interest, but the two individuals are clearly very different people. Michel Desjoyeaux’s book provides a fair amount of detail in regard to the sailing and his approach to the race, while Sam Davies’ autobiography is more general in tone and provides relatively little information on the sailing by comparison – something reflected in her reports during the race, and which, it appears, the Volvo Ocean Race is seeking to emulate with its next generation of On-Board Reporters. Both of these people greatly enhanced the Vendée simply by their presence among the competitors.

Altogether, the issue of participants in the next Vendée Globe is not just a matter of IMOCA class rule changes, to be voted on today in Paris, but a far more complex issue, in which economics is a key factor, but far from the only element involved.

We greatly hope that the Vendée will continue to go from strength to strength, whatever IMOCA decides today, and look forward to wider international participation, alongside a continuation of the strong French presence in the race.

PS We wish to note, further to the April Fool “Vendée Globe : Change to Multihulls!”, that we are aware that Bernard Stamm would prefer to sail the Vendée on a monohull, and not a multihull. AH

Vendée Globe