Alex Thomson’s boat was of course originally designed for and built as one of your OC projects, but how does it feel not having an IMOCA Open 60 project of your own here this time?
It is a bit sad not to have a campaign there. To be honest at this time I am not sure I can put my hand on my heart and say I’d like the three months of stress that come with it. We want to have a boat there in the future and are just putting the building blocks in place with the Artemis Academy. We have gone back to basics and just growing it from the ground up. I think we learned a lot in the first year. We are very lucky to have the backing of Artemis. And now we have a genuinely good set up. We are creating a lot of potential skippers for the future. We are taking the level of skippers up in the UK with a very methodical approach, but you have to have a long term view of it. I think 2020 is really our vision, but by 2016 there should be a bunch of young guys and girls capable of doing their first Vendée Globe campaign, with a really solid grounding in the same way the French guys have. I think we are stepping consistently and surely towards that goal. As a company the Vendée Globe has not dropped off our list. The Vendée Globe and the Volvo Ocean Race are very much part of our strategic plan.
Capture the most magical moments of the Vendée Globe for you….
The atmosphere at the start is unmatched. There is nothing like the one hour on the dock as the skippers leave. Nothing. Nothing in sport anywhere in the world as the atmosphere on the dock. In particular for anyone who has sailed the Southern Ocean and you are there knowing all of them, and the emotion – even of the toughest – the hard, three times around guy, Vincent Riou, for example the emotion is there, whether or not they are showing it. The fact is they head off and you don’t necessarily know if they are going to come back. That is the Vendée Globe. It is cliché but it is unchanged. The level of risk has not really changed much.
Given the uncertain economic outlook and knowing how tough the sponsorship market is, what is your evaluation of the present and future for the Vendée Globe and the IMOCA Open 60 class?
I think that 20 boats on the start line is genuinely a very successful story. I have heard people saying ‘only 20 boats, there used to be 27’ or whatever…but 20 boats on the start line is phenomenal. It does not matter the level or mix of sailors. But there you have 20 sets of sponsors, probably 50 companies, backing them one way or another. And so that shows the strength of the Vendée Globe. That is the good news. But like so many things in western society, in Europe, the good years were wasted. The change, the evolution, the looking forwards, the strategy and marketing, the value of circuit – not just the Vendée Globe – despite lots of people doing good things, some developments like the Barcelona World Race, the good years were rather wasted when changes could have been made. Things like those related to budget, whether one design is the right thing or not, the funding of developing the events and the circuit side, they happened with a voluntary association with very few people working for that. Now there are things which are hopefully being put in place and hopefully it is not too late. But some of us were pushing for that five to seven years ago. You have this very diverse scenario where there is very little money in the middle, there is very little money in the event side. And the event side is way tougher, commercially and financially. On average over the last eight years there has been €25 -€30m spent per year on the team side, some years maybe €40m -€50m and yet it would only have taken five per cent of these resources to build a more sustainable and solid circuit with big commercial set up behind it. And it hasn’t happened. But that is what happens when it is driven by a class association owned by projects who already have their money, they don’t really care – when it comes to the crunch – what will be the case in three or four years time.