Belgian solo skipper Denis Van Weynbergh knows only too well the disappointment of having to pull the plug on a Vendée Globe programme because of a lack of funding. Even although he had a competitive IMOCA in the yard in the shape of the boat which took Nandor Fa to eighth place in the 2016-17 race, the 50 year old company director could not make the start line of the ninth edition.
But even as he watched the trials and tribulations of many of his former Mini Class contemporaries, Yannick Bestaven, Sam Davies, Arnaud Boissières and Ari Huusela to name but four alumni of the 2001 Mini Transat which Van Weybergh raced 20 years, he made good use of his time, raising his profile and that of the Vendée Globe with a weekly TV update every Sunday.
The success of the last race, unmatched viewing figures, media and public interest has worked in his favour already and the Belgian racer who has moved his career step by step from the Mini through Class 40, now has found a partner whose backing should allow him to race the IMOCA Globe Series races and take each qualifying stage at a time to get to the start line of the tenth Vendée Globe. He has signed up with Les Laboratoires de Biarritz, a well known brand of organic, natural and innovative dermo-cosmetic products, and he feels this support is a good stepping stone on his route to starting the next Vendée Globe.
“For the moment this is just part of my budget, it is not all of it but this should get me going to do the IMOCA Globe Series races, especially the Transat Jacques Vabre and the Route du Rhum, but to allow me to now get some good visibility and hopefully get more sponsors on board with me.” Says Van Weynbergh from on board his Les Sables d’Olonne based IMOCA which was mostly designed and built by Nandor Fa.
“When I came back here to Les Sables d’Olonne in June to put the boat back in the water I wanted to take businesses and individuals out to sail. I found a partner who wants to be with me and that is fantastic. It feels like my luck has changed and now I can look forwards to the Transat Jacques Vabre.”
Van Weynbergh will race the Transat Jacques Vabre with the French Figaro and Mini sailor Tanguy Le Turquais as co-skipper who has said he looks forwards to IMOCA racing ‘Mini style’.
Indeed the Van Weynbergh is still doing most of his boat work and preparation himself and with friends and volunteers from Les Sables d’Olonne. Next year he hopes to have gathered to the resources to have a project manager and preparateurs but right now, at the moment he is in ‘Mini‘ mode, doing all he can himself.
“The Vendée Globe was an interesting race to watch. Every week I made a 20 minutes summary on Belgian TV about the Vendée Globe and for me that was the best way to follow the race and learn about it all without actually being on the oceans. Most of all I see that you have to just focus on finishing the Vendée Globe, you cannot have a hope to finish in a position it is about putting everything you have into just finishing. That is the goal for my project.” He emphasizes.
“We have an older boat and I am not yet really a professional skipper and I have so much to learn. I must learn, learn, learn a lot. And every day my small team is learning with me. A lot of them are doing this as volunteers and learning with me. I am skipper, preparateur, financial director, project manager and communications director!” He laughs.
“I have been racing solo more than 20 years now, starting out with that Mini Transat in 2001 which Yannick Bestaven won, also Brian Thompson was there, Ari Huusela. That was the first time going across the Equator and to Brasil, and that was the first time you needed to qualify to start the MiniTransat.” Van Weynbergh recalls.
He says that the race is better known in Belgium than it was
“More and more people in Belgium speak about the Vendée Globe and the Route du Rhum. There Flemish part of Belgium is still quite focused on Olympic sailing and the French part likes the big French races but Belgium is not a big sailing nation although it is getting better. There is a good guy in Class 40 Jonas Gerckens who is getting a good profile.”
Van Weynbergh started sailing at home in Belgium with his parents and then in the Mediterranean before catching the bug to go solo racing in the Mini Class, since then he has carried on as an amateur while building up transport business.
And while there may be other boats which have become available on the market since, he loves his IMOCA.
“It was available at the time, that is why I bought it. It is the best boat, the safest and most reliable to have made a Vendée Globe and Nandot has so much experience. He has put all that experience into his boat, it is really safe. There is no stress sailing that boat, it sails so well. And Nandor helped at the beginning so much. I can all him anytime and he gives me good advice, from little things to big things.”
Van Weynbergh would love to break Fa’s elapsed time of 93 days 22 hours.
“I hope. I wish. I’d love to. But I want to optimise the boat in 2022 to reduce the weight and give the boat some more speed. But this year is about learning and taking it step by step. First we make the Transat Jacques Vabre.”