out of the shadows

ocean racing

out of the shadows

Interesting to hear, less than two weeks apart, Cam Lewis (in his own, odd way) evoke fond memories of his Team Adventure campaign whilst commenting on the AC Cup racing, and Bruno Peyron relaunch The Race… some 10 years after its first iteration. Multis seem pretty high up on the agenda these days, ’bout time some might argue. You probably remember that we almost had a 2004 edition of Peyron’s brainchild, but the whole thing degenerated into a crap fight due to the emergence of the Oryx Quest, for the outcome we all witnessed in disbelief. A thing of beauty, which left a trail of made-up figures and a few empty envelopes in its sorry wake. Speaking of those envelopes – supposed to have contained the staggering prize money awarded to the participants – as Oryx Quest winner Brian Thompson once put it to me with his natural good humour, "it was empty, that’s true, but it was golden, that looked great in the picture, no ?".

Enough said about that travesty, which could be easily forgotten if it had not been detrimental for the sport’s image. If we’re going to ask the question "how often does sailing make the mainstream news", we might as well add "and how often is it for the right reasons", just out of intellectual honesty. Hard to say what The Race 2004 would have been should it have taken place, so there’s no point in making assumptions – yet what we can affirm is that at least the unexpected free time Peyron had on his hands was well spent, since it allowed him to recapture the Jules Verne Trophy, for the third time, and post a score of 50 days which still stands today. You gotta hand it to the guy, he’s a man of firsts and a bit of a visionary who sticks to his ideas and does not easily give up. In 1994, he became the first skipper to sail around the planet under 80 days, which effectively launched the Jules Verne Trophy – he then reclaimed it in 2002 and 2005, after having organised and run his dream event, boldly named "The Race".

Having worked on the project backstage before it became a reality and subsequently been immersed in it when the boats were at sea, the memories are those of a pretty big breakthrough… Multis were huge, the whole operation was scaled to levels never seen before for a sailing event (admittedly, parts of it were just too much – something of a "too many chiefs, not enough Indians" syndrome)… But on the whole yes, one could easily feel he was part of something really big, that would leave its mark. Inevitably, we’ve all grown used to those big boats, and even if they still amaze by their power and proportions, the feeling of novelty probably won’t be matched for the second edition. Unless… new radical giants come out of the sheds with jaw-dropping features. But the improvement we can expect is arguably the most important factor: if things go according to plan, we should see better boats, less reliability issues, closer racing and the event certainly can turn into an epic battle to be remembered.

At the moment, Bruno reckons that 8 to 10 giants could be on the start line, somewhere in Southern Europe (remember the first edition left from Barcelona and arrived in Marseille), sometime around 2013 – 2014… and rightly points out that the ideas he had put forward whilst preparing his 2004 event have found an echo – The Race Tour, visiting emerging markets, was quite new at the time, and the idea of a 80′ one-design multi to attract new players arguably planted a seed – not saying that it led to the creation of the MOD70, but the "frame of mind" was set. Is Bruno on to something ? With the Rhum finally going back to big multis after having banned them, he’s certainly enjoying the way things are taking shape – let’s not forget that he was denied the right to enter his boat in the 1990 edition, along with Francis Joyon and Hervé Laurent, when the 60-ft limit was enforced. Bruno slammed the door and did not mince his words about the loss of the original spirit. Today he has the verbal support of guys like Grant Dalton, Francis Joyon, Pascal Bidégorry (skipper of the mighty Banque Pop 5) or Rhum title-holder Lionel Lemonchois, who incidentally was part of Cam’s team on Team Adventure, and in the big picture it seems like most lights have turned green.

Now please, one request – if another original theme song is commissioned for The Race 2, ask the composers not to merely make a variation of the first one. My ears are still ringing.

Jocelyn Blériot