clean report

barcelona on my mind (part one)

Covering three major ocean races in two months while in the process of moving our home has left Mer and I somewhat shattered, but I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.  As a sailor, I’ve gotten to be right in the thick of the action with three great teams in three great races.  As a writer with a keen interest in the future of shorthanded ocean racing, I couldn’t have invented a more thorough course of research for an understanding of today’s Open 60 scene than the past two months I’ve had.  And as a student of the business of yacht racing, seeing how three well-funded events and dozens of professional teams do their thing has been extremely informative, especially as we learn just how useless the dopey World Yacht Racing Forum was last week in Portugal. I’m glad I chose option B.

We started our trip with our Magic Marine and Farr 30 Class – sponsored coverage of the Velux 5 Oceans Race, formerly known as the Around Alone and before that the BOC.  This was the race that saw the creation of the Open 60 as well as the ascendancy of some of the discipline’s enduring stars, and having stops has always given competitors more of a security blanket than the non-stop races.  It’s run by Robin Knox-Johnston’s Clipper Ventures group, and with sponsor Velux – the world’s largest manufacturer of skylights and a major green-energy advocate – it has both a uniquely English flavor and a pervasive environmental message.  Like the other two races, it is run by an extremely competent set of professionals, though for a number of reasons the 2010-11 edition was only able to attract a paltry 5 entrants for an event that once saw two dozen.  Still, despite not a single French competitor, the start of the Velux was a typically French affair, with more than ten thousand spectators on the docks in La Rochelle and on the water, with a beautifully done race village exposition that focused on dozens of innovative products for conservation around the house and business.  Organizers focused on hospitality and media awareness, bringing in reporters from all over the world, while Velux staffers brought in hundreds of employees and clients from dozens of countries for business-to-business hospitality.

Most years would see weak French entries in a Velux race – since the beginning, this has been a race for the Brits, Kiwis, Americans, Japanese and so on, while the French do their own thing and belittle the English effort under their breath in a rivalry that’s as old as William the Conqueror’s little foray across La Manche. But even were the French looking to sail a with-stops race, they couldn’t even sail this edition if they wanted to do either of two of the biggest races on the IMOCA calendar:  The quadrennial Route Du Rhum or the quickly growing and highly regarded doublehanded Barcelona World Race.  With the Velux scheduled right on top of the all-important-to-French-sponsors Route Du Rhum and the attractive Barcelona race and the Class 40 Global Ocean Race taking over globe-trotting 40 footers, there just wasn’t a lot of folks left to sail the Velux.  And truthfully it is hard to imagine the race being sustainable at these low levels, but then again it’s rare that anyone beyond a select few knows exactly what a sponsors goals are, and maybe the green angle will keep the Velux alive to grow into something different from the other major races.  We can only cheer our good friend Brad on and hope the Velux organizers do a better job of bringing the human drama of the race to the public, because without the drama of a close race, the only thing left to latch onto is the reality show aspect.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of the story – our embedded week in St. Malo with Roland Jourdain’s back-to-back winning Veolia team and the inside scoop on the most watched race in all of sailing: the incredible Route Du Rhum.  Also keep an eye on the Barcelona World Race thread, which already has piles of pics up from our day sailing Neutrogena today as well as great interviews with Francois Gabard, the 27 year-old co-skipper to Michel Desjoyeuxs, and with Movistar/Tele Blue alum Pepe Ribes (and the content will continue to grow over the next 12 days). And check below for an interview with the sole American entry in the 30-sailor fleet of the Barcelona Race as he during his first ever press conference, Annapolis native Ryan Breymaier with co-skipper Boris Herrmann.

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