Troubled international firm Veolia Environnement shocked the sailing world when it terminated one of the sport’s longest-running sponsorships with Roland “Bilou” Jourdain a few months ago. As the summer holidays get closer, Roland talks about his search for sponsors and his Kairos team’s current short and long-term projects.
The last time we spoke, you were intently searching for a sponsor for a MOD-70 summer season. What’s the news?
We obviously won ’t be at the start of the MOD’s transatlantic race; we had plenty of conversations, but the political action and elections made it extremely difficult to get anything done over the past weeks.
And now there are the summer holidays.
Yes, but at least the MOD will finally start their racing program! The Volvo Ocean Race is having a great stopover in Lorient, and a French boat might even win the race. The Solitaire du Figaro race has also just started. All these events are very positive for French sailing at a time when we need it.
How has the public reacted to your predicament? Have you recovered from the shock of losing Veolia yet?
Judging by the questions I am asked by the mainstream media, many don ’t realize that we are actively seeking a team sponsor. Perhaps that is also my fault though – Veolia’s departure came in a brutal fashion, in an announcement with no warning – and I have not communicated a great deal since then. Hopefully our launch of this Kairos website will help us communicate better with our fans and potential sponsors.
Its hard to imagine that a skipper like yourself, with your record of incredible results and happy sponsors over more than a decade, can find yourself without a sponsor. Are you a victim of your own notoriety? Perhaps I am, but perhaps it is just a very uncertain time to be doing business in France. I don’t know, really. French sailors say “when the wind changes, so does our course,” and there are new winds blowing in France. But if there is any question at all, let me dispel it for you: I AM LOOKING FOR A SPONSOR!
Your old sponsor has just sold your MOD-70 to the MOD organizers. Does this mean you’re finished with the MOD?
The sale was planned for some time – I am not surprised, though it always pinches the heart a little to see your boat leave. None of this will stop us from chartering it or buying it back later on though. We are certainly armed and ready to re-start or take over a MOD project very quickly if we can find the backing, but the sea is vast and we’re not fixated on any one project.
How does losing the MOD project change your outlook?
One must not stay locked up with a single project. Sailing is a diverse sport where there are lots of fantastic things to do. I watch, I work and I am open to other projects. I also know that depending on new encounters the future can take a direction we would have never considered a few days beforehand. To be able to take on these new opportunities we have to open ourselves up psychologically.
In your search for sponsors are you also looking overseas?
I have two intermediaries who have started working with their international networks. “I will not race the Vendée Globe 2012 but I have not made a decision for 2016”.
A few weeks ago you raced with Jean-Pierre Dick onboard the Virbac-Paprec during the first leg of the Europa Race Warm Up from Barcelona to Lisbon. In fact, you won it! Is this a sign of you getting closer to IMOCA again?
I always said that I follow the evolution of the IMOCA class closely, and the experience onboard Virbac was super. It ’s the first time that I’ve raced onboard one of the new generation boats.
Can you see yourself at the start of a future Vendée Globe?
In 2012, it ’s not going to happen. For 2016 I have not made a decision. For a skipper, as for a sponsor, a good Vendée Globe project happens over 4 years. During the next few months and depending on the MOD project, I will test the market and the potential partners interested in this new adventure, very different from crewed multihull sailing. I really want to go back to sailing for myself and at the same time, I really want for Kairos to take others onto the water.
By ‘others’ do you mean other Kairos sailors sailing a Vendee?
Our rigger and sailor Ryan Breymaier, its true, has ambitions for the Vend ée Globe 2016. In fact it would be a great opportunity for a sponsor. The Americans have still never really succeeded in this race, and our talented ‘big blond’ would be perfect for an American or a Franco-American adventure. In this case, the Kairos team could prepare one or two boats; Ryan’s and mine. We have prepared two boats for the same race in the past and this experience has proved to be of a great advantage, especially for performance. But when I speak about ‘others’ I don’t just talk about those within the team.
Who else do you mean by ‘others’?
We created Kairos not only to manage our own racing programs, but also to share our knowledge and experience with owners or independent skippers looking for the advantages of a professionally structured team. We can manage a project of almost any level, allowing the skipper to focus on personal training and readying themselves for a Vendee, for instance, without stressing about their boat or logistics.
Kairos has been working on some exciting environmental initiatives for some time now. Can you update us?
It is going well and the research we are currently doing on bio-materials is very exciting. Corentin de Chatelperron, the owner/skipper of “Tara Tari” came to see us in Concarneau to share some of his research on Jute fibers. The next step may be to visit him in Bangladesh and share more information.
As a ‘real life project’ you are preparing the construction of a day-boat made out of bio-sourced composites. Will it be a success?
Technically, we are ready. Financially, we need to find funding for this project – our thoughts are elsewhere. Should we stay at the stage of experimentation, or should we make the step towards an economic activity? Studies show that moving to a more commercial phase would not be absurd.
A journalist was saying not long ago that you have the profile to one day become the skipper of a boat similar to the research sailing vessel, ‘Tara’. What do you think of that?
‘Adventure’ projects in the wide sense of the word are of great interest to me. When we created Kairos, one of the ambitions was to bring our skills together to service an expedition-type project. With the current situation as it is, this ambition could come more rapidly that was originally planned.
What do you mean by that?
Our main objective remains competition – that is where our hearts live. But it it takes time to find a sponsor and in the meantime a solid maritime adventure project presents itself; I would examine it with great interest. I am very keen to continue to discover this planet.
Will Kairos grow?
There is so much uncertaintly right now, but as long as we individually continue to grow, the team will grow. Ryan is just in Newport with the MOD-70 Oman Sail, Phil Legros is sailing with Bernard Stamm on his IMOCA, Pifou is preparing his Mini-Transat, and the team continues to add to their experience as we continue to search for commercial support for our endeavors.