My first long trip since becoming a father was an eye-opening one for me in many ways. I learned that it takes about 15 days before family Facetime chats fall off and the missing really begins. I learned that Sailing Anarchy can be a force for positive change. I learned that driving non-stop from Barcelona to Amsterdam alone costs a fortune in tolls, fuel, and misery. But mostly, I enjoyed being back in the thick of it for three extremely important events for the sport I love. I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped make the trip possible, and I encourage you to check out informative pieces I did with each of the four sponsors during the trip:
Musto’s head of marketing and the Figaro sailor who reps them in France chatted with me about their new offerings and just how much of the Vendee fleet wears HPX in this video from METS.
Torqeedo Marketing Director Georg Roben gave some candid answers about the company and products that have netted two of the prestigious “Most Innovative Product” awards in the past five years at the METS show in this video.
As usual, Doyle Sails NZ owner Mike Sanderson was funny and interesting in this live chat about the Hugo Boss sails, superyacht sail technology, and the future of the Volvo Ocean Race, while Bruce Schwab explained what Ocean Planet Energy’s slick battery, regulator, and charging solutions do for ocean racers in this interview.
Enjoy them, and stay tuned for the next big thing. Got something your company thinks needs some coverage? Let me know.
A Hazy, Crazy Vendee
A special invitation to be aboard one of just a handful of support RIBs permitted inside the 2016 Vendee Globe starting area gave me a great view to one of the most special single days in all of sailing; a day where our humble sport sees crowds that make the World Cup look small. As it turned out, the start itself wasn’t even in the top ten most interesting things about V-Day, and my view inside the commentary box four years ago was quite a bit better than being aboard a photo RIB shooting the 2016 start. It’s a start that barely matters at all for the race itself.
What I didn’t experience four years ago was the single most intense crowd moment our sport has; when each skipper comes ’round the corner, entering the famous LSD Canal to the roar of an estimated 200,000 fans lining the shores. Fortunately, my spot with the Boss photographer allowed me to be just a few meters away from this action, and the 18-minute video above is my attempt to get you as close as I could to the unique emotional surge unlocked by that final trip through the fairway.
I’ve been asked by many people whether the Vendee and IMOCA will ever really grip the attention of anyone outside of France and the niche yachting community, and I remind people that there’s plenty of precedent for it. When Mike Plant dominated solo racing (and indeed in the early days of the Open 60) the Vendee was international. When Ellen was one of the UK’s best-known athletes, the Vendee was international. And now that Alex Thomson has a real chance to win and with the help of Open Sports Management and the IMOCA Class, the Vendee is pulling in decent international numbers. But it’s all probably not enough to transform the event into a truly world-wide phenomenon, and that’s entirely because of the shortsightedness of the French organizers of the race itself.
You see, the non-French world just doesn’t matter much to the region of Vendee, or to the paymasters behind the communications strategy of the race, and where they do make an effort, it is specifically pointed at a UK audience. The English portion of the VG web work – mostly translated news stories and voiced videos – are a shadow of the French language content. The live dockout show and start were commentated by a fully English team. And the live call-in shows and ‘vacations’ are hosted by Andi Robertson, who, through no fault of his own, is basically impossible to understand for anyone South of the Midlands (including the sailors he talks to on the phone). Even the video distribution is distinctly French and distinctly annoying, with organizers always pushing views towards the awful DailyMotion over Youtube, Facebook, or Vimeo. We’re confident that the organizers don’t know any better – nor do they seem to care – and unless Thomson wins and sets up a massive cross-channel rivalry, or another Ellen or Mike Plant comes along, things will most likely continue along on their continually growing, largely Francophone path. Why change now?
The biggest wildcard for the internationalization of the Vendee Globe comes from outside the race, and we hear Mark Turner, the Keith Mills/OSM contingent, and a number of different designers and builders are hard at work to determine the feasibility of the ‘Joint Strike” foiling IMOCA/Volvo Ocean Race 68-foot concept for the 2019 Vendee/2020 VOR. With OSM getting somewhat lukewarm worldwide buy-in of the Ocean Masters Series concept since its inception, the combined power of OSM, Boss, and the Volvo could really tip the international balance of IMOCA racing. You won’t have to wait long to find out where that one’s going, and we’re on the edge of our seats along with everyone else who loves ocean racing.
Finally, I want to heartily recommend a trip to West France for anyone who loves sailing, and if you can go during a Vendee start or even one of the finishes, you’ll not be disappointed. There’s nothing even remotely like it.
The Government It Deserves
Joseph deMaistre (no, not Thomas Jefferson) wrote “every nation gets the government it deserves” back in 1811, and little did I know when I scheduled my trip to Barcelona that I’d be struggling more with the ramifications of this quote at home than on the ground at the World Sailing AGM and election. I watched in shock at 6 AM in a tiny AirBnB apartment as the US Election results rolled in, and there was almost as much discussion of the Donald at the AGM as there was of Carlo Croce, Kim Andersen, and Paul Henderson, with the US attendees trying valiantly to assuage the fears and worries of the rest of the delegates. More on that below…
As many of you know, Sailing Anarchy led the world in coverage of the avalanche of ISAF’s public problems over the past four years, and we weren’t bashful in laying it all at the feet of the man in charge. Carlo Croce may not be a bad person and he undoubtedly loves the sport, but as a leader, he was an embodiment of the opaque, conflicted, unaccountable governance that invariably ends in major problems. We don’t need to go into the full list of ISAF’s planning, contracting, and communications fuckups over the past four years again, but when we learned that he had real challengers for his second term, we jumped at the opportunity to help them get the word out to the wider sailing community. And you know what? You guys helped send Croce back to Italy in defeat.
According to numerous sources amongst the delegates, the flood of calls, emails, and comments you sent to your National Governing Body and our continual shining of the spotlight of shame on World Sailing’s missteps in Rio and Russia helped to unseat an incumbent ISAF/WS/IYRU President for the first time in history. Strong public statements from the other candidates (most notably, in our two podcasts with them), a well-organized plan from the Danish challenger, and Croce’s complete unwillingness to engage anyone in public doomed the Italian, and when I hit the road for Amsterdam on the Monday morning, I left confident that World Sailing is headed in the right direction for the next four years, even if America is not.
As an ISAF AGM virgin, I found the conference quite effective compared to similar conferences I’ve attended in other disciplines. Sure, doing work in big committees as ISAF does is massively inefficient, but that’s how volunteer representative governance works. Much of the various committees’ time was spent on inane arguments and old men who like to hear themselves talk, but lots of business actually happened; handicap racing, offshore rules, media strategy, match racing, Olympic formats and equipment – all saw well-found presentations and solid progress towards more modern, transparent, and creative approaches to success.
The theme of the conference itself was a different story. Called “Our Sustainable Future,” it was a fairly brazen attempt to position sailboat racing as the ‘go-to sport’ for major corporations looking for a ‘green’ sports sponsorship partner. While we at SA believe environmental awareness and conservation to be inextricably tied to sailing, World Sailing’s attempt to do so was clumsy and hypocritical. Case in point: The final AGM was a busy affair, with hundreds of delegates and staff and hundreds more observers, and the first thing I noticed when stepping into the room was a booklet on every single seat that touted ‘sailors and nature’. It wasn’t an agenda or anything with important information in it, it was a big pile of trash masquerading as a promotional brochure. Another chunk of obvious bullshit came from a staff executive’s attempt to justify the only major ‘environmental’ sponsor of the entire World Sailing portfolio – Gazprom – by explaining that even dirty companies need a green sports partner.
Call us crazy, but to us, allying our ‘clean’ sport with the single biggest polluter in the entire world and a company almost inseparable from Vladimir Putin and his international adventurism isn’t the best start to sustainability. It’s probably better to establish a reputation for environmental awareness and conservation and pick up some sponsors who are actually walking the walk before positioning World Sailing as an image-launderer for every coal, gas, and oil company in the world. Otherwise, we’re just whores. You can watch the full Sustainability Forum as recorded live here.
As an American, one of the most shocking exchanges of the week occurred before the delegates voted on the next two years of AGM venues; the 2017 meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and the following year in Sarasota. Florida. I’ll direct you to the starting point of the actual discussion as filmed live by World Sailing TV here (it goes on for about 20 minutes), and for those of you with short attention spans, consider this: In just a few days, the world went from a place where the USA was safe and prosperous and Mexico a dangerous, drug-ridden cartel state to exactly the opposite: Nearly a third of the delegates chose not to support a meeting in America, while just 6 delegates voted against Mexico.
For all its faults, World Sailing TV did a real service to the world’s sailors by live streaming much of the conference to the world. Nearly no one watched them, but it’s early days and we think the precedent was well worth it. You can check out all the WS live streams here.
The Show of Shows
Compared to the first two stops, the Marine Equipment Trade Show was far less important and far more fun. For one, it’s in Amsterdam, which never sucks. For another, it’s the single most important show for the sport, and hundreds of friends were there to laugh, drink, and carouse with. It was an uplifting show as well – the industry is pumping right now, and even if most of the really interesting innovations are targeted squarely at the big dollars super- and megayacht markets, at least there’s money to keep our favorite companies going. In any event, anyone involved in the business of sailing – even small companies – really should add the METS to their calendar over any other show. There’s just nowhere in the world where you can connect with more people inside every aspect of sailing than here.
After the number of updates I did in Amsterdam there is little need to recap the full show; if you love the sport and innovations, you’ll probably already have watched the videos (all streamed live from the floor of the RAI with one from Holland Composites). If not, I encourage you to head over to the SA Facebook page and have a look at our overall Best In Show, one of the biggest safety innovations we’ve seen in a while from a brilliant 20-something year old kid, and about a dozen more really interesting product videos from the show floor.
And don’t forget the Sailing Anarchy Podcast.