the long view

We have long been admirers of Phil Sharp and his ocean racing prowess. Leading up to the Route Du Rhum, we wanted to get his take on a few topics regarding the race. Enjoy.
SA: Other than everything, what do you consider the toughest part of this race will be?
PS: Getting through the first few days of this race is going to be tough, there is no doubt about that. We are actually set to coincide with the start of a succession of winter gales that are set to hit Europe at the end of this week, so the timing couldn’t really be worse. One of the models is currently showing us going upwind west of Biscay in 45-50 knots which would be really hellish…. so I really hope it is wrong!  If we get through the first few days cleanly without breakages then life will be good.
SA: Let’s talk about race prep for this one. You are without question one of the better sailed and prepared boats. What makes for good prep; especially for this race?
PS: Preparing for a solo transatlantic race is as much about preparing to avoid failures than it is in training to be fast. You do not have the resources or energy in solo mode to go fast if you are busy fixing things. You lose time, distance and probably places… as I learnt very well in the Transat bakerly!  Good preparation is about spotting weaknesses and pitfalls with the boat before they go wrong. And to do this it really helps to have some mileage with the boat in strong oceanic conditions, testing the systems, sails, and electronics, leaving nothing to chance. Today we went through the procedure on the dock of reefing the jib and then making the change to a storm sail, something we may have to deploy at the start of next week.  
SA: We are not sure anyone has done more with a significantly older Class 40. How much would you kill for a new boat?
PS: Actually for this year I have been pleased to hold on to our Mach 2 as it is still an impressively good all-round race boat, and I know the boat well. You can actually push it super hard in strong downwind conditions and it just takes off. However if I was going to race another few seasons in Class40 I would go for a new boat though as they effectively have another gear in strong reaching conditions. That said, you need a good 6 months to maximise its potential and ensure reliability, so going into a new boat cycle after a big race like the Rhum makes more sense.
SA: What do you consider the fastest elements of the latest generation?
PS: The latest generation boats, such as the Mach3 & Lombard Lift, are blindingly fast in strong reaching conditions. In last year’s TJV we had worked really hard to come out of the Doldrums with a 20 mile lead, but over the next two days the Mach3s ate up our advantage in beam reaching conditions. This pushed us from 1st to 3rd place overall, which was a somewhat frustrating finish, but then that’s science… These new boats probably have at least 15% more righting moment and can also jump onto the plane slightly earlier which really helps them in semi-planing conditions. I’m praying every night we have downwind sailing in the trades for this race, but it looks like we will have strong reaching first, so I may have to play catch-up!
SA: You have secured some new sponsorship, but that doesn’t put you in a position to build a new boat, correct? What then, can you do to secure a boat that will level the playing field?
PS: We have some interesting new partners, particularly with an interest in the clean-tech we are developing through the project, but after the Rhum the objective is to move up to IMOCA 60. It hasn’t been part of our strategy to build a new Class40, but in the world of sailing sponsorship, anything can happen…
SA: This class seems to be a good place for you. Is this where you’d like to continue to compete?
PS: The level of competition in the Class40 fleet at the moment is very good, and I’d say, the most competitive fleet actually racing in the Route du Rhum. Our narrow win by 6 seconds in the Normandy Channel Race earlier this year, after 6 days of racing, demonstrates just how close and exciting the racing has been. However, now I’m hungry to move up to bigger offshore boats and focus on a round the world project.
SA: If you could pick the size boat and the venues of your choice, what would they be?
PS:  Offshore is the place to be and the future is in flying monohulls! I’ve had more than enough preparation to move up to IMOCA60 now and this Class is really the place to be with such rapid foil development, plus you have a choice now of whether you race the Vendee or the Volvo, or both!  Learning how to foil at 30 knots will be an exciting new challenge (but no doubt an expensive one). I think it is important to have some notable city venues in a future circuit for this class, not just a cold and gale-strewn St Malo or Les Sables d’Olonne, but really the venue for us is the offshore playing field, and having some fast, windy passages is a must.  
SA: From your unique perspective, how would you asses that state of ocean racing?
PS: It depends on where you are in the world. In France, it is rude health as usual. The following is significant because the sport is well understood and respected, so it is commercially successful. ROIs are high and as a result millions are being invested in developing new mega flying trimarans to try and go slightly faster around the world than the last boat. Sponsorship in offshore sailing is a commercially proven entity that is growing year on year. It doesn’t need the support of a billionaire unlike Americas Cup or the new Sail GP. It actually stands on its own two feet.
Elsewhere, and it is difficult to comment on US but in other European countries, ocean racing is relatively dormant and poorly understood. It is considered a rich man’s sport and elitist and people think you own your boat and lead a live of luxury. In reality you can be mortgaged up to your eyeballs and living out of a van!!  The success of solo sailing in France and the personalities in sailing which can really break down barriers to attract people emotionally into the sport, is great testimony of the potential of the sport for growth elsewhere. And we have to communicate more, real, human stories from the ocean in order to do this I think.
SA: Since your team no doubt works hard to acquire sponsorship, also asses that world. Are there more companies that wish to come into the sport, or is it still a hard sell among a very few companies?
PS: Ocean racing can benefit an enormous pool of companies, because is it a diverse, engaging platform that is very positive in many areas. However one needs a story, or motive these days other than to just want to go and win a race. OK you win… great… but then so what? At the end of the day, did you help to generate more business for you partners, and promote their brand in a positive light, and does this add value to the big picture, whatever that might be?  I am genuinely excited by how ocean pollution is beginning to get a big media reach, and if we make it our responsibility as skippers to address this, then there are many CSR opportunities.
SA: Why do you think there are so few American sailors playing in your arena?
PS: Again, I think this is an issue of the sport unfortunately being poorly understood by the general public, and therefore little appetite for media. When I sailed single-handed to New York from Plymouth, England in The Transat bakerly, I arrived with my boat in tatters and had an interesting story to tell, but I wasn’t met by one single US journalist to tell the story to.  Speaking to locals, they are not at all aware of a sport where people race across oceans non-stop, sometimes solo, but when they find out they find it super interesting. So there is a missing link somewhere that needs to be filled, and I think we need to work on making ocean racing accessible to more people and raising its profile. As SA does very well!
SA: Thanks mate. Kick ass!