So there are two parts to this story. I love a good story and this is a good story so stick with me. There was a lot of hullabaloo a few weeks ago when Banque Populaire, one of France’s richest banks, abruptly dropped their sponsorship of Clarisse Crémer, one of France’s most talented solo sailors.
By talented I mean she finished 12th in the 2020/2021 Vendée Globe, was the first female, and set a new record time for a female in the race. Quite an accomplishment in my humble opinion.
So why did the suits at Banque Populaire drop their sponsorship of Clarisse? Because she had a baby. You can read that twice because it’s true. Clarisse had a baby and the suits deemed her not fit for the Vendée. Now in their defense, and there is very little to defend here, Clarisse needed to do a certain number of qualifying miles by a certain date in order to qualify for the race even though she had already done a Vendée, albeit on a different boat. In October 2021, the race organizers announced a new, unprecedented qualification method that no longer allows previous Vendée finishers to be directly qualified for the next edition of the race.
Then Banque Populaire really stepped in it. First, they put out a milk toast public announcement. “Committed to this sport for 34 years, Banque Populaire is committed to the values of diversity and equal opportunity and is determined to participate in the work necessary with the various players to help it progress.” Then they announced that they would find another skipper for the boat who, by my estimation, would not have the requisite qualifying miles either. Clearly, they were dropping Clarisse because of the baby. So much for their pathetic statement.
Thankfully there are times when the Internet is a good place and there was a bit of a firestorm over all of this and the (did I mention one of France’s richest banks) slunk away stating that they would not be sponsoring anyone in the ’24/25 Vendée Globe. Shame on them.
Now for the second part of this story. Many of us have watched the spectacular career of the British sailor Alex Thomson. Aside from his amazing accomplishments in the Vendée Globe – a third in the 2012 Vendée and second in the 2016 Vendée – say nothing of his amazing publicity stunts like walking up the mast and diving off in his Hugo Boss suit.
A few days ago there was an announcement that Thomson had bought the same boat that Clarisse had planned to sail in the upcoming event. I, like many others, wondered what he was up to. Thomson had publicly stated that he was done with the Vendée and would not be racing the 2024 edition. Fair enough, but today he announced that the new skipper of the boat will be (drum roll please) Clarisse Crémer.
There are some wildcard slots for competitors in the next Vendée and I am sure that Alex and Clarisse have explored their options with the race organizers. To my mind, it was yet another brilliant PR stunt by Thomson and a superb way to right what was clearly wrong. Where things go from here I don’t know but watch this space. Alex is a person, not a billion-dollar bank. He is also clearly smarter than the suits. – Brian Hancock.