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Henri Lloyd 2016 Freedom

Clean, emission-free sailing: We speak to Imerys skipper Phil Sharp

by Mark Jardine on 15 Aug 15 August 2017
Phil Sharp helming IMERYS © Mark Jardine / YachtsandYachting.com

We spoke with Imerys skipper Phil Sharp about his season so far in the Class 40, and also with Paul Strzelecki about his partnership with Henri Lloyd, and also about Phil's ambition to make his yacht 100% emission-free - a goal he has already achieved during racing but wants to push further.

Mark Jardine: 2017 has gone really well for you. What have been the highlights so far?

Phil Sharp: The highlight for me was the Normandy Channel Race. It was a basically a big Rolex Fastnet Race which we did in May; it was pretty windy and we had some difficult legs, especially up the Irish coast upwind to Fastnet rock. I was sailing with Pablo [Santurde] in that race and it was fantastic to really start the year off with a victory like that. Since then we finished second in the Azores Race, just 13 minutes off first place, and we were very encouraged by our consistency in that. The boat is going really well and I think we've worked well on developing the sail plan since last year.

Mark: You're sailing with a multinational crew. Do you find you learn new techniques when you sail with other skippers from different countries and boats?

Phil: I really do and that's why I like sailing with different people and why I was so keen to have new people on the boat for the Rolex Fastnet Race. It's a diverse team with sailors from dinghy backgrounds who have gone offshore a bit later, whereas I was more into yachting from a young age and then went into dinghy sailing a bit later. It's incredible that every time we have someone new on the boat they also have some really interesting ideas to try out and I think it's always good to keep an open mind about how to develop and improve the boat.

Mark: Sailing a Class 40 yacht is not a dry experience. How much value do you place in having a partnership with Henri Lloyd for your clothing?

Phil: It's incredibly important because if you stay dry, you stay happy, and if you stay happy you can usually stay fast. As soon as you start getting wet - and I got pretty wet in the first transatlantic race that I did, where waves were coming fully over the boat - I realised that once you get cold, it's really difficult to warm up, particularly if you're doing a North Atlantic race singlehanded and you need to keep going out on deck. It's vital to have the right gear and to stay dry; it's the bottom line for ocean racing.

Mark: Paul, amongst the hundreds of sponsorship requests that you receive, what was it about Phil that made you think, "Yes, this is a campaign that I want to sponsor"?

Paul Strelecki: Initially I didn't know Phil, but I'd heard about him for a number of years and heard very positive things. After I met him, and every time I've met him since, it has reinforced to me that he's the right type of person that we want to be involved with, for many reasons.

Mark: Henri Lloyd is a company that, when it works with a sailor, isn't just about giving them clothing to sail in: it's very much a product-feedback loop to help constantly improve the technical clothing range. How has that worked so far with Phil?

Paul: We're still at a fairly early stage with Phil, having worked together for only 18 months. Phil's very committed, very talented, and is also a very good communicator. That communication is very important as we want sailors to project the right image for us, but also, liaising with us and our design and development team is absolutely critical. We've worked with many sailors over the years and some are better communicators than others, some are more talented than others. Phil has the right balance of talent and communication and that's very important for Henri Lloyd.

Phil: What I like about Henri Lloyd is that they're an innovative company, always wanting to move forwards, listening to different ideas. For us it's quite an extreme environment out there and sometimes you're looking for something quite specific. If you can find a company that wants to get to the bottom of a big problem and find a solution then it's really useful for us and makes for an exciting partnership into the future.

Mark: One of your major goals on Imerys is on energy usage, making the yacht a completely clean boat. How far along that track are you?

Phil: We installed 1.1 kilowatts of solar panels on the boat earlier this year, using the latest in SunPower cell technology, which is the highest commercially available at 23.5%. They are phenomenally efficient now and it's a really reliable form of power generation. I've been really interested in solar since I did my first Mini Transat where I used solar exclusively, and we're now racing in zero-emissions mode, not having to use the engine at all: relying solely on solar and hydro power. We have a hydro turbine which we hang down at night if needed, if we've had a particularly cloudy day. Electricity is fundamental on board these boats; it powers the sophisticated auto-pilot systems, the navigational systems, the satellite communications, so you're pretty lost without it. Our plan is to replace the diesel engine with a fuel-cell system for 2018, so we can have a zero-emissions boat without any fossil fuels on board at all.

Mark: It all sounds superb and it's great to see a campaign which is heading towards a completely clean goal and ties in with the ethos of sailing. Do you think you'll have that fully in place for the 2018 season?

Phil: Yes, we hope to install it either in this boat, or another boat if we change for next season. It's feasible technology that we've been looking at and have been developing for some years now in parallel to the racing programme and we really want to use it as a demonstrator for the marine industry. I think the marine industry is very far behind where it should be, particularly relative to automotive, and what we're doing is applying automotive technology, integrating modules in a certain configuration so we can show that we can replace a diesel system practically and accelerate the transition in the marine industry to a zero-emissions future.

Mark: Your big race for the year is the Transat Jacques Vabre (TJV) which starts on the 5th November. What are your aspirations for the race?

Phil: The season's being going well but I'm not someone to get too confident or complacent about things. There's a lot of work to do still, on our sail package in particular, and having a very reliable platform for the TJV is key as it's a very long race. As soon as you have problems on boats like this then you have to spend your time focused on that and it's unbelievable how quickly your performance drops off. I'm very happy with how the boat has performed this year, but I think there's still some refinement to do. If everything goes well then we should be in with a shout of a podium place and I'm not going to enter a race unless I think I have a good chance of winning it, so Pablo and I will be aiming for the top step on the rostrum for sure.

Mark: The best of luck with your preparations and the race itself and we'll be following your campaign closely.

Phil: Thank you. Looking forward to keeping you updated on our progress in the future.

Find out more...

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