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Vendée2020Vision: Six best solo sailors selected

by Whitecap 23 Feb 2017 18:49 GMT 23 February 2017
Sam Matson learns the ropes on the Vendee2020Vision training boat, Artemis Ocean Racing © Vendee2020Vision

While in Les Sables d'Olonne competitors continue to stream across the finish line of the Vendée Globe after three and a half months at sea, in Southampton work continues to train up British sailing talent to give them the best chance of competing in the Vendée Globe in four year's time.

In its first year, Vendée2020Vision helped with the coaching and development of a 10-strong squad of Britain's top aspirant solo skippers. For 2017, this field has been narrowed to six and will be pared down further towards the end of this season when the intention is for the two top contenders to take part in November's Transat Jacques Vabre doublehanded transatlantic race.

Whitecap, the Southampton-based company which runs Vendée2020Vision, has now confirmed the 2017 squad: Sam Matson, Will Harris, Sam Goodchild, Andrew Baker, Lizzy Foreman and Henry Bomby (see whitecapltd.com/vendee-2020/candidates for more information about the individual sailors)

In 2017 the selected top six will once again undertake coaching both on and off the water.

While the sailors are experienced in smaller boats, such as the 32ft Figaro Beneteau II and 21ft Mini, with Vendée2020Vision they are provided with the opportunity to train on board a substantially larger IMOCA 60, of the type raced in the Vendée Globe. On board the Artemis Ocean Racing IMOCA 60 the sailors are shown the ropes by Vendée2020Vision's head coach, former Vendée Globe competitor and record-breaking round the world yachtswoman, Dee Caffari.

You may be the best sailor in the world, but that means nothing unless you can get to the start line. Therefore it is vital for Vendée Globe competitors is to have the skills needed to raise sponsorship and funding not just to purchase a boat but to run the campaign too. A team expecting to have race winning potential will require a budget of several million pounds. To help them secure these funds, Vendée2020Vision sailors are provided with commercial support covering networking and pitch development together with other vital boardroom and business tuition. They then get to try out their pitches 'for real' to executives from companies such as Harrods and accountants Grant Thornton.

Sam Matson, who was sponsored last season by British footwear manufacturer Chatham, describes the importance of this training: "I've been out on the water for as long as I can remember, but now I'm standing up in boardrooms, trying to justify an investment for what is effectively a global marketing campaign."

This year Vendée2020Vision sailors will receive additional coaching and assessments.

Commercial support is being enhanced by the sailors being provided with the opportunity to pitch to yet more companies. These will include Harrington Starr, the London-based financial services and commodities technology recruitment company and the US corporate giant Procter & Gamble. Executives from these companies will subsequently provide feedback on each sailor's pitch and delivery.

Good fitness is essential for singlehanded offshore racing, so the six Vendée2020Vision sailors will undergo physical assessments with the aim of reaching defined fitness targets. This is part of a special program devised for racing sailors by Chris Szedlak, Lead Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Southampton. Szedlak has already worked with many of the Vendée2020Vision squad when they were with the Artemis Offshore Academy.

To improve their prospects out on the water, leading international navigator Wouter Verbraak will be running a course for the Vendée2020Vision sailors on 'meteorology and strategy'. A sought-after navigator, Verbraak has previously trained the all-women's crew on Team SCA in the last Volvo Ocean Race and worked on pre-race navigation for Alex Thomson's most recent Vendée Globe campaign.

To help the sailors optimise their chances of obtaining column inches and airtime, they are receiving media training from radio and TV broadcaster Alec Wilkinson.

This season's first week of training took place earlier this month and culminated in the sailors and Vendée2020Vision being featured on the BBC's South Today program:

Aiming to build on the recent success of Alex Thomson's IMOCA 60 campaign, sponsored for the last 14 years by Hugo Boss, Whitecap and the Vendée2020Vision sailors are continuing to seek funds to help them get to the start of the next Vendée Globe as well as to continue the vital training provided by Vendée2020Vision.

This comes at a vital time: In the 2008-9 Vendée Globe there were seven British entries, while for 2016-17 there was just one. Simon Clay, CEO of Whitecap maintains that now is the moment to reverse this trend and for companies to step up and put Britain back on the map of singlehanded round the world racing, a sport that originated in the UK and created legends such as Sir Francis Chichester, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Dame Ellen Macarthur.

With significant backing from Land Rover, Ben Ainslie Racing is making Britain's strongest ever challenge to win the America's Cup. The corporate world also has the chance to put their muscle behind the first ever British winner of another of sailing's pinnacle events, the Vendée Globe. "We have some fantastic British talent, but we need to partner them and provide commercial return to companies so that it is attractive for them to come in and support our British sailing stars," concludes Clay.

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