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Zhik 2022 Choice of Champions LEADERBOARD

Road trip!

by Mark Jardine 9 Aug 20:00 BST
Vendee Globe 2012-2013 start © Mark Lloyd / www.lloydimages.com

After a few years of very localised living, travel is opening up, and as a family we've made our first proper road trip for a while, heading down the west coast of France for a camping holiday.

The Atlantic coast is home to some of the most famous sailing areas in the world, and the French are, as a nation, obsessed with sailing.

In Britain the road signs which mention a sailing club, or a boating lake, have a stylised picture of a boat-shaped object with two triangles above to signify sails. This simply wouldn't do in France. Their road signs show true racing machines: drawings of monohulls with perfectly trimmed sails, the leeward runner released, and the windward daggerboard retracted, or trimarans with two hulls clear of the water, curved daggerboards and perfect spray from the leeward hull. You get the feeling there would be an outcry if the drawings weren't 'correct'.

These signs are everywhere, in the sailing meccas of Lorient, the Bay of Quiberon with Carnac and La Trinite-sur-Mer, then the Vendée region and Les Sables d'Olonne, through to La Rochelle. Then, when you go into the small towns and villages, the strength-in-depth of French sailing becomes even more obvious. The scenes on the beach and in the port when the Vendée Globe fleet departs Les Sables d'Olonne are legendary. The French love their sailing and their sailors.

Shopping also brings you into day-to-day contact with the brands that you see on the Vendée Globe yachts and the Ultime trimarans that we see rounding the globe. Charal goes from being the super-cool foiling IMOCA to the name on a packet in the supermarket aisle. A glance at the newspapers shows that these yachts and brands are regularly on both the front and back pages in France. It's no wonder that the sponsors line up to support the French offshore sailing superstars with this kind of exposure.

This has left me with a question. What is it that France has done, and the majority of other countries haven't, which has led to this national love of sailing, and the cult status of their top offshore sailors? My thoughts immediately sway towards the type of sailing they excel at and the emotions it evokes. Offshore sailing, especially the great round the world races and challenges, are all about adventure and pushing the boundaries.

The Vendée Globe captures the imagination of the non-sailing public around the world as the challenge is identifiable. Each yacht has one person with the goal of getting around the world as fast as possible, in conditions which range from the huge waves and bitter cold of the Southern Ocean to the blistering heat and windless frustrations of the Doldrums. They need skill, determination and endurance, combined with a bit of luck, to win - but just completing the challenge can often make the sailor a hero in France.

Then there are the rescues, such as when Jean Le Cam successfully recovered Kevin Escoffier on PRB in the last Vendée Globe. This made worldwide news and even the French President, Emmanuel Macron, was full of praise for Le Cam.

The Trophée Jules Verne, for the fastest non-stop circumnavigation, is another epic voyage which the French love. The giant trimarans are incredible machines and the sailors on them have to somehow sleep aboard when the motions are extreme and the noise can be deafening. Weather conditions have meant that a successful challenge hasn't been made since IDEC Sport smashed the record in 2017 (in 40 days, 23 hrs, 30 minutes and 30 seconds), but one of the new generation of foiling Ultime tris will at some point set a new reference, resulting in another skipper reaching legendary status in France.

Yes, both events are about sailboat racing, but they are also about the individuals who take part in the adventure. I sometimes think that this can get lost in the corporate messaging of other global sailing events, which results in the sailing community (and of course the wider population) feeling unable to identify with the event. It is of course fully understandable that a corporation will want to maximise their leverage of a sponsorship, but if the campaign fails to engage with their audience, then their goals will be missed.

Major events and campaigns have a difficult balance to strike, getting their messaging to 'fit' with their sponsor, while also keeping readers engaged. Some get it so right, while some get it very wrong, with the full range in-between, but all should take a look at how the French do it, and study what makes their events and sponsorships successful.

Today is also a very exciting day for me, as I'm travelling to Lake Neuchatel, Switzerland to watch a few of the SSL Gold Cup teams training and finally meet colleague John Curnow in person, who has travelled over with the Australian team.

I've been working closely with John, Sail-World.com's Australian editor, since acquiring Sail-World in 2016. The early days were fraught, battling an unstable website alongside building a new way to manage our full portfolio of websites from one system. Both Magnus Smith and I were working ungodly hours to get it working, while John made sure we had world-class content on the websites. There were dark days, and far too much coffee drunk, but we got through it as a team.

John and I chat regularly on Skype, and have an incredible working relationship, which has turned into a long-distance friendship, so to finally meet is something I have been looking forward to for a long time.

The SSL Gold Cup itself has attracted teams of the very highest calibre. A quick look at the Australian team shows the world-class nature of the racing, with John Bertrand, Stu Pollard, Kyle Langford, Tom Burton, Mathew Belcher, Ryan Godfrey, Matt Wearn, Will Ryan, Sam Newton, and Tom Slingsby all on the roster.

The final will be held in Bahrain at the end of October and November and will be an event we'll follow very closely.

Elsewhere the sailing world is buzzing with events. The 505s are competing for their World Championship title in Crosshaven, Ireland, the International OK dinghies are in Marstrand, Sweden doing likewise, Cowes Week and the Copa del Rey have just finished, and a vast number of other events, both local and international, are keeping both Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com always fresh with news.

Sailing is the brightest of sports and can provide the greatest of adventures. We aim to give you as much of a picture of what's going on as we can and, combined with the insights of our global editors, bring the sailing world closer to you.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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