Versatility is my speciality
What conclusions can you draw from this 7th season of the Challenge Julius Baer?In fact I’ve been welcomed aboard the D35 Okalys-Corum since the very first season back in 2004. We won the competition in 2005 and 2006 and earned ourselves a podium position every year through until 2009, with 2010 proving less positive. There are very logical reasons for this: the standard has risen throughout these years, the professional crews have been fleshed out and have done a lot more training, whilst our crew has remained 100% amateur and hasn’t adopted a more intense training rhythm. In fact, I haven’t been able to participate in all the stages and our sails are already two years old…
To my mind, we weren’t performing quite as well as we should have done, but the top players finished ahead and this year we weren’t among them. We’ve talked a little about 2011 and Nico is keen to retain his crew and the nice atmosphere aboard which comes with it. I fully understand that he doesn’t want to move up into a professional outfit as his focus is on enjoying the sailing and taking back the helm. It might be that we’ll review a few of our objectives, like keeping our position as best amateur crew, but my involvement will primarily depend on my availability and my other projects..
How do you see the Challenge evolving?I think that the standard will remain interesting and the keenness of the owners and organisers to make the circuit international at the end of the season is opening up some appealing prospects. The fact that the Cup is being run aboard multihulls might attract new crew members or crew, but equally it cannot be ruled out that enthusiasm for the series may tail off a bit, which is something that happens in every series. In my opinion, it would be better to bring the spectacle on the water closer to the public, as they cannot see much from shore and have been tending to get rather thin on the ground of late. There is doubtless a compromise to be found between the Trophée Clairefontaine or the Extreme 40 format and that of the D35.
Do you see yourself alternating between racing on the Extreme 40 in Oman and the D35 Okalys-Corum next season
I don’t know yet, I’m not ruling anything out. In any case, I won’t be able to race the first stage of the Extreme 40, as I won’t be back from my round the world with Jean-Pierre Dick within the context of the Barcelona World Race. With my America’s Cup project to boot, it’s clear that I’m not going to have much availability.
What does your America’s Cup project consist of?I’m lucky that I’ve always been involved in everything, so I can just as easily see myself in a design team as I can the role of skipper; everything appeals to me. It’s been thirty years that I’ve been sailing a multihull in all its forms. There are a few of us on the market to have these values and a lot of doors are open to us. It’s always been said, and rightly so, that the America’s Cup is a specialist business… which is fortunate! From the Formula 18 to the Route du Rhum to the Jules Verne Trophy, the French are the multihull specialists, so let’s get on with it… together. I’ve joined forces with my brother Bruno Peyron and we’re giving ourselves three months to try to gather together all the teams as well as the competitive, technological and economic resources necessary to fulfil this ambition. We are also in discussions with Jochen Schümann and Stéphane Kandler from All4One with a view to uniting our efforts. During the Barcelona World Race with Jean-Pierre, I’ll doubtless use part of my spare time to work on the design and conception elements of the future machines for the Cup, which is one of the advantages of racing double-handed!
In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of this 34th America’s Cup?
I obviously find it very positive that we’re having to make the switch to the multihull. The Cup will lose a little something on the one hand, but it will make a lot of gains in other respects. The process will give the old lady a new and much needed revamp, which in turn will have a positive knock-on effect on the crucible of commercial partners and the sailors too! Today, an incredible conservatism reigns within this context and the majority of people and racing stables who can boast 15 years involvement want to remain where they are even though they’re aware of their shortcomings as regards the multihull. The Kiwis who came to Almeria to discover the Extreme 40s had the chance to see that it wasn’t as easy as all that. You need a specific set of skills and so it is good news for those who master it. At the same time, there’s a pretty fabulous blank page to be written and contributing towards that would be exciting. I’m not at all convinced that wing sails are a good solution however. I’ve already said to Russell Coutts that the spectacle would suffer and that there would be significant logistical issues. According to the challengers in place, all that may change.
What did your preparation for the Barcelona World Race with Jean-Pierre Dick consist of?
Jean-Pierre and I know each other very well. We won the Transat Jacques Vabre double-handed and both know how to sail single-handed on this type of boat. The bulk of our preparation consisted of making the boat reliable, even though we’d already done a half circumnavigation of the globe when we sailed her back from New Zealand last summer. I joined him in Panama and we sailed the 2,500 miles as far as Newport, then we had a few sessions on the water in Brittany until mid-October. At that point the boat went to Saint Malo as Jean-Pierre was also taking part in the Route du Rhum. We got back together in mid-December in Barcelona to perform some sail trials and take the start.
Who are the most serious pretenders to a podium place to your mind?There’s a very fine cast! We are familiar with those pairings which are effective and then there are some interesting combinations between the pairings and their boat. Moreover, the older generation boats go just as well in my view, and even though the more modern ones perform better, some yachts have only just been launched and won’t have had a chance to prove themselves yet. Quite honestly there’s not one single person I can distinguish for the podium today; it’s going to be one almighty battle.
In the meantime, you’re going to take part in the World Yacht Racing Forum. What is your aim?I missed the last edition because I was training in Ras-al-Kaimah with Alinghi, but I think it’s a nice and interesting idea to share our experiences outside our Francophone universe. In general these forums are always very Anglophone, while I represent a fairly French-style schooling, and the values involved are very different. There are a few of us that jump from one boat to another, for example setting foot on land after a Vendée Globe to take the helm of an America’s Cup yacht. A lot of people can relate to that and it so happens that I get a huge amount of pleasure talking about it. As I often say, my great speciality is being a generalist. Added to that the encounters you have in this forum are likely to be both captivating and enriching. Sailing is an incredibly diverse environment, with a lot of sailors confining themselves to one speciality, while others like me switch between different craft, which forces us to look in depth at all its aspects.
You’re a shareholder at the yard which builds Alphena Yachts and have already sold them to the Swiss. How do these monohulls lend themselves to the Swiss lakes?First of all the design is elegant and elegance is often efficient. Above all though, this boat is just perfect when you live beside the water. I live in Brittany and the sea is a bit too lumpy here for it to stay at anchor in front of the house, but in the lake environment it’s perfect. Imagine being able to come home from work, offer the children or madam a ride on this fine little yacht, turn the key for the electric motor so you can all head noiselessly out of the port, hoist the sails and have fun. The Alphena yachts lend themselves perfectly to the lakes, indeed we’re delivering two to Switzerland in the spring. That said, the very latest one is heading off to the West Indies and some are based in the Mediterranean.