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New initiative aims to nurture British Vendée Globe winner

New initiative aims to nurture British Vendée Globe winner

Launched in 2016, Vendée2020Vision is a new initiative to support British sailors along the path to success in yacht racing’s most challenging event - the Vendée Globe, the quadrennial singlehanded non-stop round the world race. 

Singlehanded offshore racing is an endurance sport that for participants is the toughest discipline in sailing. It has created many British legends from early pioneers such as Sir Francis Chichester, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Sir Chay Blyth to contemporary figures such as Dame Ellen MacArthur, Pete Goss, Mike Golding, Sam Davies, Dee Caffari, Brian Thompson and Alex Thompson. It is a sport that was created in Britain, inspired by the early round the world record breakers and the establishment of events such as the OSTAR and the Mini Transat in the 1960s and 70s. But since then France has completely dominated the sport.

Currently the Vendée Globe is the pinnacle event in the solo offshore racing calendar. British solo sailors have competed in all but the first race in 1989-90, with Dame Ellen MacArthur holding the record for the best British result when she finished a close second in 2000-1. British entries in the race peaked in 2008-9 when seven skippers from the UK entered, but in the current race, which set sail from Les Sables d’Olonne in November, there is just one – Alex Thomson sailing Hugo Boss.

Created by Southampton-based yacht racing management company Whitecap and supported by Artemis Investment Management LLP, Vendée2020Vision is seeking to rejuvenate British participation in the solo non-stop round the world race. This it intends to do not only by helping aspiring British singlehanded offshore sailors fill in the gaps in their skill sets, both at sea and in raising funding on land, but also approaching the problem from the opposite angle: Encouraging corporate Britain to get behind its worthy initiative. 

Simon Clay, CEO of Whitecap commented: “Through Vendee2020Vision, British singlehanded offshore sailing has a huge amount to offer a commercial partner. We are working with some exceptional youth talent, nurturing their potential with the belief that we can achieve the first British winner of a solo non-stop around the world race for over 50 years in 2020. We believe also that in this age of digital and social media we have an offering that competes favourably in the advertising and sponsorship marketplace. We have the ability to create compelling and authentic content portraying strong human and brand values in abundance.”

In its first year, Vendée2020Vision has provided training to aspirant competitors Andrew Baker, Conrad Manning, Henry Bomby, Jack Bouttell, Lizzy Foreman, Nikki Curwen, Robin Elsey, Sam Goodchild, Sam Matson and Will Harris, the majority graduates of the Artemis Offshore Academy.

Mark Lloyd 

Mark Lloyd 

On the water, these sailors have had the opportunity to train and compete on the Artemis Ocean Racing IMOCA 60 yacht, which British sailor Jonny Malbon raced in the 2008 Vendée Globe and which Whitecap has managed for the last 5 years. Whitecap has enlisted as Vendée2020Vision’s lead coach, Dee Caffari, the only woman to have sailed round the world singlehanded in both directions as well as being a past Vendée Globe and Volvo Ocean Race competitor.

Vendée2020Vision sailors have had the opportunity to participate on training days with Dee to learn the ropes on the Artemis Ocean Racing IMOCA 60 – a significant step-up from the 32ft long Beneteau Figaro 2s and 21ft Minis they have been used to. IMOCA 60s are custom boats (ie each is different), and are technically much more complex with canting keels, daggerboards, kick up rudders, intricate electronics, etc. Compared to Figaros, they are also giant boats: Almost twice as long, their mast twice as high, and with a sail area some five times larger - much closer to the limit of what a solo racing sailor can physically operate. As a result different techniques are required to sail them.

In 2016, Vendée2020Vision sailors competed on the IMOCA 60 in 3,000 miles of Royal Ocean Racing Club offshore events. This culminated in them winning the club’s Canting Keel Class trophy for the season. 

The reason British competitor numbers in the Vendée Globe are dwindling is due to the sailors being unable to raise adequate backing and corporate Britain being unwilling to release its purse strings. Through its Vendée2020Vision initiative, Whitecap is working hard on both sides of this equation.

To improve their chances in the board room Vendée2020Vision sailors have had the opportunity to take part in 12 bespoke training modules that have included networking and pitch development coaching. The sailors have then had the opportunity to prepare themselves for boardroom scrutiny by testing their pitches. This they have done in a Dragon’s Den-style ‘real’ environment, presenting to executives from Harrods and clients from accountants Grant Thornton, who have then provided their feedback.

Vendée2020Vision provides commercial support to sailors giving them the best chance of raising funds for their own campaigns, with Whitecap able to offer the added benefit of being able to take potential sponsors sailing on an IMOCA 60.

In conjunction with this, Whitecap is undertaking its own independent sponsorship search, spelling out the benefits of backing Vendée Globe campaigns to companies both in the UK and abroad. With the aim of casting their net wide, they have been working with leading media agencies and running advertising campaigns to promote British participation in the Vendée Globe in the Financial Times, the Financial Technologist and Harrods media.

Throughout 2016, the Vendée2020Vision sailors have been scored by a team including Whitecap’s Commercial Manager Sean Woods and Sponsorship Manager Jess Dahlgren. Based on the outcome of the 2016 results, the sailors are being whittled down to six this year. Ultimately the top two will get the opportunity to compete aboard an IMOCA 60 in the Rolex Fastnet Race and subject to funding, the doublehanded transatlantic race, the Transat Jacques Vabre in autumn 2017.

Vendée2020Vision at London Boat Show

On Tuesday 10th January, Vendée2020Vision will be presented at London Boat Show, at the ExCel exhibition centre in London’s Docklands. This will take place on the London Stage, hosted by Sky presenter Alec Wilkinson in two sessions: At 1315, Alec will be talking to Dame Ellen MacArthur plus Will Harris and Sam Matson from Vendee 2020 Vision, while at 1500, he will talking to other Vendee 2020 Vision sailors.

For more information on Vendée2020Vision visit their website or email Simon Clay: vendee2020@whitecapltd.com

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