AT THE HELM: THE YEAR WE LAID OUR FOUNDATIONS, HIRED THE BEST AND WENT FROM CONCEPT TO REALITY



The Race Around's Co-Founder and Managing Director Sam Holliday returns for the final installation of ‘At The Helm’ for 2021, to reflect on the year that truly kick-started the vision he and co-founder Hugh Piggin conceptualised more than five years ago.


From publishing the preliminary Notice of Race and appointing the best Race Direction duo on the planet, to securing a three of four host cities and bringing numerous new partners on board, it's fair to say it’s been a year of pivotal building blocks on the road to 2023.


All this, of course, was happening amid one of Class40's most intriguing and competitive championships ever seen – a feat that bodes well with less than two years to go until the start of The Race Around.


Here, we recap all the significant movements from a whirlwind 12 months…

Luke Berry's Lamotte-Module Création crashes through waves during Class40 training

THIS JUST GOT REAL!


The fact we can say The Race Around is ‘next year’ in just a few hours' time has only recently crossed my mind and, in many ways, it’s absolutely terrifying!


But I also think it’s a testament to how far we’ve come in these last 12 months. It’s not been an easy year by any stretch of the imagination, but throughout it we’ve hit some big milestones, and continued to build some fantastic relationships within Class40 and with our competitors.


We’ve almost established the final route of the race, been able to announce our world class Race Direction team and been lucky enough to witness what has probably been one of the best Class40 championship seasons that we’ve had for a long time.


Most importantly for me this year, though, is the fact we can now sit here and say The Race Around is a real entity in every sense. That brings excitement and trepidation all in one, but there’s no denying we’re full steam ahead now.


I always said to our ever growing team that until the day that the preliminary Notice of Race was published, all we were was a website and a concept. To have something now that is real, that is bringing commitment from teams, host cities, sponsors and more is hugely exciting.


Anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of writing one will know it’s an experience in itself. The immediate feeling behind the release of any major document like that is relief. It was a huge amount of work and I'm really pleased I don't need to look at it again until we release the official Notice of Race! On the other hand, the number of emails and phone calls that were not only congratulatory, but people expressing significant interest from a competitor standpoint, was really pleasing to see.


It was worth it in the end, and something we had to get right. I think the fact that we are a race run by sailors for sailors certainly came across. Competitors know that they are, and will remain, central to what we’re doing. It also talks about the stringent safety requirements that we and our competitors have to uphold as they circumnavigate the globe.


The other big thing is that it makes the event real in the eyes of the competitors – they’ve now got that document, that structure, something they can always reference, the fundamentals of what we’re doing. It allows them to really buy into the event.


‘WHEN YOU GET THE CHANCE TO WORK WITH THE BEST, YOU SAY YES AND FIGURE OUT THE REST LATER’

The appointment of Jacques Caraës and Claire Renou was announced early in December

There's no doubting that in appointing Jacques Caraës and Claire Renou as our Race Direction team earlier this month not only brings the most fantastic pair of brains to look after the teams, but gives us the highest levels of sporting integrity possible for our first ever race. We couldn’t have hoped for better and as I said it in an interview at the time of the announcement – when you get the opportunity to work with the best, you say yes and figure out the rest later. We’re really honoured to be working with them and it’s great that they believe in what we’re doing, too.


I’m pleased Jacques has said since that it was an easy decision on his behalf because, frankly, I didn’t think it would be. Like all of these fantastic people, they get offers left, right and centre. Can you be Race Director of this? Can you manage that? Some offers raise an eyebrow and some make you think, ‘oh bloody hell, here we go again’. But Jacques and I started talking before the Vendée Globe and we got to know each other well. I think like all good stories, this one probably started over a glass of wine (or maybe something stronger) before the start of the race and continued throughout. A decision was made informally after that very first drink we had.


On a more serious note, we’ve always been very clear from the start about a couple of things in this department.


Number one: that the safety of our competitors is paramount. Offshore yacht racing can be a dangerous sport and you want to do all that you can to minimise the associated risk. To have Jacques and Claire who have been there, done that, and managed some particularly challenging situations is a huge confidence booster for teams, sponsors and everyone involved. It’s a feather in the cap of The Race Around.


Number two: We have been clear that we want to set up an event that has the ability to carry the Class40 category forward on a global scale. So to be able to work with some of the best people in the world is a huge boost for us as a team. Of course, we believe in it, it’s our baby, but it’s great to see people like Jacques and Claire believe in it, too.



THE TIME IS NOW


Their commitment to us and Class40 has come at a perfect time when you consider where the category is today.


My love affair with it has lasted a huge amount of time. I’ve been in amongst it for 10 years and have seen it from 2010 to where it is now, it’s chalk and cheese. That’s not just in terms of boat design, but where it sits in the wider landscape of offshore yacht racing.


As winning Vendée Globes became less and less financially attainable over time, there needed to be that alternative. We’re now looking at Class40s doing 430 miles a day for 15% of the cost of a winning IMOCA 60 and 10% of its annual running cost. That’s not something to be sniffed at. You also look at the number of new builds – we’ve got 18 being announced for next year alone bringing the number of ‘new boats’ for the Route du Rhum to almost 30. It’s just bonkers when you look at the appetite for it. It shows no sign of slowing, either.


It’s no wonder, too, with competitiveness at an all-time high. The first 18 boats recently finished the Transat Jacques Vabre within 22 hours of each other after 4,500 miles and more than three weeks of racing. You don’t get that in other classes unless you are talking about the Solitaire du Figaro, which is a 600 mile race. It’s fascinating to see this Class get stronger and stronger. The timing is perfect and there’s the desire globally for this type of event to happen and to succeed.


We can also tell by the entry interest for The Race Around. We’ve got a good number of entries already, and now that the TJV is finished, we expect a second wave to come in January. We also expect to be relatively full by the end of March and to have to form a waiting list, which is not something we ever really imagined would be the case.


On that note, I’d like to give all our congratulations to Antoine Carpentier and Pablo Santurde del Arco on their maiden Class40 championship this year. They’re great friends of ours and it was so cool to see them and Redman doing so well. Antoine has won so many races and titles – often as a co-skipper – and he’s just phenomenal. I think his first major win in Class40 was in the 2008 Transat Quebec St-Malo. He deserves this title. There are also few people better than Pablo, who was as co-skipper for the majority of the year, together they made the most wonderful pairing.

The championship as a whole was massively tight. Going into this last race, any one of more than 10 boats could’ve taken the title. Alongside that, there’s still so many great human-interest stories in this category. Be it the Magré’s, the father-son duo, rounding out sixth in the standings and winning the Rolex Fastnet Race, the all-female team of Amélie Grassi and Marie Riou who finished in the top 10 at the TJV having only launched their new Class40 #170 La Boulangerie a few weeks prior or the last team to cross the line, hull number one, Terre Exotique, the first boat to ever be measured into the class, only finishing six days behind the winners!


It’s the great thing about this class – whether you’re a professional or an amateur, a high budget team or doing this for fun and one hell of an experience, there’s something for everybody.


LOOKING TO THE FUTURE(S)


I’m really excited to reveal that early in 2022 The Race Around will be announcing its host city for the start and finish of the race. We’ve been on a bit of a journey to get to this point, speaking with three cities in particular over the last year. The welcome that we received was fantastic from all.


Our business model is slightly different from other major sailing events in France as we are not as bound by municipal money, this allowed us to really make the right decision for the race and for our competitors. We’ve now signed a contract and formed the beginning of a long-standing relationship with a city in France that we’ll be able to announce in February/March. It’s a destination that has a huge amount of history and it’s a city we’re excited to be a part of as it begins a journey of re-entry into the world of offshore sailing.


It’s a place that we’ll really be able to call home. It gives us space to breathe and not be competing with a number of other events. We’re really looking forward to starting that long term and mutually beneficial relationship both surrounding the race but also all the things we do outside of that, such as our Futures Ocean Racing team, the educational elements of the race and the wider technologies and innovation we’re instilling through our Futures Programme. The thing that was very important to us and the city was that we are not just a race that turns up for the start and finish – we really were looking for somewhere to call home and somewhere to embed ourselves. We certainly have that now.


Speaking of the future, and the Futures Ocean Racing team, we’ll soon be embarking our own Class40 build and entry into The Race Around, which forms part of our Futures Programme initiative.





We’ll begin the build as we move through 2022. We’ve got the design of the boat we want; we’ve chosen the raw materials to build the hull structure alongside everything else that would allow us to tick that box of genuine cradle-to cradle-recyclability within a build. We are very much looking at this as a living case study for genuine circularity. What’s important for us is getting out sailing, be it in races or attempting some of the bigger records like the North Atlantic, all-in preparation for competing in The Race Around itself.


We’re moving forward in partnership with Quantis to understand industry benchmarking and where we are today by using tools such as life cycle analysis. I think that what we can say at the moment is that everything is ready to go! Really now we’re just waiting for a couple of commercial elements to come together for us to be able to push the start button.


THE PENULTIMATE YEAR


First and foremost we’ll enjoy this Christmas break, but then the new year is going to start pretty hard and fast. The first announcement will be that of our host city, as previously mentioned. After that we’ll be starting to announce some of the teams and really bring the human side of the race to life. Mixed within that we’ve got a couple of partnership announcements lined up, race legs to rubber stamp and a healthy marketing and content calendar that really starts telling the story of who we are as a race and who our competitors are as people.


Watch this space!


SIGNING OFF WITH A THANK YOU


I want to take this opportunity to close out the year by thanking those who have helped get us to where we are today.


Firstly, to our team here at The Race Around – what a fantastic bunch you are. We simply couldn’t do it without you.


It’s been a year that’s been all encompassing, but we’ve also managed to get some sailing in as well. As I always say, we are an event and a team that is run and managed by sailors. I think all of us have had some great moments on the water, from my involvement with the Vendée Globe, Emmanuel Versace’s with the Puru Challenge Race, Imogen Price’s first transatlantic crossing onboard the Class40 Crosscall, Enrico Benco enjoying his fully cradle-to-cradle Classe Mini in Italy and Hugh Piggin competing in European regatta’s on the 80ft Botin designed Deep Blue.


A big shout out to our partners, too. We’re delighted to have onboarded several new ones in 2021 and they have each helped us in creating the event that The Race Around is becoming.


It’s clear that 18 months away from the start, we’re in a hugely strong position. Next year will be one that really allows us to bring the entire event to life. I look forward to keeping you all posted.


In the meantime, happy holidays and a Happy New Year!



OUR PARTNERS

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