Legendary Race Director discusses what attracted him to The Race Around and Class40 after confirmation he’ll lead the event’s inaugural race management team alongside Claire Renou.
When Yannick Bestaven's Maître Coq IV crossed the finish line after 80 days competing in the Vendée Globe earlier this year, the event’s seasoned Race Director Jacques Caraës was, at this point, unsure as to what lay ahead for his next big assignment.
Few would begrudge any potential temptations of having a lengthy break – perhaps in idyllic settings such as Martinique, where he’s recently spent time greeting the heroes of the Transat Jacques Vabre.
But by the time Finn Ari Huusela arrived on his IMOCA60 Stark at Les Sables-d'Olonne in February, just 36 days after Bestaven, Caraës already knew, albeit not officially, that his new challenge had firmly arrived at his doorstep.
At this point, he'd been initially approached by Co-Founder and Managing Director of The Race Around, Sam Holliday, who ambitiously attempted to marry the conceptualisation of the most exciting race in Class40 history with the appointment of the esteemed Race Director.
After only a handful of conversations, it soon became clear that the pair were sharing a similar vision. This was no longer a wishful, best-case scenario for The Race Around, nor just another offer for one of sailing’s most prestigious names.
"You usually need a bit of time to reflect after a big event about your next project, and I thought post-Vendée Globe would be no exception," Caraës says. "But I knew straight away this was something I wanted to throw myself into.
"I was approached by Sam [Holliday], and instantly found his energy and enthusiasm for The Race Around remarkable. I was really sold by his ideas for this race. The mentality of The Race Around as an organisation has very much impressed me, and I've already bought well into it.
"When he first spoke to me about this, we agreed that Class40 needs this race. It's a category that's really matured in recent years and it's now ready for its first major round-the-world event.
"I was thrilled to be approached to be Race Director. It'll be a new experience for me, with new boats and new sailors in a very competitive class. But I'm so happy to be working in this team and look forward to what’s to come."
After lifelong involvement in offshore sailing which has seen him notch several hundred thousand nautical miles on the clock, Caraës meets his next challenge with a sense of intrigue like none he’s previously experienced. Never before has he overseen a Class40 yacht race, let alone one that will span six months, 29,000 miles, four continents and stopovers for the first time in the category’s recent history.
However, the chance to be a part of a huge milestone that could one day be a part of its unique tapestry was too good to turn down, and he's now relishing the opportunity to build on the legacy it has started creating for itself.
"I'm a big fan of Class40," he added. "As well as the amazing design characteristics that have allowed the fastest 40s to reach speeds in excess of several older IMOCA 60s, you don't have to have the same level of money to race – it's way more accessible and therefore hugely competitive when it comes to the racing. Just look at the Transat Jacques Vabre last week – the top 20 boats all finishing within 24 hours of each other. It’s incredible.
"Because of all this, we're breeding a new generation of sailors. The skippers come from an excellent level of competition and I have absolutely no doubt Class40's have the durability to complete this race. The best teams and skippers will want to be a part of this.
"Whichever way you look at it, it's the perfect time for this category to embark on a round-the-world race - it's very much needed."
Despite being new to the category from an officiating perspective, Caraës knows his years of experience on and off the water can help steer the race towards big inaugural success.
"It's a brand-new start as far as we're concerned. We'll be learning all the small details along the way. We'll use all our combined expertise to make this the best race possible.
"The big difference for everyone involved is obviously the stops. It reminds me of the last Whitbread race a long time ago. It's important for the first iteration of this race that we have these – it'll allow the maximum number of entrants to finish. We're stopping in great parts of the world, too – they're perfect.
"So yes, this is a new challenge. But I was a sailor long before I became a Race Director, and the language of the skipper is very much one that I speak. I'm still always putting myself in their shoes in order to do the best job I can. I try to understand them all time. This race will be very difficult for them, so it's important I think this way."
By his side will be tried and trusted Race Direction partner Claire Renou, who was also on the race management team at this year's Vendée Globe.
Combined, they form a truly world-class partnership – ensuring The Race Around is in the best possible hands when it comes to all things safety and on-water operations from September 2023.
"Claire is great to work with. We've been in the same Race Direction team on numerous occasions. She's so enthusiastic and positive, which helps take us that much further. It's brilliant to be alongside each other again and our working relationship gets stronger with each passing race.
"She's got great attention to detail and is always across everything. Her communication is also very good – which is so important when it comes to a race like this. Rule number one is that Race Direction is never about one person, it's a true team effort. So it's critical to have that good team ethic.
"We share the common value: that skipper safety is the most important thing. We need to have the best possible communication between race management and the skippers, from monitoring the speed of the boats to the forecast – everything. It's important for us to have the full trust of the skippers, and we're committed to helping put on a fantastic event."