Press Release – October 13, 1999
Bruce Schwab Flies to Le Havre, France.
On Oct. 13, I headed for France to see the “Open 60” class boats gathered in Le Havre for the doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre. This turned out to be one of the most spectacular sailing events I’ve had the chance to see. I didn’t even know (like most Americans) that it was happening until I heard from Brad Van Liew (the only American finisher in the last Around Alone), that if I went to France in November as I originally planned, all of the boats would be gone.
As reported in an earlier update:
As we are closing in on the resolution of some deck layout and interior issues, it has been decided that I’d better see the very latest Open 60’s before we ink things in. So there I was, planning to wander over to France in mid November, when Brad Van Liew calls and tells me that all of the top boats are gathering in Le Havre for the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre on… OCTOBER 16th! Yikes!! Basically he said: “Dude, get your butt over there, or you won’t have any boats to look at!”
THANK YOU BRAD!
So now I’m leaving for gay Pareé on the 13th (next Wednesday) arriving the morning of the 14th and heading for Le Havre to play boat tourist/spy. Anyone have a bow tie camera I can borrow? Anyway, I should be even more full of opinions than usual when I return on the 18th.
Brad was going to be there too, and said that I should do most of my photo recon work on thursday the 14th, and he could possibly get me onto a few of the boats on Friday.
So as soon as I hit the ground I zipped to Le Havre as fast as I could via cab (expensive!) and train (eat your heart out, BART system). When I walked into the train lobby and out into the street in Le Havre, I got a clue of the town’s support for the Jacques Vabre Race: there were flashy posters and billboards advertising the event everywhere! The boats were easy to find, and the crowds already forming on the walkways above the docks.
What a scene! 10 Open 60 monohulls and 8 Formula 60 trimarans showing off the highest tech hulls and rigging I have ever seen. The Euro programs are very well funded and it shows. Each side of the long harbor was lined with a 1/4 mile of hospitality booths by the boat sponsors, along with temporary bars, restaurants, clothing, and sailing knick-knack shops. A great example was the large booth by Catherine Chabaud’s sponsor Whirlpool Europe. Staffed by attractive women wearing natty yellow suits (matching the boat, of course), with a detailed scale model of the boat, an exciting promo video running constantly, and several of whirlpool’s latest euro version washing machines. Thousands of people, and hundreds of schoolkids ogled the boats
I spotted Brad, said hi, and shot several rolls of excellent spy photos with my tele lens. Brad introduced me to his friend Mike Garside, with whom he had a neck & neck battle with for 2nd place in the last Around Alone. Until Brad broke his mast, that is. I managed to find a classic cheap French room (the kind with the kamode down the hall) and sacked out.
On friday Brad got me past the security guards onto the docks, and aboard “Gartmore Investment” (Josh Hall) and “Fila” (on loan from Giovanni Soldini to couple of his ace crew for this race). I whipped out my pocket throw-away flash cameras and shot away.
My trip had already been worth it, but the best was yet to come. Desperate to get a ride out to watch the monohull start on saturday, I found the press center on the second floor of the 3 story “Race office/convention center” and made my pitch to the queen of press boat access (“Ah…ve ah verry verry full”). When my mention of my own Vendee program got an unconvinced look, I mentioned that I was also writing an article for the prestigious Northern California magazine “Latitude 38”. This worked like I had hypnotized them and soon I was armed with a pass onto a press boat with Mike Garside, a French TV crew, and 2 reporters for “Yachting World”. Thanks, Latitude!
On the out, I took advantage of the opportunity to pepper Mike with questions about his boat “Magellan Alpha” which he took in stride, a real gent.
Words cannot do justice to pandemonium surrounding an Open 60 start in Europe, but here goes: As if racing monster 60 foot sloops doublehanded to Columbia wasn’t enough, the start was downwind to a leeward mark and then a beat back up to weather, before they could depart for good. Each of the high-end boats had a full crew on to help get the main up, etc., before the extras hopped into their respective team inflatables to watch their bosses have at it themselves. The spectator fleet, which was in the hundreds, were kept to one side of course. We on the press boats however, zipped around at will within talking distance of the racers. Mike gave his best to fellow Brits Mike Golding(Team Group 4) and Josh Hall, and soon they were all off, in a light air start. A squadron of eight(!) helicopters kept hovering annoyingly close as the crews deployed giant gennikers or asymmetrical spinnakers. The Brits got lousy starts but on the beat Josh Hall(Gartmore Investment) found some better breeze and moved into second. Suddenly, our press boat headed back into the Harbor, apparently get the TV crew to the editing room, and then we went back out to allow Mike to say a final good-bye to Josh, who danced a happy jig on his foredeck. Even the light air, the 60’s soon disappeared over the horizon. I gave a brief interview to the “Yachting World” writer, and then it was back for beers at one of the hospitality bars in the harbor.
We met Brad at the bar, and soon were joined by Phil Lee (project manager extraordinare) of “Cray Valley”, then Giovanni Soldini and the whole team from “Fila”, and finally Isabelle Autissier herself. Many beers and cigarettes (hack, hack,) disappeared. I got up the guts to introduce myself to Isabelle, who was very nice. Phil (an Aussie) and Brad told me not to blab too much about boats, since the gang was there mostly to party. When everyone got up, Brad motioned for me to come along and the whole entourage piled into Fila vans and we went off to dinner at a local pizzeria. By the time dinner was over, the tables were covered with empty wine bottles. It was a blast, but at 1 a.m. I was fading fast. Everyone was getting ready to head for the next venue and I asked Brad how long this would go on. He laughed and said: “Dude, so far for them this is about the same as you or I having one beer!” I could only say: “I AM NOT WORTHY,” which cracked him up. I realized that while I think I can sail against this gang, I was out of my league when it comes to drinking! I bailed and walked back to the hotel. As I left, Brad said that if I liked the start that day, I shouldn’t miss the multihull start on sunday.
No kidding. The turnout was even wilder for the sunday start. I shot some great pics before I ran out of film. You’d have to see it, to believe what it’s like watching the tri’s fly 2 hulls at 25+ knots from 30ft to leeward in a press boat driven by a mad Frenchman. I’ll stick to monohulls for now, thank you. As of today (tues) one of them has already flipped and is out of the race.
In my hotel, many of the deck layout questions I had wanted to solve began to gel in my head, and I stayed up most of the night making notes for our boat. As impressive as the Euro Open 60’s are, I am more confident than ever that we can make a better boat for the Vendee. I also know that given the enormous, and still growing popularity of these races, we will provide a terrific return for our sponsor’s investment. Just being an American entry will be a huge hit. Isabelle told me that the Vendee is at least 10 times larger than the Jacques Vabre, with something like a 100 thousand people a day for weeks at the start & finish. With the worldwide TV and Internet coverage for the lead-up events, the Vendee itself, and the resulting follow-ups, we will be able to generate constant exposure for more than a year. It’s time for a competitive American entry in the Vendee, I really want to beat these guys.
And I think we can do it.