Competitive sailing: the horizon of ocean racing discussed in conferences7 min de lecture

As part of its Eurolarge Innovation programme, BDI took advantage of the Route du Rhum 2022 to bring together those involved in and interested in competitive sailing at a conference entitled “Between euphoria and markets under pressure, what are the prospects for ocean racing? The four round tables provided an opportunity to discuss the future of the industry on the subjects of the environment, recruitment and attractiveness.


How attractive will ocean racing be in the future?

Pierre-Yves Leroux, journalist at RMC Sport, Hervé Favre, president of OC Sport, Yannick Perrigot, general manager of the Disobey agency, and Antoine Robin, co-general manager of the Transat Jacques Vabre, all agreed on one point: ocean racing is more attractive than ever. The 2022 Route du Rhum is proof of this. 138 boats at the start, an ever-increasing number of partners and media coverage “already equivalent to that recorded at the end of the 2018 edition” according to Yannick Perrigot.


However, Pierre-Yves Leroux, who is sometimes confronted with the reluctance of his editors to deal with sailing, qualifies this observation. “Compared to other sports and disciplines, sailing has to convince all the time,” the RMC journalist said. How do you do that? “By exploiting the story-telling around ocean races, by making people dream,” says Hervé Favre, whose company organises the Route du Rhum. “People keep in mind the images of Jean Le Cam in the Vendée Globe 2020, illustrates Pierre-Yves Leroux. Sailing must remain a sport with stories told by the skippers.” According to Yannick Perrigot, “the future attractiveness of ocean racing depends on more money being invested in the way it is shown, shared and discovered.”


For the future, a wind of optimism blew during this round table. Sailing can count on many assets to attract partners in the future.


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The future of ocean racing, the vision of the classes

This round table gave an overview of the four classes present on this Route du Rhum 2022. Amélie Grassi, president of the Mini Class, Halvard Mabire, president of the Class40, Antoine Mermod, in charge of the IMOCA, and Thibaut Vauchel-Camus, vice-president of the Ocean Fifty, all emphasised the strong growth of their class.


On the Mini Class side, they said they were “a bit saturated”. In order to allow the maximum number of candidates to do at least two races per year, its teams have set up a system imitating Parcours Sup. The Ocean Fifty class has introduced a numerus clausus of 10 boats with the possibility of increasing it to 12. “We wanted to control the fleet so that the projects would have access to the races that they would sell to their partners, to give the boats a sporting and technical longevity, but also so that they would enter the heart of the towns”, justified Thibaut Vauchel-Camus.


Each of the speakers then outlined their expectations for the future. “Diversity, internationalisation and the environment” are at the heart of the Mini Class’ expectations. The Ocean Fifty class hopes to “create a balance between the major events and the rest of the season, not to be dependent on ocean racing behemoths”. Halvard Mabire hopes to “launch major races specific to Class40”. Finally Antoine Mermod stressed “the need to find bigger markets to amortize the investments” for the IMOCA boats.


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Labour shortages, raw material costs, inflation…: how to manage growth in times of uncertainty?

Despite its good health, competitive sailing is also affected by the current economic situation. In particular, it is faced with the problem of attracting candidates and, above all, is suffering from the inflation in the cost of raw materials. Cyril Abiteboul, Yann Penfornis, Alain Boschet and Matthias de Christen, respectively Managing Directors of CDK Technologies, Mutliplast, NKE Marine Electronics and the Incidence Group, shared their views and solutions.


In 2015, Multiplast launched its own training centre in partnership with the AFPA. “This system provides us with a small pool to compensate for departures,” explains Yann Penfornis, its managing director. At CDK Technologies, overtime is overvalued. “The initiative is beginning to bear fruit. The employees are working more overtime than before”, agrees Cyril Abiteboul, who has made official the project to buy C3 Technologies, based in La Rochelle, in order to pool volumes and initiate a more extensive diversification of its markets. The Incidence group, for its part, is ‘firing on all cylinders’. Matthias de Christen explains that it is “turning towards local missions, opening up to profiles that are different from those we have had in the past”. 


On the subject of soaring raw material costs, everyone says they are affected by the current situation. “The margin has evaporated a little with the increase in prices,” says Yann Penfornis. “We are vigilant for the future,” admits Cyril Abiteboul. “We are doing with the contracts as they are today.” For Matthias de Christen, “the production of ships is a challenge, with the labour shortage and the shortage of raw materials. Fortunately, the ecosystem is strong.”


Finally, the participants shared their vision for the future. Yann Penfornis raised the issue of decarbonising maritime transport by 2030, notably by propelling ships by wind. “We are challenged on good solutions.” And Matthias de Christen agrees: “This subject is a real growth driver to cushion the landing of competitive sailing, which is fairly inevitable. It is necessary to invest in research and development.”


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Discover the figures of the competitive sailing economy in Brittany


Is competitive sailing really going to become sustainable?

La voile de compétition véhicule l’image d’une discipline en phase avec les éléments naturels. Arthur Le Vaillant, skipper et membre du collectif La Vague, Stéphane Bourrut Lacouture, responsable RSE d’OC Sport, Damian Foxall, responsable du programme de développement durable de l’écurie américaine 11th Hour Racing, et Clarisse Lelong, associée du cabinet Deloitte Sustainability France, ont ainsi questionné le rôle de la filière sur les enjeux RSE.


Arthur Le Vaillant returned to the tribune that he co-signed with the members of The Wave and other actors in ocean racing. “The curve is not good. Organisers, federations, manufacturers, classes, must plan a courageous approach and try to act every day on different subjects.” Clarisse Lelong explains that “top level sport must reinvent itself and has a duty to set an example through its media exposure. “Damian Foxall’s team has carried out a study on 11th Hour and on the directions to take for the future, with three watchwords: “less, better and alternative”.


Should this rethinking of sailing involve changing the rules in competitive sailing and ocean racing? Damian Foxall proposed the idea of “writing sustainable development into the rules”. Arthur Le Vaillant extended the reasoning: “In the future, to win, the goal could be not only to be the fastest, but also the least impacting.” Stéphane Bourrut Lacouture insisted on “education and communication” in order to accelerate the industry’s change of direction towards sustainable development.


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Learn more about the Imoca Class study on the mechanics of transition

Learn more about the Eco Sailing Design programme for racing yachts