Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 2 of the World Yacht Racing Forum

Great success for second edition of World Yacht Racing Forum

The second edition of the World Yacht Racing Forum closed its doors tonight following eight debates and several presentations held over two days at Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum. The highlights of the day were the America’s Cup session - with the exceptional presence of both Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth - as well as the contributions by double Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux and Brown GP F1 team CEO Nick Fry.
December 10, 2009 – Over 350 key figures from the yacht racing industry attended the second edition of the World Yacht Racing Forum. Their feedback was a positive one, everyone recognising the quality of the debates and the importance of such an international Forum to debate the key issues our sport faces.

Today’s keynote speaker Michel Desjoyeaux, double winner of the Vendée Globe, reminded the audience that the sport of sailing looks clean from outside but needs to better its carbon footprint. “We have a responsibility”, he commented; a wise reminder following the Copenhagen climate conference. Desjoyeaux went on to say that the sport of sailing is a great platform of integration for the younger generation, and especially for the ones who encounter problems in suburban areas. “It is wrong to consider our sport as an activity for the rich people. The access to our sport is easy and cheap. We have several projects that demonstrate this clearly in France.” Desjoyeaux concluded by talking about the business model of our sport and the direction it should take. “We don’t need to reduce our costs; what we need to do is increase the return we provide to our partners.”

A message that provided a perfect introduction to the next session, entitled “Cutting racing costs – how can we meet the challenges of today’s economy?” Knut Frostad, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, made it clear from the onset that reducing costs was a matter of survival. “Our sport is small and we need to work collectively at growing it. We can achieve this by reducing costs in several areas, and particularly in the technical side of the sport: there is money wasted in this area. I am also in favour of salary caps”, he said. “On the other hand, I am not in favour of subsidising teams like some events do. It is the wrong approach.”

Also involved in this panel of experts, Dominique Wavre, President of the IMOCA, explained that the Open 60 Class was facing – and trying to address – fundamental issues of reliability, safety and budget control. “We had 30 boats at the start of the last Vendée Globe but only 11 made it to the arrival. We want to have 30 boats again in the next edition and we will achieve this if we manage to develop boats that are more reliable whilst protecting the existing platforms.”

Other speakers such as Josh Hall – President of the Portimao Global Race – presented a cheaper alternative whilst the Audi MedCup Director Ignacio Triay confessed that it was difficult to trim down the costs “because we risk to reduce as a consequence the level of services provided to the teams and the partners.”

The debate moved on to the governance of yacht racing – How does sailing compare to other sports? The presence of the Secretary General of ISAF Jerome Pels made it both interesting and controversial, with the panellists as well as the floor putting a strong pressure on the Sports governing body’s spokesman. CEO of the Brawn GP Formula One team, Nick Fry followed with amusement before observing that “this looks like a bogus model!” Fry then took some distance and suggested that the sports’ main actors look at the broad picture: “Rather than focusing on the details, ask yourselves: What are your goals? What is your global strategy? I don’t know your sport but it doesn’t seem to be managed professionally and for the benefits of its participants.” Nick Fry concluded by an advice: “Look at what the main corporations want. Observe the level of return they receive in other sports such as Football or Formula One. Your competition should be us!” He finally reminded the audience that his team was small – 450 employees, a budget of 100 million Euros / year, 18 events per year followed by 400 journalists: statistics that clearly illustrate the massive gap that our sport needs to fill.

The afternoon session began with a debate about the future of multihull racing. Being former Olympic racers and multihull experts, all panellists agreed that it was an absolute shame that the Tornados had been taken away from the Olympic program; nobody in the 350 strong audience said the contrary… The reasons were more interesting to understand. Mitch Booth, a double Olympic medallist, explained that “multihulls have always struggled with acceptance within the institutions, the yacht clubs or federations. They have been banned for years. There is unfortunately a cultural issue still to resolve.” Cam Lewis, who is one of the best promoters of multihull racing in the US, considers that “this issue will be resolved. There are currently several successful projects – including the forthcoming America’s Cup – that need to be used to the benefit of multihull racing.”

Founder of the Extreme 40 concept, Herbert Dercksen confirmed that the platform he successfully developed has “helped overcome this stigma.” Other promising projects such as the MOD – Multi One Design trimarans – are on their way, and could well become tomorrow’s most successful in and offshore multihull project. “There should also be some individual projects in parallel”, commented Desjoyeaux. “This is how the sport and the technology can evolve.”

More than 500 delegates - including the ones involved in the adjacent Superyachts Coating Conference and the Yacht Racing Design & Technology Symposium - then walked into the Grimaldi Forum auditorium for the events Grand Finale, the long expected America’s Cup session.

CEO of BMW ORACLE Racing, Russell Coutts was first on the podium, speaking with enthusiasm about his trimaran’s wing – “bigger than any wing ever built including airplanes.” Coutts spoke at lengths about his passion for the America’s Cup, and the characteristics that made it so dear to him. “Some of the lessons for the future lie in the past”, he claimed. “Freemantle was one of the most exciting America’s Cups ever. Auckland showed the benefits of a custom built harbour, and the importance of a strong local support. Finally, Valencia illustrated the benefits of a global management for both the Challengers series and the America’s Cup. All those events were very successful in their way. I have one question”, he concluded: “why change such a successful format?”

Brad Butterworth, President of Alinghi, followed on stage and reminded the audience about the ground rules of the event. “The founding document of the America’s Cup is the Deed of Gift. We can amend the rules if we agree to do it by mutual consent. However, in this case, there was no mutual consent.” Butterworth also spoke with enthusiasm about the Alinghi 5 catamaran, telling the audience how exciting it was to sail on such a platform. “In the future, he said, we should seriously consider a multi-challenge America’s Cup on multihulls.” After confirming that his team would be ready to race on February 8, he expressed a wish: “Whoever looses the dual should be graceful and abandon any lawsuit.”

Nicolo Bastianini, Paul Cayard, Magnus Holmberg, Stephan Kandler, Sotiris Buseas and Marcus Hutchinson then joined Coutts and Butterworth on stage for a debate about the future of the event after AC 33. Talking on behalf of their respective teams, all panellists expressed clear – yet solvable - differences regarding the format, dates and type of boat to use for the next edition of the regatta. On the other hand all panellists agreed that an independent management was necessary, Brad Butterworth reminding his colleagues that its establishment would be difficult due to the complexity of the event.

Led by Paul Cayard, the speakers then unanimously endorsed the idea to rapidly create an official group of challengers and to start working concretely, together, on a Protocol for the next America’s Cup. A promising achievement in the current context and after two years of legal battles.

The second edition of the World Yacht Racing Forum ended up on this positive note. Officially closing the event, the Forum’s Chairman Peter Gilmour highlighted the great quality of the debates held during two days in Monaco. “To be honest, I am not really surprised by this,” he said. “I just wonder why we haven’t started a long time ago. This is an exceptional reunion of the most influential people in our industry. Next year’s third edition of the Forum will be built on this event’s success.” -