The future of Open 60 racing
I thought Elaine Bunting's recent blog was excellent, both with respect to questioning how campaign budgets have escalated en route to the latest Vendée Globe and how the future of singlehanded ocean racing can move forward in a positive manner given the economic challenges suddenly facing the world today.
Elaine correctly identified the unchecked inflation of many budgets behind IMOCA campaigns since the turn of the century as well as the air of elitism, both in terms of the sponsors and sailors (something she alluded to correctly in a previous blog), that seems to prevail, at least in the UK and France.
Following her deserved praise for Steve White's recent accomplishments, she rightly argue that "a race that can accommodate and reward both extremes would seem to me to have a more sustainable future. If the big-rolling sponsors don't sign up, the market for secondhand yachts falls and campaign costs tumble. Teams shrink; they pay themselves less. Reverse market forces assert themselves and it can all continue."
With the VELUX 5 OCEANS 2010, I truly believe we are offering a unique solution that meets both of these criteria. Whilst we wish to welcome the best solo sailors in the world in our Open 60 Class (a rule that was born out of the BOC in the 1990s), we are offering a new proposition in ocean racing with our 'Eco 60 Class', a low cost platform for Open 60s built before 2003. This class, designed to offer the opportunity for sailors from all around the world to achieve their ambitions, will create a market for second hand Open 60s to race safely and competitively. We will equally limit costs across the board (sails, shorecrew, repair work, etc) so that our race remains contemporary and accessible, benefiting all parties. This Class embraces the history of our event, which as the oldest solo round the world race has not only launched the careers of some of the most celebrated solo sailors (and launched the Vendée Globe!) but has always welcomed an internationally fleet of sailors from diverse backgrounds. The interest from sailors in the Eco 60 has been phenomenal and I am sure that sponsors will recognise the benefits of the return on their investment.
Like Elaine, I believe people around the world will still continue to follow yachts just as passionately whether they might be a knot or two slower. Ultimately, as illustrated by the achievements of Sam Davies and Steve White in the Vendée Globe, it is the characters, alone on their yachts, that capture the public's imagination, not the power or price of the yacht that they compete on.
Finally, I agree that yacht races have become too expensive for competitors, and here again Clipper Ventures and VELUX are seeking to change the mould in VELUX 5 OCEANS 2010. Having announced a prizemoney pot of €500,000 to reward competition and results on the course, we are now going to offer a minimum investment of €36,000 per team to the first 12 skippers to enter the VELUX 5 OCEANS to cover accommodation, logistics and communication costs around the world. At the same time, we will further invest €2.6 million to bring the race to a wide global audience via a multi-channel, multi-lingual media strategy.