Normally the only time you get to see seven of the world’s best skippers together is on the water racing. However, it was on dry land, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower that just such a gathering of sailing greats came together to officially announce their entries in this July’s EDS Atlantic Challenge. The race, sponsored by US technology giant, EDS, will be the first fully crewed transatlantic event for Open 60s – yachts that are normally sailed by a lone skipper.
It was an impressive gathering, not only for the depth of sailing experience of those attending, but because just weeks ago only a couple of those who spoke today had not even confirmed they would even be in the event. With a crowded Spring and Summer racing calendar many teams had to scramble, change plans and find sponsors to squeeze this event into their already packed schedules. But, EDS and the event’s organiser, Challenge Business, were determined and three weeks of furious negotiations and changes to accommodate specific needs of some teams came together in the last few days.
Still, there were casualties along the way. Americans Brad Van Liew and Bruce Schwab, to be specific. Van Liew was unable to get the sponsorship he needed to lease a boat and fund the race. Instead, he will race one leg aboard Josh Hall’s yacht Gartmore. Bruce Schwab announced that, even though he was able to get his new Open 60 launched in time, a lack of money and time meant he could not get it from San Francisco Bay to France in time.
With those difficulties past, the skippers speaking here were clearly excited by the opportunity to see just how hard a crew will be able to push their Open 60s in the 8000-mile event. Ellen MacArthur, the young British woman who shook the sailing world earlier this year with her stunning second-place finish in the gruelling Vendee Globe, spoke by satellite phone to the gathered crowd.
MacArthur was at sea racing her new 60-foot trimaran, Fonica. “It will certainly be a challenge to be racing with a crew,” MacArthur said. “I am certainly looking forward to getting back on board Kingfisher again. She is such a wonderful boat.”
Present at the news conference was Australian sailor Nick Moloney who will serve as MacArthur’s co-skipper for the race. Moloney has the crewing experience that MacArthur lacks, a key factor in his selection. “The sponsor wanted to mix Ellen’s solo sailing experience aboard Kingfisher with my crewed experiences during the Whitbread and America’s Cup,” Moloney said. Moloney said that several modifications had already been made to Kingfisher to accommodate the extra bodies that will aboard. While Moloney will sail all the legs of the race MacArthur will not. Moloney would say only that “Ellen will be racing several legs” of the event.
French skipper Roland ‘Bilou’ Jourdain will once again face MacArthur aboard his yacht SILL. MacArthur finished nearly two days ahead of Jourdain in the Vendee Globe. Jourdain acknowledged the impressive level of competition he faces in his remarks. “The EDS Atlantic Challenge is going to be a great race, because of the high platform of international teams taking part,” Jourdain said. “We hope to push our boat even further beyond her limits.” Roland will sail all legs of the race with the exception of the Leg 3, Portsmouth to Boston. Instead, it was announced, his co-skipper, Gael Le Cleac’h will take the helm for that leg.
Eric Coquerel spoke for team FILA saying that the yacht, normally sailed by Italian superstar skipper Giovanni Soldini, has undergone extensive refitting for the race. The boat, he said, has been lightened by adding a new keel. FILA will be skippered by two of Soldini’s trusted friends, Guido Broggi and Bruno Laurent. It was confirmed that renowned French single-hander, Isabelle Autissier will sail aboard FILA on the final transatlantic leg from Boston to St. Malo.
British single-hander Josh Hall said that his yacht, Gartmore, would be crewed