Around Alone 2006
The presentation was made by journalist Bob Fisher, Ed Leask of FastTrack who are now a shareholder in Clipper Ventures and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston who confirmed that the race would be going ahead, but that they will be making efforts to modernise and commercialise it.
Ed Leask said that his company have been carrying out research into Around Alone and they have set up an advisory board to assist them in creating the 2006 race. "Sport is having a very challenging time at the moment. All sport is having to change. We have to attract television and the media and sponsors if we want sailing to have it's day and perhaps it's day is coming." Robin Knox-Johnston said that so far they had recruited Mike Golding, Brad van Liew and Bernard Stamm on to the advisory board and that their first meeting would be in Newport at the end of the race.
Leask continued that the sponsorship market was becoming increasingly tight at present, giving the example of Formula 1 motor racing teams falling by the wayside. "It is cluttered - the number of round the world races. There's a huge advertising sponsorship recession particularly in the US and Europe. There are fewer brands and the big owners of brands are consolidating them and there are less potential sponsors."
Knox-Johnston admitted that the present Around Alone is running at loss, because there was such a short period between them taking the event over and it starting. Leask said this could not be repeated. "There is no way that Clipper Ventures can fund the race in the present format. It has to be commercially driven to provide what everyone wants. We believe that shorter stopovers are required.
"We want a fleet of equally well-funded boats. We believe that with that, FastTrack has a fighting chance of raising a sporting chance of raising the profile of this race. We want to help new entrants be able to fund their boats and create ways of doing that. It is not just funding to find the money to run the race. We want to help them."
Knox-Johnston outlined more specific changes, with a refinement to the classes of boats in order to make the racing tighter and reduce the amount of time in port. "We have now reached the stage where this type of racing, the IMOCA class has become the norm, but you do have to recognise that you do have to have a fleet that will stick more closely together and you can't do that if you have this broad band of boats. IMOCA is planning shortly to limit its smaller class. Currently it is 40-50ft, in the future it will be 48-50ft to bring the racing closer together.
"So what we plan to do for the next race is that we will limit the race to the Open 60s and the new Open 50s. In one way I am sorry because my heart is saying what about the 40 footers in this race and how much Derek, Alan and Koji contribute to the event. The idea is not to keep people like them from doing it because they bring so much and contribute so much to the event. The hope is that they will be able to get bigger boats because this is one of the only race where you get this incredible bond between the competitors and this is something we desperately want to maintain.
"This does mean we can decrease the length of the race by about two months. When people are looking at their budgets for this, the biggest cost after the boat is the time in port. Waiting five weeks in port is expensive and we want to make this more cost effective to do. We have to make the event more attractive to sponsors - next time we want everyone to be sponsored so that they can concentrate on the racing and not on trying to keep their budgets down.
"We want to make the race more attractive to overall sponsors and more attractive to firms who will come in and sponsor individuals. We want to make it easier for contestants to do the race in the future, not harder."
He added that they were making the announcement now, midway through the race so that it would give more time for competitors to prepare for the 2006 event. Regarding the format Knox-Johnston continued: "Our intention is to as closely as we can to match this race's format. Starting this event in the States - it is the one event that starts and finishes in the States. I would prefer it to stay like that. There are an increasing number of 50s and 60s being built outside of France where the strength of the class has been in France." The Daily Sail would strongly dispute this - if the race is to succeed in the manner Clipper Ventures are outlining it is essential to have a French stopover.
The Daily Sail raised the issue that the principle problem with Around Alone - particularly with the event heading more in a Grand Prix direction - was it clashing with the Route du Rhum. "We had talks with them [the organisers of Route du Rhum] and we parted amicably," replied Knox-Johnston. "We agreed that because of the timetables we couldn't do much about it. We've got to see what they come up with. "
The second highlight of the press conference was when Bob Fisher mentioned the possibility of prize money being introduced. "Prize money is what you'd really like isn't it, gentlemen?" to which Solidaires skipper Thierry Dubois shot him down in flames in finest Gallic fashion "NO! Sorry - we are not racing for prize money..."
Dubois was in fighting form at the press conference. "For me one thing is clear. If you have Route du Rhum and Around Alone at the same time it won't change. I can't see the Route du Rhum changing their dates and I can't see Around Alone changing their dates because you have to start to sail around the world in the autumn, so you have to race at the same time as the Route du Rhum.
"I am the only Frenchman here and that is the reality," he continued, making a jib at Bernard Stamm who is technically Swiss, but lives in Brittany. "Most of the 60 footers prefer to race the Route du Rhum because it is a short time, less cost and a lot of media. I can't see that changing in the future."
Of the changes to Around Alone Dubois also had a strong viewpoint, suggesting Around Alone's class one should be 50ft. "Probably it is a choice between spirit and money. If you say goodbye to the 40ft you say goodbye to the spirit. I am not certain it would work because most of the skippers and sponsors of the 60 footers next time will race the next Route du Rhum. And the Vendee Globe have made a choice for their next edition - only 60ft. So Around Alone is the only occasion to develop 50 footers in another round the world race and if 50 footer are the class one of the next round the world they can develop and you can keep the 40 footers. It is less money, reduce the cost of the boat, you can put more cost into the stopover."
Dubois was also critical of the prospects of increasing the amount of TV coverage as proposed by Leask. "You can try to develop something with the TV system but remember if you have too many pictures everyone sends the same pictures. After a time you will have the same movie. During the first leg you will have interest, after the second and third leg, then it will all be eating, sleeping changing sails in the same way. You have a lot of ways to send information to develop the dreams of people. It is better to say a few words and allow people to develop their own dream."
If Around Alone are serious about turning their race into a Formula One event then they will have to look at either incorporating the Route du Rhum into their race as a separate leg or changing the date of their race - the Route du Rhum is such as institution in France that it will never change.