#mixedoffshore Sneaking Up on Sailing
Updated: Dec 24, 2019
Something fascinating happened in December. One week World Sailing announced that there will be a Mixed Offshore event as part of the Hempel World Cup Series Miami. It has been a year since World Sailing made the bold decision to create a three-day Olympic marathon sailing race, double handed with one female and one male onboard, starting at Paris 2024.
In October I discussed the growing Olympic connections to professional offshore sailing in Europe. This month we see those connections forming in the United States.
January's World Cup will be using the 160-mile Ft. Lauderdale to Key West race to host any male/female team aiming to win the first ever World Sailing medal offered in this discipline.
The very next week, Jeanneau Yachts and North Sails announced that North President and legendary America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race skipper Ken Read is partnering up with former America's Cup sailor and top navigator Suzy Leech to compete in the Key West Race. In a simple but effective marketing move, Read and Leech will be sailing Jeanneau's new Sun Fast 330, a purpose-built 33-footer which happens to be a top candidate for Olympic equipment selection.
Besides the EUROSAF inaugural Mixed Offshore European Championships last October (see my interview below with Americans Peter Becker and Basia Karpinska, it's LONG but super informative and fun, so maybe listen to it like a podcast) and a lightly covered double handed overnight race hosted by Annapolis Yacht Club (where Jeanneau promoted a mixed team sailing the 3300), the sailing universe has been remarkably quiet about this new discipline, until now.
The Read/Leech partnership in the first World Sailing Mixed Offshore event is a formative moment for this new Olympic class. Will entries grow for the January 23rd event as a result? Who will dip their toes in the Gulf Stream waters to test out Mixed Offshore? Even though an Olympic Games (2020 Tokyo) stands between now and Paris, what countries will mobilize their talent early and get in the offshore groove? GBR has already invested in young Figaro sailors through its Artemis Offshore Academy and France, with the Solitaire du Figaro, Class40 and IMOCA for the Vendee Globe is just the place to be if you want to excel at this discipline.
Doublehanded sailing is not new in the United States or abroad but mixed ocean sailing of any kind has been unique. The French, widely repsected as the most experienced and competitive shorthanded sailors on the planet recently stamped their authority on the new Olympic discipline by offering a double handed event to kick off the premiere Solitaire du Figaro series in Brittany. Hugely popular, the Sardinha Cup was won by the superstar pairing of Yann Elies of France and Sam Davies of Great Britain. The fleet was packed with the top European ocean sailors racing the new Figaro III, a foil-assisted 32-footer that in many minds is also a leading candidate for equipment selection for 2024.
In 2024, international teams will be covered live, 24-hours each day off the coast of Marsailles, France. This will be the longest event at the Games and sailing will have four out of 10 events mixed (gender), making it a leader in gender equity at there Olympics.
The Sardinha Cup was a good test as was Oakcliff Sailing's pilot event last June in Melges 24s. These are forecasting what will be the equivalent of Stock Car racing for the world's top offshore sailors who, until now, haven't had an outlet for their talents/passions in the Olympics. But neither of these events produced any meaningful media content, something the International Olympic Committee is hoping to develop for broadcast appeal.
NEW RACERS and OPPORTUNITIES
Coaching 24-hour racing is a completely different universe for the current crop of Olympic staff. As mentioned, the French are masters at the shorthanded discipline. So who are the obvious American suspects to fill the female/male #mixedoffshore squad and what are the opportunities for the US to jump start it's offshore Olympic program?
The top pick for an American duo is clearly Sally Barkow and Charlie Enright. Here's why: Sally has been to the Olympics and has sailed around the world in the Volvo Ocean Race, end of story. She happens to be the new head coach of the US Sailing Team and has grit and exceptional character, prerequisites for success in coastal and offshore racing. But she is now focused on her new career as a coach and may not have the Olympic fire still burning in her.
Charlie is not only one of the nation's top ocean skippers, he has spent the last six months getting anointed and indoctrinated by one of the best shorthanded sailors and navigators alive, Pascal Bidegorry. Charlie has been partnering with Pascal in the IMOCA class in preparation for the next Ocean Race with 11th Hour Racing and is receiving priceless insight, fast tracking him with the skills of a shorthanded master.
Of course there are sailors like Ryan Breymeier who is the most established and excellent IMOCA sailor in the country. American women who have done the Volvo or Mini Transat campaigns are great candidates. And let's not write off any focused US sailor who has proven their winning abilities in other disciplines. But banging around along coasts at night is something special, and the skills to be consistent are hard earned.
The American Class40 sailors are easily transferred into #mixedoffshore. Former Class40 president Michael Hennessy was the top American, in 12th, in the 2018 3500-mile Route du Rhum, an amazing solo sailing feat. Those who have sailed in the Atlantic Cup, like winner Joe Harris, over the years also have what it takes to manage a small boat, often solo, on an ocean course. And it's important to remember that multiple Olympic medalist Jonathan McKee was winning the solo Mini Transat before he lost his rig. He also started the double handed Barcelona World Race. Yet we are hard pressed to find female sailors with the unique qualifications of Olympic -level experience and shorthanded ocean sailing chops
The World Cup Series Miami is a last minute opportunity and this discipline is just barely on people's radar screens. The biggest launch for #mixedoffshore in the US could be with a very old event: the Newport Bermuda Race. There is a well established double handed division which I sailed with Hennessy in 2012 on the Class40 Dragon. A challenging race always, if the event draws attention with a #mixedoffshore trophy, the coutry's marquee ocean race would give quite a boost and exposure to new teams.
Of course the Chicago Mackinac Race, Transpac and Marblehead Halifax races could follow suit. And it would be a stroke of genius if the Collegiate Offshore Sailing Circuit, created by American Vendee Globe skipper Rich Wilson, helped cultivate talent by linking up their efforts with the US Sailing Team, those perennial distance races and organizations like the Cruising Club of America and the Storm Trysail Club, both of which are torch bearers for ocean sailing lifestyle, cruising, racing and safety at sea.
Wilson's COSC program is buying up the previous Figaro II boats built by Beneteau to encourage ocean sailing training on the college level. The boats are sailed in Europe by one or two, proven, safe and fast. Wilson's goal is to expand the pool of offshore capable sailors in the format of four student sailors and one safety officer/coach onboard. And racing isn't the only format for COSC, also using the deliveries of the boats between universities to gain "experiential miles," all helpful for any offshore aspirations.
There are 10 Figaro II's already in the US. Imagine the possibilities of combining resources and watching awesome coverage of young and older experienced American sailors training on the college level and racing together in the big offshore events. Overlay US Olympic Team strategies and selection, and you're onto something special.
If there would ever be a truly direct pathway for young female and male sailors to the Olympics, it would be through the collegiate Figaro path Wilson outlines along with the existing structure of offshore sailing events, training and Olympic development. The US has the talent. Who will be the person to connect all these dots and combine all the resources America already has in ocean sailing? Whoever it is, they should do it quickly. The French are ahead, other nations have already mobilized mixed teams and since the US has been lagging in Olympic medal counts in the recent past, this may be an opportunity to tap into an existing culture and find success.
With only Read and Leech signed up for the Key West Race at press time, who knows how much attention and video production they will achieve. I hope they cover themselves like crazy to give us insight into racing a small boat at full speed over two days by a woman and a man who have never sailed together. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How will they manage their sleep? How will they cover their own experience? How risk tolerant are they? They can't possibly be as polished as Davies and Elies were in the Sardinha Cup so this should be fun to watch if the camera's are on. And what fun and how compelling will this be if there's another mixed team of equal talent trying to run them down as they blast along the edge of the reef that creates the Florida Keys?
If they present these first #mixedoffhsore events with meaningful team dialogue, preparation, lifestyle and on-the-water coverage, this will bring a whole new viewership for the the sport. Let's face it, it's easier to follow the story of two people working together on the fantastic challenge of racing a boat on the ocean 24-7 than it is to watch 11 people taking turns grinding winches, changing sails and sleeping (IMHO).
It's early days in #mixedoffshore as it is being referred to and Karpinska and Becker tell of their very rough experience racing in the Europeans with a boat that was meant for six crew, no autopilot and spotty instruments (remember that ocean sailing is practiced half the time in the dark and the only way to achieve peak performance is by knowing the boat's polar performance numbers and attempting to meet them using precise instrumentation).
For now, pay attention to the SORC Islands in the Stream series and the World Cup Series Miami to see if they perk up and create some compelling and fun #mixedoffshore media. At the moment neither of them are promoting this part of both events in any meaningful way, but they have a month!