Alongside Marie Riou, Dutch sailor Carolijn Brouwer was voted female Sailor of the Year for 2018 by World Sailing last October. After substantial success in Olympic classes racing and then offshore, now the straight talking, fast driving Brouwer is embarking in a new project, chosen to steer the first Dutch challenge in the history of the America’s Cup. The award as sailor of the year rewards her for her role as a key member of the Dongfeng Race Team, winning on her third Volvo Ocean Race. From Sydney, where she resides sharing her life with the Australian multihull specialist, Americas Cup winner Darren Bundock, Brouwer spoke to Tip & Shaft.
So Carolijn you were voted sailor of the year with Marie for 2018, that is 20 years after you first won the same trophy back in 1998, that is nice?
Yes, Sailor of the Year is the highest distinction you can get in sailing, so it was a very special moment to win it a second time. Twenty years ago it was for doing so well in the Europe class, now it is for offshore racing. They are two such very different worlds. I hope that in twenty years, I will be win it again why not in the America’s Cup arena? (Laughter).
Looking at your career spanning the last twenty years, what outstanding moments do you remember?
Three, really: first my campaign in Tornado when we got second place at the World Championships in 2007, when I was the only woman [she raced in Belgian colours with Sébastien Godefroid, holding dual nationality, Ed]. Then there was the Volvo with Team SCA, particularly the stage we won in to Lorient, that was the reward for all the efforts we had made up till then. Finally, the win with Dongfeng really was incredible. And on this last success that whole the scenario in the Volvo will never be repeated in my opinion on the Volvo or on other offshore racing events. It was, if you like, a double win, because we had never won a stage until then. And personally, being Dutch, it was very special. From the finish line I could see my apartment! I had never seen so many people turning our for a sailing event.
If you only had to hold on to one image of this campaign, which would it be?
I would say the evening of the finish in The Hague. There was just so much joy and emotion among the sailors, of course as you would expect, but also among the shore crew who were finally able to release all that pressure which had been stored up for nine months. This pressure is itself is very important because every time we go to sea, they were so anxious and that nothing would break. They really are on the front line like that. I think they celebrated this victory a lot more, the emotion was stronger for them than for us, because for them, finally the pressure was over. No longer did they have to prepare the boat the next day.
So you have raced the Volvo three times, they were three very different projects…
Yes, that’s true. The first time I was 22 years old [on Amer Sports Too] I did both stages of the South and I told myself that I wanted to come back to do the whole race. It took a good few years before the opportunity presented itself. That came with SCA, where the goal was not to win but really to progress, to show that everything was possible for women, so that was a different challenge. So, then also was the one with Dongfeng which was clearly defined as going out to win the Volvo.
And will there be a fourth time?
I would go again, provided that once more it was a new challenge. That said the new boat with a crew of five already looks like a challenge in itself. I’m not convinced about the number of sailors, I think five, it’s not really much, I’m not very fan. However, the boats are very exciting, we will go much faster to go around the world. The challenge that I would like would be to do it with a boat, a crew and the Dutch flag.
How did Charles Caudrelier recruit you?
It was in September 2016. He still had my Skype address because about twelve years ago Charles had called me to offer me the Transat AG2R with him [Charles Caudrelier confirmed to have contacted it at the time, but, according to him, it was for her to do a season in the Figaro in his place, Ed]. I was quite surprised because I did not have much offshore racing experience outside of my first Volvo. It was an interesting offer but I refused because I had just started my Olympic campaign in the Tornado and did not have the time to do anything else.
He has just been voted Sailor of the Year in France, what did you think?
That’s great because Marie and I were chosen by World Sailing and when he was nominated he did not get it, so we really wanted him to get some appropriate recognition. We won because it was the first time that girls won the Volvo. I guess that is understandable but on the Volvo, it is all about the team, that’s what makes the difference. And Charles knew how to put together and manage a solid crew among which there was a lot of respect.
Carolijn let’s talk now about the future: how did you find yourself involved with the Dutch challenge for the America’s Cup?
It was Simeon [Tienpont, founder of the AC challenge, skipper of AkzoNobel on the Volvo and previously Oracle in the Cup, Ed] who contacted me to be part of the team. I did the Olympics three times, raced three Volvos, I had the America’s Cup as a goal. This is the first time in 167 years that Holland has the opportunity to participate, so it’s an incredible chance. I would have been very stupid to say no to this. It’s a dream. Especially because the aim of this project is that it lasts, it is sustainable over several editions. The objective is that Holland competes in several editions. Beyond that this project has a “national” aspect, so a bit like Team New Zealand. While the other projects are funded by billionaires, New Zealanders have the whole country behind them, they have the government, the nation’s industries, the technology. Simeon shares that same vision. In Holland we do not have billionaires who want to go there so we must pay. That means us getting the whole nation behind us, businesses, the government, now all seeing and knowing that we have a lot of experience in the sailing and marine world. Whenever I did the Olympics I felt huge emotion at the opening ceremony marching under the Dutch flag. I did not feel the same intensity of emotion elsewhere. This is what we want to try to do on this project. That does not mean that there will be only Dutch team members because we know that we are short of experience in certain areas, such as foiling, and we will need Australians or English to help us, we know we are in a race against time. But the goal is to have mostly Dutch sailors on board the boat.
Have you started to form the crew?
As it stands right now Simeon is mostly busy looking for partners. Along with Peter Van Niekerkwe are actually starting to build the sailing team. Our priority is to find 8 to 11 crew of 95 kilos or so to be grinders. They might be athletes from other disciplines, although it is a big plus if they already have sailing experience because we do not have a lot of time to train them really. We are particularly interested in those who sail the Finn. We hope to be able to train the crew as we start of the build of of the boat in April. So we will start working on the simulator buying time from Team New Zealand, that will occupy us part of the year. We are considering a smaller test boat to train on like the Americans, but that needs to not compromise time spent on the big boat.
Is the project funded today?
No, not completely. We are announcing our CEO this week, someone who worked in telecoms in Holland, whose mission will be to find this remaining budget. The first deadline for us is to start the boat build in April, knowing that we have bought the Team New Zealand design package. Ideally, we would like to have the whole budget sorted at that time.
If you start building in April, does that mean you will not be ready for the first America’s Cup World Series in October in Cagliari?
Our boat will not be ready in October, we we think it will be ready in February 2020. So of course this is something that needs to be negotiated with the Defender and the Challenger of record, Luna Rossa. Our new CEO and Simeon are going to New Zealand next Tuesday to discuss it.
You will be the first woman on a sailing team in this America’s Cup, is it important for you, knowing that among the foiling crews, the event is almost 100% male?
Really that means nothing to me. I’m sailing, because I love competition and I want to win, whether I’m sailing with women or men. Then at the same time if I can contribute to the fact that there is more equality between men and women in our sport, I am happy to help that, but my main goal is to win.
You have sailed is many disciplines, would you be tempted by solo offshore racing?
Right now I am someone who sails with a crew. Even if I had to learn how to sail as a crew, as a team, because I come from a solo Olympic class dinghy, I have become a real “team player”. I love it. Solo offshore racing never really interested me except when we lived for eight months in Lorient when we were preparing for the Volvo with Dongfeng. We went to see La Solitaire du Figaro. I really discovered it, learning and appreciating that the Figaro is huge in France sailing. I do not think I would be able to sail solo, but as a duo or on a “mixed offshore” event like the one that will take place at the Olympic Games in 2024, now that would be a great challenge.