Dee Caffari et Shirley Robertson à l'entraînement

Shirley Robertson: “French offshore is fabulous theatre and drama”

Britain’s double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson will pair up this season with six times round the world sailor Dee Caffari, to take on the RORC’s Round Britain & Ireland Race this summer on a new Jeanneau SunFast 3300. Tip & Shaft caught up with Shirley.

The prospect of racing with Dee is quite exciting, not least because you come from such different backgrounds, how did it come about?
Nigel (Colley owner and CEO of SeaVentures, major Jeanneau agent and offshore racer) and Henry Bomby brought us together. Henry was having another baby and could not commit to the season and Dee was without a programme. Between Henry and Nigel they made it happen and so we are quite excited about it. The double handed racing has ignited my mojo for the sport again. It is so new to me. I loved the Fastnet. With every passing day I got more tired but loved it more, the decision making when you are tired, managing yourself, all these things you have to do. With two it is an interesting dynamic, you have to partner and look after each other in lots of different ways. And that is part of it the challenge with Dee, how we will work it out. It is quite exciting because we have never been in a boat together before this, not even in a RIB, but I just think it will work. We have two seasons in different boats [Shirley with Henry Bomby, Dee with James Harayda, ed’s note] and they have both been successful and she generally on the boat does the things I don’t do so well.

So with the possibility of the Offshore Mixed Doubles now disappeared from the potential Olympic roster for Paris is that your dream of a third medal over?
I was so disappointed. An offshore Olympic medal in Paris would have been quite something. We talk about the French public’s passion for that element of our sport. We can describe going out the canal for the Vendée Globe start and the finishes, if you have never seen them and lived them then you don’t really get it. It is extraordinary that it is part of our sport of sailing. It would have attracted big names into the Olympic arena which we would not have otherwise seen. The French would have loved it. And so I am disappointed, not so much on a personal note, but for our sport that it did not happen and it did not happen in Paris. It felt like the Perfect Storm. Personally, Henry had asked me. I loved sailing with him. It would have been great to have put together a professional Olympic programme and have another go. But then in the UK we have great offshore sailors, whether we would have gone to Paris or not was a long way off.

Is there a second chance for the Offshore Mixed Doubles?
I feel it won’t happen now. It does not really ‘fit’. It fitted in Paris but it does not reallt fit the Olympic Sports model. It is quite expensive. They said it would be tricky and expensive to film, I don’t really buy into that. It would have been great, for three days and nights you would have live sporting pictures which you could have dipped in and out of a broadcaster. So, yes, I do think the opportunity is passed. But the offshore double handed is getting stronger all the time. You can see bubbles, in the USA, in the UK it is very strong, in Australia on the Hobart Race and on that it will grow and grow. And it is great as an owner, you are not just sitting on the rail or doing your watch. You have no choice, you are fully involved and that kind of intensity and learning is addictive. And it gives you a chance to sail with great sailors. I learned a tonne from Henry. That would never happen on a TP52, you are there to do one job.

I am not a fan of
sailing on my own”

Do you feel you are in this for the long term?
I don’t know. This is an amazing opportunity from Nigel at SeaVentures. It is not often you are given a raceboat fully spec’d with a full set of sails for this year. I would love to do more. I am watching the RORC Transatlantic Race right now, I would love to do that….It would be great. We will see….

Is there any way you could see this develop further for you, to a TJV or an IMOCA for example?
Not really. This for me is not a career move. To do that kind of sailing you have to have invested earlier. It is not something you pick up at my age. And not sailing on my own. I am not a fan of sailing on my own, though we did talk about it last year, doing some racing myself as you then get used to sailing on your own and making decisions. But we ran out of time. It is good training, yes but I like the team element, the partnership, sharing the adventure.

You are a big lover of the French offshore and ocean racing scene and have been for many years?
One thing about our sport is about is its diversity. On the one hand that other nations have never managed to permeate that whole French offshore thing, but it is fabulous theatre and drama. French offshore sailors are a delight, they are great sportsmen and women, fantastic story tellers and fabulous at sharing. I am always telling people if they have not been to a Vendée Globe start or a Route du Rhum start,,,’go!’ it is unmissable. I have not been to a Vendée Globe start and not cried…….

“I think it would be sad
if the Cup was not in Europe”

And what is your view on how this next Cup is shaping up, are there enough teams?
It is intriguing. I love it. It is shaping up to be an amazing Cup. We saw the AC75s for the first time last year. It all felt pretty new and exciting. Now, wind that forward and everyone knows the boats, the designers will take it on another step forward to perform at lower windspeeds and so I think the whole thing will move up a gear. I think how fantastic to see the big players in the game, the only one missing being Larry Ellison and Oracle. Wherever it will be it will be compelling. I am excited already and we don’t know much about it. Also Formula 1 [Mercedes with Ineos, Red Bull with Alinghi, ed’s note] adds a whole new level of intrigue and professionalism. In terms of numbers we kind of have enough. We have the fastest boats in the world with the best sailors, people who know how to sail them well, coming back for.

Do you have any preferences for a venue?
Well Auckland is one of the best places on the planet for sailboat racing, for a Cup event. The nation knows everything about the Cup and are fascinated by the Cup. It is like France and Les Sables d’Olonne with the Vendée Globe it is a similar buzz. People know the key players, the understand the history, the legacy. That brings a great dimension. But, completely, running back to back Cups you understand the financial issues there. Personally I think it would be sad if it was not in Europe. With three European teams, with Luna Rossa, Ben and now Alinghi back, there will be really strong interest, and for the TV world the time zones work well.

Photo: Tim Butt / Vertigo Films

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