In the context of a real boom for most ocean racing fleets in France and even seemingly despite the health crisis, the demand for high level offshore race training is growing sharply, to the point that many centres are approaching full capacity. Tip & Shaft looks at the structures of France.
A pioneer in this arena, the France Finistère offshore racing centre at Port-la-Forêt was launched in 1990 by Christian Le Pape and Loïc Ponceau, occupies a special place in the landscape of training centres. Firstly this is because it is the only one able to claim the official status of “offshore racing centre” as actually awarded by the Ministry of Sports; second, because it is resolutely focused on sporting excellence.
“The logic of the centre is the high level,” confirms Christian Le Pape long time director until May 31. To get into the “Mecca” of Port-la-Forêt, it is necessary to be among the official lists of high level athletes and to be under 25 years old. This year, the cluster has, according to its new director Jeanne Grégoire, 47 members, including 27 project managers (14 in Figaro, 10 in Imoca, 3 in Ultim), it pays four permanent staff, but also the three skippers (Tom Laperche, Gaston Morvan, Elodie Bonafous) and the preparateur (Goulven Le Clech) of the division on the Brittany-CMB offshore racing excellence.
Its first counterpart came in 2003 with the birth of the Mediterranean Training Center (CEM) in La Grande Motte. “After his victory in the Solitaire, Kito de Pavant and also sailors like Gilles Chiorri, Marc Emig, Laurent Pellecuer, expressed the desire to train in the Figaro 2 in the Mediterranean. At that time it was Port-la-Forêt or nothing,” recalls Camille El Bèze, one of the four employees of the structure, responsible for communication and administration. “Then, the Skipper Hérault talent identification and support progamme was set up in 2011. At its peak we must have had 8-10 Figaros when we hosted the Artemis Offshore Academy, through which sailors like Sam Goodchild and Jack Boutell emerged.”
In recent years, the CEM, whose annual budget is 600,000 euros (about half of the Port-la-Forêt hub), has gradually moved away from offshore racing to turn to inshore and Olympic classes: it is now a French youth centre training on the Nacra 17 and the kitefoil, and youth development for the Nacra 15. The change is due to several factors, according to Camille El Bèze: “The development of the Lorient centre, the arrival of the Figaro Beneteau 3 – we couldn’t afford to buy one – and the fact that there are no more races here. Before, we had the Generali Solo and the Cap Istanbul.” However, she adds: “If there were the demand, we are always ready to restart the machine.”
In terms of offshore training, the offer in the Mediterranean is therefore very sparse today, apart from collective IRC training events organized by the clubs, such as the Florence Arthaud challenge, in Marseille (in turn by the CNTL and the Nautical). This is why Marsail, the company of Chris Pratt and Amandine Deslandes, has chosen to invest in this niche, offering coaching sessions twice a year or on demand for sailors aspiring to, say, the Transquadra or Cap Martinique.
Lorient on the map
The last fifteen years have seen the very clear rise in power of Lorient, very much the initiative of coach Tanguy Leglatin who, in 2005, launched training sessions there through the AOS structure, which since closed. As the sailors results came the Lorient centre has become an extremely popular coaching centres which trains a total of 50 to 70 skippers in Mini, Figaro, Class40 and Imoca. The creation of Lorient Grand Large (LGL) in 2010 by Lorient Agglomeration to support the development of the offshore racing centre of La Base, by enriching its training offers, reinforced the appeal of the Morbihan port, while the professional teams are based now in big numbers.
If the collaboration between Tanguy Leglatin and LGL has long been a close knit one, the trainer who has accompanied sailors like Clarisse Crémer, Erwan Le Draoullec, Adrien Hardy or Thomas Ruyant has regained his own element of freedom too. LGL now offers their own training sessions, led by external coaches like Bertrand Pacé, Bertrand Delesne, Arnaud Jarlégan and more.
“Today, things are becoming more serene” therefore says the new president of LGL, Jean-Philippe Cau. Under the leadership of Julien Bothuan [responsible for the offshore racing centre at Lorient La Base], we have created a working group so that this training activity encompasses all the players.” Julien Bothuan confirms: “I was asked to come and oil the wheels a bit and coordinate these different actions so that we all work together.”
On his part Tanguy Leglatin is focusing more and more on a project support remains open: “I recently met the elected officials and the idea would be to relaunch a real scheme that appeals to the multiple classes and different skippers and groups to which I am attached.”
Today, LGL, which injects 15,000 euros per class (Mini, Figaro, Class40 and Imoca) in this activity, has 145 members (including 54 in Mini, 22 in Class40, 16 in Figaro, 13 in IRC, 3 in Imoca), but they must refuse further members. There is now a lack of space to accommodate all the boats, but also a lack of coaches, a shortage pointed out by many of our respondents today.
A growing market
In the wake of Lorient’s success, other structures have been created on the Atlantic coast and in the English Channel. This is the case in La Turballe where La Turballe offshore racing was born four years ago, at the initiative of eight local minists, which quickly found a place: the association now has 38 members, including 22 in Mini and 8 in IRC, trained by Hervé Aubry. That is all for 1,500 euros per year, including berthing. “We should move now from a budget of 30,000 euros per year to 60,000 in 2022, in particular to pay our coach who is only paid by the time, and soon we will receive public aid and we are looking for partners”, explains Vincent Lancien, mini sailor and president of the structure.
Further north La Trinité-sur-Mer also hosts a training centre with around fifteen Minis (training provided by Vincent Keruzoré) and around thirty two handed IRCs. The signal a desire to develop, into other classes: “There is a lot of brainstorming between the communities and the port to set up a centre on a larger scale. Today, we organize races like the ‘Armen Race which attracts up to 200 boats, we have the first Class40 manufacturer at home (JPS), Lorient is full Concarneau is almost, there is a real demand “, explains Didier Visbecq, president of SNT.
Going up the Breton coast, Concarneau has been offering a Mini centre since 2013, the CECM (Concarneau Mini Training Center), created as the initiative of François Jambou (winner of the Mini Transat 2019 in prototype). “We operate a bit like a sports association, we don’t have a training programme but we decide between ourselves to work on a particular subject depending on each individual’s needs,” explains Grégory Toulgoat, one of the members.
The CECM welcomes 18 skippers who, for 1,000 euros per year (including berth), train under the direction of François Jambou. No particular level is required to be accepted, but motivation: “As we are limited in berths, we ask that the candidates have a real sporting project”. Note that a Class40 group is organized around Kaïros, with projects of Stan Thuret, Jean Galfione and Aurélien Ducroz.
The Channel still to be conquered
Douarnenez benefited for a while from a training centre dedicated to Minis and the subject of expanding and getting properly going is being considered: “We want to try to relaunch, first in Mini, perhaps also in IRC, we are in the process of building the project”, explains the director of Douarnenez Course, Anne Crespy.
Brest, which hosts a multi-medalist French national centre is nonetheless is largely absent from the landscape of ocean and offshore racing training centres. Their problem, as much as anything, is a lack of a suitable venue “We cannot launch a programme to accommodate 10 Mini or 10 Figaros, because for the moment, there is no place to set up“, confirms Christophe Boutet, creator of Aloha Attitude, a company specializing in project management (Jean Galfione, Eric Péron, etc.). “But now, we can clearly see that we are reaching saturation everywhere, so we have to think about it, I think the city is sensitive to it.”
The training offer in Finistère was enriched at the end of 2020 by a new player, with a Mini training group created in Roscoff under the aegis of the Voile Baie de Morlaix association and led by Damien Cloarec. There now there are currently four sailors, the latter hopes to see the group double within a year: “We have a card to play because there are people sailing in the area, we have easy infrastructure with proper offshore conditions as soon as you leave the port of Bloscon.”
The possibilities remain limited in the Channel, even if Voile Performance Manche in Granville, with Benoît Charron, and Louis Duc, in Cherbourg, occasionally offer training sessions, in particular in Class40.
Even further east in 2019, Ouistreham launched under the leadership of local miniists, its Mini division. “We started with 3-4 sailors there are 10 today,” explains Guy Beaudoin, president of the Société des Régates Caen Ouistreham, which oversees the centre (1,000 euros per year for a berth?). We have two Vectors and a Maxi, a recognized trainer in Roland Ventura, the department will also help us get a Mini to support a young talent. Today, our maximum capacity is 12 boats, we could perhaps go up to 20, knowing that we have the demand for sailors from Cherbourg and Le Havre.”
Le Havre, where the offer for offshore training is non-existent today sees local clubs mainly focused on dinghy sailing, match-racing and inshore. Cédric Chateau a well known trainer in the Normandy league and racer in Class40, say: “Today, our sailors are forced to go into exile in Brittany, even though we host the Transat Jacques Vabre, the Normandy Channel Race, and now the Fastnet every two years. There really is something needing to be done here especially in Class40.”
Ambitious Saint-Gilles, Les Sables and La Rochelle
Much further south, other structures exist. There are now three options in Saint Gilles Croix de Vie, Les Sables d’Olonne and La Rochelle. Created in Saint Gilles, home of Beneteau, in 2013, the Team Vendée Formation is distinguished by an approach geared towards professionalization: “We train in offshore racing, explains its director Estelle Graveleau. “Our goal is not just to ensure that our athletes become the best they canwe also help them learn to build their project.” The association, which has 49 members, of which about fifteen race offshore (10 in Figaro, including Irish Kenny Rumball and Pam Lee, and Brit David Paul, 5 in Mini), looks to the future with an ambitious eye: “We are a nautical area so we would very much like to get an Imoca on the Vendée Globe with a 100% Vendée team and partners. We would also welcome Class40s and Multi50s, we are looking for solutions, because it is still complicated to bring in large boats in Saint Gilles.”
Not far from there, Les Sables d’Olonne is also showing their ambitions, with the creation this year, under the aegis of the association Les Sables d’Olonne Vendée Course au Large, of a Mini training group which already has 18 boats (for around 1,000 euros per year, including a berth) and is looking for a coach for 2022. Its director Marc Chopin can already a future: “We are starting with the Mini, but we would also like to open up to other classes. The city communicates a lot about ocean racing, if this political will succeeds, we could welcome several Class40s, even Imoca. There is a big reflection on the future of the port, it is now that it will be decided.”
Reflection also on the side of La Rochelle, where Yannick Bestaven’s victory in the Vendée Globe seems to have revived the idea of creating a real centre for offshore racing. At Les Minimes, there is already a full Mini centre (30 members for an annual registration of 1,500 euros, without berth), headed by Julien Pulvé, and a Team Transquadra IRC, with 42 members. “We want to offer the possibility of a sector, from the Mini to the Imoca, including the Figaro and the Class40. I will keep my fingers crossed that there is a snowball effect after the Vendée, because it’s sad to have to refuse boats for lack of space”, reports Julien Pulvé.
Photo : Alexis Courcoux