Between the “Clarisse Crémer affair” and The Ocean Race, Imoca is top of the news agendas at the moment and so a good time for for Tip & Shaft to speak with the president of the class, Antoine Mermod.
► When did you learn of Banque Populaire’s decision to separate away from Clarisse Crémer and what was your reaction?
Clarisse told me on Monday of last week (January 30). I admit that I was quite surprised at the time. The information then came out on Thursday, I saw the Banque Populaire press release and I pretty much fell out of my chair because I was not expecting this affair, which was between a skipper and their sponsor, would really focus around the Vendée Globe. I don’t really want to judge each other’s communications, the only thing I find as a little unfair is that the debate focuses on the Vendée Globe and diversity, when historically, it t is a race that has always been rather ahead of other races when it comes to female skippers.
► Were you surprised by the frenzy that this affair aroused?
It was indeed very quick to take off and almost unheard of in the history of ocean racing. What is tricky with such an emotive topic is to keep a cool head and try to have a slightly more objective analysis, but still taking account of all the emotion aroused by all the people who comment. It was coincidental that we had a “TMS” (team managers and skippers meeting) the morning after the announcement. And we started by dealing with this subject for an hour, it was not easy, precisely because, after less than 24 hours of a media frenzy that went in all directions, it was difficult to manage to draw conclusions. Many skippers spoke, it was super interesting and it helped us all to understand a little more professionally what was happening.
► Is the class participating in a search for a solution between the parties?
No. We are a class of skippers, so we support our skipper, Clarisse; Banque Populaire is a very important sponsor that has been in the Imoca class for years, we want the best outcome to be found quickly so that everyone comes out well but we don’t need to interfere. It is up to us, on the other hand, to ensure that we make progress on this issue of diversity. The advantage of this media frenzy is that it will push us to reflect and to propose rules that will perhaps be more forward looking next time. We are going to start working on this with The Magenta Project, an association that the class is a partner to on questions of diversity. Sam Davies is in the process of taking on this subject with the Magenta Project, with the Vendée Globe and the major races, to better reflect on diversity and the rules and regulations side that need to come out of this.
“We should really have put more forward
the question of motherhood”
► In an interview for Le Télégramme, Sam Davies said she believes that “it’s a bit our fault, all of us skippers and the Imoca class”, because Clarisse Crémer’s desire to become a mum was known to us all, but no-one adapted the rules, what do you think?
When we made these (Vendee Globe qualification) rules we laid down the concept which was to do the maximum number of miles. Besides that, we tried to cover all the special cases, there was the case of Clarisse who had expressed her desire to have a child, we also had foreign skippers who had obligations far away from France and for whom it was not easy to only come and race in France, we had the case of a skipper who had health problems and therefore had to be absent for a few months for treatment. All these cases were studied and led to increasing the number of places for the Vendée Globe, from 33 to 40, and adding a wild card. We thought that would be enough to encompass all these particular problems, we didn’t advance the question of motherhood futher ahead of any other case, we definitely should have done so.
► Do you think Banque Populaire’s decision was a little hasty, given the number of races Clarisse still had left to qualify and to accumulate miles?
Once more this story concerns them, after, it is true that there are still almost two thirds of the qualification process, two full seasons and loads of things can happen. So we can certainly consider that Clarisse had a good chance of not finding herself outside this limit of 40 skippers, which we are still not even sure we will reach. Now I think they overemphasized that reason, certainly compared to other reasons that concern them.
“The issues just now are not
necessarily to continue to grow”
► Let’s move on to The Ocean Race, the second leg is about to end, what is your view of the start of the race?
The best way to judge the success of a race is not in the speeches or in strategies, but in the smiles and the reactions of the sailors. At the end of the first leg, they were all very happy, they enjoyed themselves as crews and the mix works very well. And the race is crazy close, there is a real fight. As I speak to you (Friday morning), there is a 2.2 mile gap between the top three after 16 days of racing! And technically speaking, we realize that we are starting to get to know this concept of boats very well, which we discovered a little about during the Vendée Globe 2020. We have been sailing on these boats for three or four years, we knew that they were going fast upwind and reaching, we’ve seen since the start of the race that it’s starting to work really well downwind VMG. This is really new compared to last year. We can say to ourselves that the 600 miles in 24 hours can happen in optimum conditions. For the moment, we have not discovered any particular problems across a good range of conditions. Now everything about to happen in Cape Town now is going to be important, with a technical check of all the boats, tests on the masts and one-design parts…..
► There are only five Imoca on this edition, are you confident to attract more boats in the future?
The timing of the organization of the race, which took place at the time of the Covid, was particularly hard, it was very complicated to bring in partners and it is never easy to manage a first race in Imocas like this. Today we do see that the sailors are super happy, they are clearly our best ambassadors for the future. All the work we now have to do with the organizers is to find the best solutions so that the race is accessible to a wider audience in the class. At each stage, we meet a certain number of teams, especially foreign ones, who are asking themselves the question of coming into Imoca and are seeing what it looks like, how much it costs. It is already moving well for next time. The foundations are laid, there’s no reason there won’t be more entries next time.
► The Imoca class has grown considerably in recent years, how to manage this growth?
When I arrived in 2017, there were 13 boats in the Transat Jacques Vabre, the first phase was to grow the class. Today, we have about forty projects, many of which are very solid. The challenges now are not necessarily to continue this growth, because 40 boats, if only from a logistical point of view in the ports, is extremely complicated to manage. The objective is therefore to stabilize this group, while continuing to value the diverse profiles, which is a big reason for our success and allows small projects to grow. The best example is probably that of Benjamin Dutreux who had one of the smallest budgets in the last Vendée Globe and now finds himself at the head of a team in The Ocean Race. At the same time, the class must be up to the current number of boats, the investments of each other, so that skippers and partners find what they came for. We don’t talk about it very often, but Imoca now has 10 permanent staff, which means that as we grew, we managed to find the funding to have a strong, capable team to deal with lots of subjects in a professional manner.
► What is this annual budget?
Between 1 and 1.5 million euros depending on the year, provided by members, various and varied partners and the agreements we sign with the races.
Photo: Jean-Louis Carli