A little over two months after announcing Banque Populaire’s decision to part company with her, Clarisse Crémer is once again focused on the Vendée Globe 2024, with a boat, the ex-Apivia, a team, Alex Thomson Racing, and a partner, L’Occitane en Provence. Tip & Shaft tells you the story of this express return from the brink.
First, recap the facts: on February 2, Clarisse Crémer launched a veritable media bombshell by announcing that Banque Populaire had separated from her, a decision taken by her sponsor in the face of the risk of seeing the sailor not to be selected for the Vendée Globe 2024 because – they felt – she was late in the race miles because of her maternity break (see our article). On February 17, after vain attempts at patching things up (see our article), Banque Populaire withdrew from the Vendée Globe and put the ex-Apivia up for sale which the team had just taken possession of. On March 21, Alex Thomson formalized the acquisition of the Imoca, and a month later, on April 19, a press release announced the commitment of L’Occitane en Provence alongside Clarisse Crémer, with the assistance of Alex Thomson Racing.
Even so it is a particularly quick sequence of events which even surprised Clarisse Crémer herself: “Two months ago, I had buried the idea of the Vendée Globe, I did not see how it was going to be possible, we had to find a boat, a team, before even finding the money, I was really starting from scratch,” she told Tip & Shaft. The media outburst surrounding the episode saw her with many phone calls and messages of support, “mainly from Anglo-Saxons, I cannot explain why”, she adds, quoting Sam Davies, Dee Caffari, and Alex Thomson.
This latter confirms to Tip & Shaft (see interview below): “That was within a day or two of the problem rising. I had a long chat with my wife about it and from there, there was two parts to it. Obviously, you want to help because you don’t agree with what happened. And then second you want to find a way to put something together and then that involves a fair amount of risk. I gave her a call and said ‘Do you still want to do the Vendee Globe?’If you do I think we can find a way for that to happen’.”
Scott Shawyer’s helping hand
Clarisse continues: “At first, Alex wanted to know if I still wanted to do the Vendée Globe, I told him yes but that it seemed unattainable. Things began to settle when Banque Populaire announced that they were stopping the project. Suddenly, there was potentially an opening to recover the boat. We had to position ourselves to buy it and Alex had investors to do it.“
After having first proposed to Clarisse Crémer to compete in the next Vendée Globe on the current Canada Ocean Racing (ex Acciona), with which the Canadian businessman Scott Shawyer plans to race in 2028, they managed to complete the financing in record time to acquire Charlie Dalin’s former Imoca.
“The boat was a little under five million euros”, says Alex Thomson. “Officially, I own the boat and then we managed to finance it through Canada Ocean Racing, through Scott Shawyer. He has lent us some money to do this. One of my first calls was to Scott. He’s a fantastic businessman and he too was pretty horrified by the whole situation as well, so he’s taking quite the risk as well and lent us the money to buy the boat.”
A big step in the right direction was taken but she needed to find sponsors. “It was a bit dizzying for me, because even if I had helped Tanguy (Le Turquais, his companion) a little in his search for sponsors, it had been a long time since I had done that for myself, thanks to Banque Populaire. And above all we were so, so short on time.”
“A real project was being put in place”
But again, the machine was firing on all cylinders: among the people who left messages for Clarisse Crémer after the outbreak of the “affair”, was Adrien Geiger, general manager of L’Occitane en Provence, title sponsor of Armel Tripon on the last Vendée Globe. He too had sounded out Clarisse Crémer on her intentions in 2021. “We had met at events and race starts, we also have a few friends in common, we had stayed in touch and it’s true that after the Vendée Globe, we had discussed ideas, but without going into details. I was very touched that he put forward the idea, but I found it more logical to continue the story that I had started with Banque Populaire. But following the SMS of moral support he sent me in February, I ended up asking, “I don’t want to sound out of place, but could you be interested?“
Reached by Tip & Shaft, Adrien Geiger confirms: “When I learned what happened at the start of the year, I got back in touch with Clarisse, but at first I didn’t think it was possible to do anything with her. But then I realized that things were moving pretty fast on her side with Alex Thomson coming on board, and with the purchase of the boat, a real project was being put in place.”
The L’Occitaine MD adds: “It so happens that in 2020 we implemented within our group an important parental leave programme for both parents, which I myself took advantage of last year by stopping four and a half months for our fourth child. Gender equality and female leadership are important subjects for us, so there was a particular desire on my part to help Clarisse to show that you could be a mother and have a great Vendée Globe, it fits into the values and the fights that we defend.”
There was some convincing to be achieved internally, which, according to him, was not complicated. “We really liked the adventure of the Vendée Globe 2020, we did not continue because the conditions, in the Covid period, were not aligned at all, but it was still a small regret for everyone there was the desire to return there one day. The project arrived at a time when we wanted to mark the occasion in terms of communication and when we were in full preparation for the budget period, that was the perfect timing. And the fact that Clarisse arrives with such a concrete file played a big role, the planets were particularly well aligned.”
Did the media resonance magnified tenfold by the “case”, also play a part? “We will of course take advantage of the project to communicate externally, but what matters most to me is internal,” replies Adrien Geiger, who does not wish to reveal the amount of the investment. “Messages from employees who were very proud that we are supporting Clarisse, for me, are priceless. France represents 4% of L’Occitane en Provence’s turnover, and the Vendée Globe is still a very French race, so if I only thought about it from a media and marketing point of view, I would have rather gone to do something in China or Japan than in France.”
The parties finally reached an agreement last week and the official announcement was on Wednesday. Asked about the race for miles, which led Banque Populaire to part with the navigator and about any guarantees requested from Saem Vendée on the wild card, the general manager of L’Occitane en Provence replies: “No, we haven’t contacted them, we’re ready to take the risk of not being at the start although, of course, we’ll do everything to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“A bit of a hybrid format”
Clarisse comments on the wild card that the boss of the Vendée Globe, Alain Leboeuf, seems willing to grant her in the event of non-selection: “It’s of course reassuring, but I want to play with the current rules and being selected, so the race for miles remains a source of stress for me.” And that’s the reason why she will probably compete on one or more stages of The Ocean Race by June: “I can’t say more for the moment, but some people want to help me, it’s cool .”
And then? A first race aboard L’Occitane en Provence in July on the Fastnet, with the Transat Jacques Vabre in sight, then Retour a La Base solo. Alex Thomson will not be the co-skipper on the double-handed races, the name will be announced later, chosen by Clarisse Crémer who sets the ideal profile: “Someone who is available full time because I have a lot of things to learn, but as I also need to take ownership of the boat and be the leader of my project, I don’t want to be crushed in terms of experience and character.”
She does not want to delegate everything to ATR: “It’s going to be a somewhat hybrid format, we are co-managers of the project with Alex, who will have the role of coordinator of the project, above the team manager, Richard Mason. For my part, I am in the recruitment phase.” The team will work between Gosport and Lorient. “We’ll be doing a lot more offshore sessions over several days than day sailing, which allows me to have a balance in my life, the boat will sometimes come to pick me up in Lorient and then drop me off, so we’ll be doing something a bit different,” concludes Clarisse Crémer.
Photo: Martin Keruzoré / BPCE