After the Ultims, the Mini 6.50, the Figaro and the Class40, Tip & Shaft is continuing its pre-season review of the key classes of 2023, now looking at the Ocean Fifty. And we find a class which, as is often the case in a post-Rum year, is active with newcomers and a few leavers.
The post-Route du Rhum year is often synonymous with transition for the Ocean Fifty class, the classic single-handed transat to Guadeloupe representing the pinnacle for these projects. This is the case again this year, with a transfer window still in progress, to the point that two months before the start of the season, it is difficult to know how many boats will take part to the Pro Sailing Tour then to the other races on the calendar.
If there is uncertainty it does not concern Sébastien Rogues, whose partners, lead by Primonial, have signed until the end of 2026 with a new boat ready for the start grid (Romaric Neyhousser design, built at Multiplast in the moulds of Arkema 4), nor does it concern Erwan Le Roux, whose contract with Koesio expires at the end of 2023. “But we are looking beyond that”, confides Le Roux who is still president of the class. And Thibaut Vauchel-Camus (Solidaires en Peloton-Arsep), certain to be a starter this season, talks of “the desire” to embark again on a new four-year cycle with his partners.
Joining these lynchpins of the class three new skippers are arriving this year, with the next Route du Rhum on the horizon. The first is Fabrice Cahierc who launched the current Koesio (originally Planet Warriors) in March 2021, before finally stepping aside, “for personal reasons”, explains the former entrepreneur now a full-time professional skipper. He adds: “Having brought back the boat from the 2021 Jacques Vabre with Erwan (Le Roux), well that really reignited the flame. So I decided to go with a new boat”.
And so he has an optimized version of the VPLP design, built at CDK Technologies and which will be christened at the end of June in Nantes, where the headquarters of the Réalités company is. Fabrice Cahierc has them on board supporting him “at least until the Route du Rhum 2026.” For what budget? “Excluding depreciation, it’s around 800,000 euros per season, as for the boat [which Réalités is an owner, editor’s note], it’s 3.5 million euros, but if you want to be safe all in you have to say 4 million.”
Saint Malo is a key centre
Based in Saint-Malo, Fabrice Cahierc will have two newcomers there too, as well as Thibaut Vauchel-Camus. There is Luke Berry, from Class40, whose project has not yet been formalized, and a skipper sailing in the colours of the Breton company Viabilis – an official partner of the last Route du Rhum, and of Arnaud Pennarun in Rhum Mono. The skipper will be supported by BE Racing, the structure of Louis Burton and Servane Escoffier.
“The project came together just before the Route du Rhum,” says Servane Escoffier. “We received a phone call telling us that Viabilis wanted to do more and had a preference for an Ocean Fifty. It turns out that on our side, we had made the decision to get into this class by buying a boat. We had planned a visit of Leyton [former Sam Goodchild’s Ocean Fifty, this latter now in Imoca, ed’s note] in Saint-Malo, so the boss of Viabilis came with us, we were all very motivated, the project is up and running for at least four years!“
BE Racing had one question outstanding, to find a skipper, hence a selection launched at the beginning of January which is now on the verge of completion. “We received 45 applications, continues Servane Escoffier, we retained six CVs and today we have three finalists left, we will announce the skipper and all the details of the project around March 6.”
So that means six Ocean Fifty for the second part of the season – Réalités and the new Primonial will be launched at the end of May. But will they be joined by the four other existing boats in the class? Winner of the Pro Sailing Tour last year and second in the Transat Jacques Vabre, Quentin Vlamynck is not sure to do it again. “We [Lalou Multi, the operation of Lalou Roucayrol, NDLR] were at the end of the contract with Arkema. They had already told us in March 2022 that they would not be renewing. We almost signed a partner last summer, but it didn’t work out, so we’re continuing our search,” explains Vlamynck. “We will do everything so that the boat, which we own, goes racing, because it is important for the class. We could charter it or sell it, or join forces with another skipper for the Jacques Vabre, we give ourselves a big month to think things over.
Armel Tripon, who has not given up on his Imoca project with a boat built with reused carbon, explains that his Ocean Fifty Les Ptis Doudous “is potentially for sale, but the idea is to at least the Pro Sailing Tour before possibly organizing some kind of handover”. Gilles Lamiré’s trimaran, which he is bringing back from the West Indies, is for sale – Marsail, Christopher Pratt’s company, is in the running -, while Eric Péron, who is looking for partners to accompany him on the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest, is looking to charter his out – 200,000 euros a year – ready to sail. “My decision will be made in a month: if I can’t finance the Ultim, I will stay in Ocean Fifty.” says Peron
The Pro Sailing Tour seeks a balance
This uncertainty on the grid largely explains why the class has only finalised his programme 2023 last week, particularly on that of the Pro Sailing Tour, a circuit launched in 2021. “We knew that the post-Route du Rhum year was going to bring a lot of changes. We need to have a certain minimum number of boats because of the conditions the host cities, we hope for 5 to 7″, explains Julien Mauriat, president of Upswing Prod, which along with Keneo in 2022, organizes the circuit.
The calendar will have two major sections: a first in the Mediterranean, which will pass through La Seyne-sur-Mer (8-11 May), Bonifacio (13-16 May) and Alghero (Sardinia, May 18-21), a second in the Atlantic and the Channel with a regatta in Saint-Nazaire as part of The Arch (June 1-4) and a final rush between Cowes and Brest (10- 14 June). The season, excluding the Pro Sailing Tour, will continue with the Trophée des Multihulls Baie de Saint-Brieuc, from July 12 to 16, the Fastnet and the Transat Jacques Vabre.
For its third season, the Pro Sailing Tour is based on a budget of around 2 million euros, which Julien Mauriat hopes will be “balanced” by the end of the year, thanks to the arrival of six new partners, which will be announced mid-March. “Our economic model is being structured, the objective is to get closer to a balance between 40% of the budget by the cities, 60% by private partners and the broadcasters of our series.” Broadcast in France by the Canal + group – and in 189 countries -, this series, whose season 2 is expected in early May, does it appeal to viewers? “We have no audience figures, but a real satisfaction from the direction of the programs of Canal +, which makes them return to the series this year”, responds the boss of Upswing Prod.
Stéphane Vidal, boss of Primonial, the title partner of Sébastien Rogues, comments: “It’s really great to watch the series, but it is seen by few people in France, it’s a shame, everything like the fact that it comes out a year later”. But the fact is it works for them, hence the extension of his partnership for four more years with the winner of the TJV 2021 proves it. He is “very happy with the positioning of the class in the general ecosystem of sailing, it is on a human level, well regulated, with no big arms race and a very good atmosphere.” The only pitfall in his eyes, the lack of real visibility on the sailing calendar which makes it difficult to organize public relations at events.
These are things the organizer and the class are aware of and they promise to communicate by next fall on the 2024 calendar. “That’s the big job we have to do right now. We know that we can improve, but we can see that the class is attracting people, which shows that we’re on the right track overall,” says its president Erwan Le Roux.
Photo: Alexis Courcoux