Chris Nicholson : “I would jump at doing The Vendée Globe”

Australian Chris Nicholson is not one to let grass grow under his feet. Even after just completing his sixth Volvo Ocean Race, this time as watch captain with Team AkzoNobel his thoughts are already focused on the next edition of the fully crewed around the world race. He has teamed up with Denmark’s Nicolai Sehsted to form a programme looking to 2021 when the race will be sailed in IMOCA monohulls. Tip & Shaft caught up last Tuesday with Chris at the Yacht Racing Forurm in Lorient. 

Chris, here you are in France at this conference, what is your view of French sailIng?
It is very good to see the multihulls and the different disciplines and the more Anglo Saxon ideas versus the French side by side. I keep coming back to the French culture of adventure and how that storytelling and that desire for adventure has translated into an extremely strong business case and sailing nation.

The whole French culture is very different to yours?
Eric Tabarly and these guys took adventure to the world when it was new and fresh to the world and that has continued on right until this present day. I don’t think I will see that kind of opportunity in my country, that opportunity has gone. Now we still have the adventure and the story but is not the same as the pioneering days like with Tabarly or even Sir Peter Blake. These guys created what we have in our sailing culture today.

How did you get started?
I started as youngster sailing with my brother on little tiny boats. I loved the sport very early on. If you are fortunate enough to practice something you love doing, usually you end up OK at it.

Did you follow some races, were they a reason you got into sailing. And what is the enduring appeal from a young age?
Initially I did not, no. There was nothing I saw on TV or in magazines. Certainly now with my kids I look at the freedom it gives them. You can go sailing at six or seven on a BiC or an Optimist and already you have to make decisions themselves. They can sail where they want, but they have to do things for themselves, to capsize and challenge themselves. I look at that and think maybe that was what interested me. But I can see it now, the comparison with other mainstream sports where they get told what to do, day in day out, this is about having responsibility. You do it. You are responsible.

How did you make that move from Olympic sailing to Offshore?
I was having a break between Olympic sailing and I needed something fresh and new. I had never envisaged it would grow to what it has done. I get seasick, or I did, and it was an extremely difficult transition.

So you have done six races now what is the best memory?
Leg wins are very special. To win the race would be very special in itself but I think the last race itself was so competitive, so competitive (repeats). It was the most enjoyment I have had. It is the day to day challenges which keep me coming back to the race. You can never get everything right. There are too many things that go wrong. But when a team is running smoothly, harmoniously it is a really good thing to be part of.

What are your thoughts on the win of Charles Caudrelier and Dongfeng?
It is funny, even last race I got on well with that team. I like their approach. I like their style. They are humble and honest about things and are good role models in the sport.

Why do you keep coming back? 
It is the challenge of it. It was a simple or an easy race I would not be motivated to keep coming back. It is extremely hard and complicated and offers a lot for people. For me it is just the right blend of being difficult and challenging, the natural aspect of sailing around the world is still appealing and the teamwork, from the sailing team, the shoreside, the sponsors, everything, trying to pull that all  together for the one common goal is what it is all about.

What stage are you at?
Currently we are out there, searching hard for some partners to do the next race with. We have a good group with us, well experienced and we have a proven track record in terms of what we deliver for sponsors and so we are currently looking at that and how we can fit that it together as a race winning proposition for the next race.

Will you use the same team? AkzoNobel are helping you?
Not at the moment. Everything is up for discussion. There are a lot of people out there searching for it. But we feel we are in a good position. We are finally wrapping up the post race activities which has been good for AkzoNobel and for us as a sailing team. We are in discussions and have a good relationship but at the end of the day it has to be the right fit, the right reasons for sponsors to want to do this race, we have to explore and at the moment present a solid business case for doing the race.

Why go with Nicolai? 
Nicolai and I did our second race together. We met racing a Melges 32 but once you have done six races you know straight off people who will be good, solid, smart and dependable, all the attributes to thrive in the Volvo Ocean Race. He has a great work ethic and all the skills to go with it.

IMOCA is good for the race and a good choice for the sponsorship proposition?
In terms of looking for the money the actual boat has very little to do with it. If I put my sponsorship hunting hat on that is what I agree with. As a sailor I love the look of the new IMOCA Volvo boat. As sailors we have to make sure the boat delivers what the majority of sponsors want. That is a very important part of the job. Often the sponsors don’t want to know that or need to know that, but as sailors it is a huge responsibility to deliver something which is quite reliable, the technology needs to be cleaner, more sustainable than in the past, we have to deliver those things, so that the sponsor is not making a decision because the boat is right or wrong. In general sailors have done quite a good job in delivering I think.

What is your round the world preference, One Design or Open?
I really enjoyed the last race. I loved being part of the design and build of the VO70s. So maybe the next race can offer a bit of both with the 65 and the 60.

What is the global budget you need? 
So much of that depends on the activation over the next couple of years. The numbers can obviously dramatically reduce if you just prepare for the three months before the start of the race. I don’t know. I think it will be of the order of €15-20m, but honestly trying to pick a figure. That number is specific to what needs to be delivered. People don’t get more or less it is about what you need to deliver and that costs more money.

The IMOCA class is good for long term of race?
I think it will be good. The format should be around several editions and for longevity that has to be good.

Would you fancy racing the Vendée Globe?
I sure would. It is tough nut to crack. Not many Anglo Saxons guys are in this. You guys pretty much own it. You guys need to open the doors up a bit more. I would jump at doing the Vendée Globe. You have to dream and imagine what you would like to do and that would be part of it.

And what is your view of the Ultimes?
That currently looks purely French. It looks fantastic, but it is all French sponsors and French sailors. It is the ultimate in terms of showcasing sailing, our sport. One of those things would be so cool!

And the America’s Cup, there is no Australian team?
It is such a different landscape in Australia. Sailing is in no way a mainstream sport and the dollars are not there, you need an extremely wealthy individual who wants to do that. Currently we don’t have that and we are not going to raise that amount of money commercially. That was a whole different landscape to now. But, it could happen, as with everything timing is key and it is not right for it at the moment. We have the sailors. That will always be the case I think, we will always have sailors capable of winning it but it has to be about the business case.

What next?
I will go back to Australia to do the Sydney Hobart but right now I have to be at home. I have been home for two weeks in the last 14 months so I have to spend some time at home, I have quite a job list to do around the house !

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