In Brest on Wednesday Bertrand Quéguiner and Elodie Bonafous formalized the launch of Horizon 29 Offshore Racing team which is aiming for the Vendée Globe 2028 with a new Verdier design which expected to launch in January 2025. Tip & Shaft tells you more.
While this new project was made official on Wednesday, it is an idea which has been running around for a few years in head of Bertrand Quéguiner, general manager and head of sailing programs for the group of the same name founded in 1948 by his grandfather. “In fact, it has been there since the day after Yann Eliès arrived in Les Sables d’Olonne in 2017, he explains. Overall we were very happy with the results of this Vendée Globe and I wanted to return. I had looked closely at things for the last Vendée and in the end I was a bit frustrated not to be there, and for 2024, we felt we could not get a project up to at least the level, even above, what we had with Yann, so that’s why we preferred to focus on 2028.“
The project really gathered momentum over the last year, Quéguiner starting to discuss it more and more with Elodie Bonafous, who last year took over the colors of the group from Tanguy Le Turquais on the Figaro Beneteau circuit. “I always knew that the Vendée Globe fascinated the Quéguiner family and that Bertrand had been frustrated not to have been on the last race”, she comments. “He told me before the Solitaire du Figaro that he wanted to set up for the 2028, so that put a little pressure on me. I didn’t know what his plans were in terms of the boat and the skipper, but I think the fact that I had a great season [12th on the Solitaire, including a third place on the last leg, 9th in the French solo Offshore championship Editor’s note] weighed tipped the balance, I was certainly not the only one on his list.”
The MD of the Quéguiner group further explains: “To begin with I didn’t have a skipper in mind, but in the end, there was no need to do look around. Last season with Elodie led me to propose the project to her. She is a rising star of offshore racing, she has proven herself, she is very ambitious, the choice was obvious.”
“We didn’t want to wait”
At the end of January 2023 Bonafous who is from the bay of Morlaix was told of the green light, while at the same time, Bertrand Quéguiner moves forwards the ideas of what boat, by approaching MerConcept. “We started talking to him at the end of last year, there was a good feeling between us from the start,” confirms Thibault Garin, deputy general manager of François Gabart’s company. “We quickly agreed on a plan the same as we have done with V and B-Monbana-Mayenne, that is to say we build only.”
The boat build will begin in July and it will be a Guillaume Verdier design. None of the individuals we spoke to would be drawn on whether it will be built from new molds or in those already used at MerConcept (Apivia and V and B-Monbana-Mayenne or Macif that is to be launched this Saturday, June 24), holding back on the announcement of technical details until just “before the holidays” – according to Thibault Garin. According to our information the idea of a sistership of Dalin’s new Macif is very much in the running.
Asked about the boat choices Bonafous replied: “I can’t say anything about the boat, but what really was key for us was the choice of the team that we wanted to build it. I’ve never done an Imoca, I’m not capable of making decisions on technical and architectural choices, so we said to ourselves that we had to rely on people with experience. That is why the collaboration with MerConcept which has built high-performance boats which have had very few technical problems.”
Is there not an element of risk in choosing a design now even though the next Vendée Globe has not even started and some new boats for it have still not been sailed? “Given that I’m a novice, the main criterion was that I had to know my boat perfectly, so we didn’t want to wait,” replied the sailor. “We may not have the changes that might happen after the Vendée Globe, but it doesn’t matter, we know that whatever happens we will have a high-performance boat that I can use to 100% of its potential.”
A “possible” Ocean Race
The Verdier design, whose hull and deck will be subcontracted to CDK Technologies in Port-la-Forêt before assembly at MerConcept, will be launched in early 2025, which makes Thibault Garin say: “It’s going to take a slightly longer time than usual, quite comfortable really, especially as it spans a generally slow period for building Imocas, it’s a great opportunity for our offshore racing entity.”
Now that the project has been announced, Horizon 29 Course au large is going to look for a team – “I have already received messages from people interested in working with us“, smiles Elodie Bonafous – the priority being a technical director, but also of a place to work from. “The desire to stay in Finistère is very strong“, comments Bertrand Quéguiner, the choice will be between Port-la-Forêt and Concarneau, Elodie Bonafous considering that “it is important to stay close to MerConcept to potentially continue to work with them once the boat is in the water.”
What about funding? “It’s not a Quéguiner project“, assures the general manager of the group who specifies that the construction of the Imoca, to a cost that he does not want to reveal, is financed by “a family investment company“ which brings together his parents, he and his younger brother Clément who, in 2020, succeeded father Claude as president of the group. The operating budget, as yet not fixed, will be provided by partners which Bertrand Quéguiner is looking for, but not ruling out engaging the family group. “I am in discussion with my brother, the Quéguiner group may become a partner in the project, in the same way that it supports other sports such as football or other events such as the Vieilles Charrues.”
As for 2024 for Elodie Bonafous will do a season in Figaro again and hopes to get onto the Imocas to become familiar with these boats. Then the program should include all the races on the Imoca calendar, including probably The Ocean Race Europe in the summer of 2025. What about The Ocean Race during the winter of 2026/2027 ? “It’s possible“, answers Bertrand Quéguiner, who, when asked about sporting ambitions, adds: “This project is totally different from the one we had with Yann. With a boat coming out of MerConcept and four years to allow Elodie to prepare, it doesn’t feel pretentious for to me to say that we’re aiming for a podium.”
What does she think? “I’ve always said that I wanted to go on my first Vendée Globe with the aim of performance with a latest-generation boat to fight for the top places. I didn’t think I would have such a project so quickly in my career, I know that the step up is a big one because I’ve only been racing offshore for four years, but I have five years ahead of me, I’ll be able to take on this project methodically and I will get to the Vendée Globe start knowing my boat well, it’s an incredible opportunity.”
Photo: Alexis Courcoux