On Monday in his hometown of Port-la-Forêt, Jean Le Cam unveiled his 2024 Vendée Globe project. It will feature a brand new boat with daggerboards designed by David Raison and he will be backed by the Finistère department (region), Armor-lux and a group of partners for a budget totalling 4 million euros over 4 years. Tip & Shaft tells you how this project came about.
It was back on Thursday January 28, 2021 that Le Cam was welcomed as a hero back to Les Sables d’Olonne at the end of his fifth Vendée Globe as he took fourth place overall. Jean Le Cam immediately delivered his analysis of the race, considering in particular that “in the end, foiling boats, it’s a lot of money and energy for not much.” These remarks are at the core of the new four-year project which was unveiled on Monday in Port-la-Forêt where Jean Le Cam announced that he was starting a sixth Vendée Globe campaign with a new boat with daggerboards and with a scow hull shape. “What I’m doing now is what I said when I finished the Vendée,” “King Jean” told Tip & Shaft.
This project actually began just a few weeks after the end of this Vendée Globe 2020 in particular taking on the impetus set in train by Eric Bellion who was ninth and first rookie on the previous one in 2016 and wanted to return in 2024 with more serious sporting ambitions. “When I went to see Jean, it was with the idea of creating a Vendée Globe team with several Imocas pooling resources.” says Bellion. “At first, I thought of buying second-hand boats but I could clearly see that the market was starting to close down so with Jean we started to talk about a simple boat, at a lower cost, but capable of competing with the best.”
In the spring of 2021 the two men agreed on the project with the initial ambition of building three or four boats. They went in search of a designer and set their sights on a newcomer to the Imoca class, David Raison. “We went to see Sam Manuard who was busy with Charal, Guillaume Verdier was not interested. We also spoke with VPLP and finally, we chose David Raison, first because he is a designer who had the audacity to make the first scow Mini and also because he is very diligent” explains Jean Le Cam.
Eric Bellion’s project is decisive
“I’m obviously very happy to have been chosen particularly as I had proposed the concept to another team even before the end of the Vendée Globe.” says Raison, “When we met with Jean and Eric, we really hit it off, we thought exactly the same things. You don’t have to bother with foils and it is better to have a modern daggerboard boat that is easy to sail.” Having picked the designer, Le Cam and Bellion went on a tour of build facilities in July 2021. “At that time, there was just no capacity at all in France,” continues Jean Le Cam. “So we went to see yards in Germany, Spain and Italy and our choice is to go with Persico because they have the experience of 60 footers [including LinkedOut, the new Biotherm…, Ed note] and have an exceptional work facility.”
At the time of making these choices, however, Le Cam did not have the necessary budget to launch the design studies and far less the build. That is where Eric Bellion’s contribution would prove decisive, as he managed to find a partner, Altavia. “Of course, without Raphaël Palti [boss of Altavia, ed note], there would be nothing. I put 100% of my personal savings in the projecti, that convinced him to follow my lead and this commitment helped us allowed to get going on time”, confirms Bellion. “They could pay the architect, the studies, the modelling, the tools, it is thanks to that that it is possible to have these two boats, we could not have got going on time without this,” adds Anne Le Cam, who manages her husband’s project.
The department of Finistère makes the key difference
She went in search of partners to finance both the construction of the second boat and the operating budget. “It was very hard,” Anne Le Cam continues. “We quickly started on the idea of a region backed project, but we had no luck, between the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis. We finally managed to set up a project with several companies. But then everything fell apart on July 10 , and then we were a bit down. We still had two supporters, Maël de Calan, the president of the Finistère department, and Jean-Guy Le Floch, president of Armor-lux, who we then contacted again.”
The intervention of Finistère departement tips the balance in the right direction. “By the middle of the summer in fact there were a few companies which were interested in the project, but the context made things complicated for them,” says Maël de Calan. “ We then looked to see if we could not redeploy existing funding devoted to our awareness initiative under the brand Everything starts in Finistèreand we found a solution. For example, we decided to stop buying ad space as we think that the profile associated with the Vendée Globe project will bring us a hundred times more awareness.”
This redeployment allowed to give a big boost to the project: “Everything was unblocked in a few days”, confirms Anne Le Cam. “The department, Le Floch and Crédit Agricole du Finistère met together and agreed on the package .” It is a three-party arrangement over four years (until the end of 2025) with an annual budget of 1 million euros, half of tit provided by the department, the other, in equal parts, by Armor-lux and a business club, while the Finistère fund of Crédit Agricole becomes owner of the boat for an amount of 5 million euros excluding tax.
Two identical boats
“It’s exceptional this has never happened with us before.” comments the secretary general of Crédit Agricole du Finistère, Arnaud Gourret. “In general, we finance boats, but we do not own them. What played in our decision was is that Finistère and Armor-lux are major partners for us. As the leading bank in the area we could not leave room for another bank to support this project. We are clearly taking a risk, but we believe in it and we know that this project will create economic benefits for the region and its businesses. Espacially because the boat will be fitted out and equipped in Port-la-Forêt [Jean Le Cam’s team will take care of everything related to electronics, painting, the engine, rigging…. Editor’s note].”
And so mid September everything lined up, this will allow Jean Le Cam to launch the build of his Imoca Everything begins in Finistère-Armor-lux in November to be launched at the end of summer 2023, the objective being to race on the Transat Jacques Vabre. But is the race for miles a cause for concern, the process which will decide between the candidates for the Vendée Globe if there are more than 40? “Each edition, we worry and finally, everything works out so we are not going to concern ourselves too much with that”, answers Anne Le Cam.
When he first sails his own new Imoca Jean Le Cam will not in unknown territory as will have had the chance to sail Bellion’s boat for a few months, his Imoca being entirely identical and due to be launched in May 2023. Bellion, skipper of Comme un seul homme declares: “Doing everything together effectively allows us to double up during the preparation time, we will sail constantly, develop and optimize our two boats in parallel and that’s a big plus.” This collaboration will continue until the start of the Vendée Globe 2024, Jean Le Cam’s programme continuing at the same time to host the project of Benjamin Ferré (see our article). And potentially, if she finds her budget, also running the programme of Violette Dorange, to whom Hubert, the Farr design on which Le Cam raced on last Vendée Globe would be chartered. As for Eric Bellion, he has not given up his initial ambition of a third Imoca boat with a view to the 2024 round the world race, a project in which Martin Le Pape has confirmed he is still involved.