The Transat Jaques Vabre: Creating an air of excitement for sailing
Julianna Barbieri is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Manuka Sports Management. Julianna is a two-time Emmy Award winner who worked extensively on some of the U.S.’s biggest sports events. In 2010 she and Hugh Piggin formed Manuka to create, brand and manage sports events and athletes with a focus on professional sailing.
Every two years the world’s best short-handed offshore sailors come together in Le Havre, France for the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre. Started in 1993, this trans-Atlantic race sailed double-handed has become a staple on the short-handed scene and the 2013 edition would be no different. The 2013 course is 5,400 nautical miles from Le Havre, France out the English Channel, through the notoriously difficult Bay of Biscay and across the Atlantic to Itajai, Brazil. Featuring 44 entries comprised of Mod 70s, IMOCA Open 60s, Multi 50s and Class 40s, the sailors racing featured a who’s who of the best and biggest stars the sport has to offer. In addition to the lineup of sailors, the race village is one of the biggest for sailing globally.
In just 10 days, the 2013 race saw 362,000 visitors to the village, 60,000 cups of coffee drank (of which 40,000 reusable cups were used) and 54,000 biscuits were handed out. In short the Transat Jacques Vabre (or TJV for short) village is definitely one of the biggest commercially viable races in all of sailing with the exception of the Vendee Globe and Route du Rhum.
For Americans if you have never been to a French offshore sailing race the closest sports events I can compare it to are the Olympics, a major golf tournament (the Masters or British Open) or the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. Yes, there are that many people; all the time, every day, 12+ hours a day for 10 days. If not within the secure boundaries of the docks, the sailors are stopped for autographs and pictures continually. The basin where the boats are set up is designed in such a way that the docks are barricaded off so the public can not get onto the pontoons but they can observe all that is happening from above. This creates a fish bowl effect for the sailors and teams working on the docks and the boats.
Even when they are on the docks the sailors are interrupted for interviews with newspapers, TV crews and radio. Team 11th Hour, one of the lesser sought after teams in terms of on site media requests, gave over 15 interviews that ranged from the Independant to CNN to local Le Havre newspapers and Brazilian papers, plus the requirements of the race organizers media team.
What’s also unique about the Transat Jacques Vabre is that it has had a long-standing commitment to putting on a sustainable event. In a way it’s a natural fit for offshore racing as offshore sailing requires sailors to be far more self sufficient than inshore racers. It also requires sailors to be more cognizant about weight management so bringing less fuel and less water equates to weight savings, which makes boats lighter and therefore faster. Most every boat involved in the race has some form of alternative energy generation; either hydro generator, fuel cell or solar panels or a combination of all 3. A few boats were sporting wind turbines mounted to the transom. One Class 40, ERDF des Pieds des Mans, had the very first 100% electric engine installed.
All but approximately five boats out of the 44 have a major sponsor and just about every sponsor had some kind of display set up throughout the village. Some of the set ups: PRB – The Home Depot of France – had all kinds of construction products on display. Groupe Picoty – a region of France and rest stops throughout France had their mascot, a bumblebee, dressed up handing out balloons and hats to kids. Oman Sail had an entire tent devoted to tourism of Oman. Campagne de France had a VIP restaurant set up serving up some of their finer cheeses and products. Most every set up had posters of the teams and set times where the skippers would make appearances and autograph posters. In addition to a large bar turned nightclub that was open to 4am every night, the village was the place to be in Le Havre for the fortnight.
Aside from the boats, the village itself had some interesting components to it that called attention to its sustainability. Being sponsored by a coffee, Jacques Vabre coffee was everywhere you went for free! Of course this concept could produce an excessive amount of waste, but smartly organizers require a one-euro deposit for each cup of free coffee. When you return your cup you get your euro back. Or if you wanted you could keep your cup. As the cups were used over and over they were designed in such a way that you might like to keep one as a souvenir.
Coca-Cola had a plastic bottle collection station where visitors could bring any plastic bottle and they would get a chance to spin to win a prize. Pallets of plastic were packaged up by the end of the race and sent off for recycling. Europe has been well ahead of the US in terms of recycling in public locations and it was no surprise that throughout the village all waste bins had separate spaces for waste and recyclables.
One of the fun things for kids (and there were loads of fun things for kids to do) was a solar and bike powered DJ station. Hop on the bike and the faster you pedaled the louder the music got. A DJ was spinning records every afternoon and when no one was riding, the solar panels kicked in to provide electricity. The city of Le Havre has a bike share program and there were always plenty of bikes for use by visitors and teams. I would be remiss though in not pointing out that despite the best efforts of race organizers, there was not a single place in the village to fill up a canteen with water so if you wanted water you would have needed to purchase bottled water. This does keep in line with French culture, but it was somewhat disheartening.
The vibe of the village was such that if you didn’t go you were missing out. I’m certain some visitors came many times. The sheer number of children in the village was amazing. And the French teams and organizers did everything they could to make the kids happy; finger painting, balloons, mascots, games, dive tanks, mast climbing etc etc. The next generation of French sailors and fans of the sport was being cultivated right before our eyes.
While unfortunate that the race start was postponed not once, but twice leaving the departure for the sailors somewhat anticlimactic, the ten days prior created an air of excitement for sailing that was a fun and educational experience for all of those who attended!