Why GazProm are backing a European supermaxi

Igor Simcic and Flavio Flavini discuss their Esimit Europa 2 campaign

Wednesday June 30th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: Italy

Neville Crichton’s all-conquering supermaxi Alfa Romeo 2 has gone to an interesting new home. Slovenian Igor Simcic has acquired the Reichel-Pugh design and under her new name of Esimit Europa Two is campaigning the 100ft supermaxi in regattas around Europe over the next two years, as a billboard to promote the European Union.

This is no idle threat. The campaign’s main sponsor is GazProm, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas and the largest company in Russia, perhaps even one of the biggest companies ever to have backed a race boat. While Simcic is himself a successful businessman – the company he founded in 1978, Esimit, distributes chemicals for the thermo-setting and paint industries, wine and beer producers, etc initially in Slovenia and the former Yugoslavia but today throughout the whole of southern Europe. Esimit was sold to the Wales-based company Warwick in 1991 with Simcic remaining in a managerial role.

Personally Simcic has sailed all his life. His uncle was skipper on the maxi Helisara, owned by the legendary Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan and as a child Simcic sailed on board. He bought his own first racing boat in 1995 and from the outset began using it for political purpose.

Simcic comes from Nova Gorica on the Slovenia border with Italy but worked over the border in Gorizia. “I passed the borders two or three times a day and I saw how bad the border was stopping development in the countries. So practically I felt that I must do something to help to cancel this.”

To do this he founded the Esimit Gorizia & Nova Gorica international project, this also becoming the name of his first 42ft race boat. “The two names of the cities were connected with the European stars in 1995,” he says. “So this was a visionary action. Everyone asked what this means and after seven years it happens.” And so in 2004 Slovenia was welcomed into the European Union.

His first boat was replaced by another 42 footer but this time a fully-fledged carbon fibre race boat. With this boat, named Esimit Slovenia and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Simcic took a step up the political agenda, using to promote co-operation between Slovenia and the Italian region immediately across the border, a project endorsed by the Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the President of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region.

“Before the first regatta where we represented this project the newspapers were writing that Esimit had won before the start of the regatta because then the political background was very important, especially for that part of Europe, the ex-Yugoslavia,” recalls Simcic.

Since then Simcic horizons have grown still further. In 2004 his campaign received patronage from Brussels and with this came a new boat in the form of the Vallicelli-designed Italian-built Mediterranean Open 60, Esimit Europa, racing under the European flag (above). The boat typically competed at the Barcolana, the largest regatta in the area (and in terms of participation the largest regatta in the world) and events such as the Giraglia Rolex Cup, in 2008 coming home second behind Alfa Romeo 2.

But this spring they replaced the 60 with Neville Crichton's supermaxi. Simcic explains: “We had a very professional team and we got very good results, but my vision was to go on, to buy the boat that can really represent Europe in the most important regattas all over the world. With this boat we have now, practically we can say we have the fastest maxi boat in the world and with this dimension we can really represent the whole of Europe. So with both Europe and the other Gazprom, one of the most important energy companies in the world - and that means Russia - we are even again anticipating probably what will happen in the next 10 years - a stronger co-operation between Russia and Europe.”

Tying sailing to the EU is no new thing. The Round Europe Race for the maxi-multihulls came about in the mid-1980s with blessing from the then President, Jacques Delors. But now the current European President Jose Manuel Barroso is backing Simcic’s campaign which is more specifically acting as an ambassador for ‘European Energy’, a pan-European initiative encouraging us to lower our energy usage.

And this is presumably where GazProm comes in. Simcic explains: “When I started to speak with their President, Mr Miller, they said that they were always European, and this image of the Soviet Union has not helped them to develop very much. They would like in Europe that they are more and more accepted as part of the European continent and to cancel in [people’s] mind this danger from the East countries and so on. So they would like to be present in Europe, not only when the gas is a problem, but promoting European gas.”

Above: Igor Simcic with daughter Lien and GazProm Chairman Alexei Miller at their yacht's christening

So while GazProm are using the Esimit Europa 2 campaign to promote a more friendly face for their company, and perhaps Russia too, within Europe, Simcic is now looking for more sponsors at a similar level to GazProm but in different sectors – banks, energy distributors, etc – to complete his European portfolio of backers. “We want to involve all these important names to promote this. We want to make up the European sentiment, that people feel European and then French, German or Slovene. So this is a small symbol that will be important in the future. I think the future of Europe is based on this - that we all feel European, especially in these very difficult moments. If everyone is looking just after themselves we are finished. We must put together our goals and then we have the possibility to win in the economic war.”

While Simcic has himself a fine yacht, it is also a complex beast featuring a canting keel and forward canard as part of its ‘CBTF’ system. So he has employed America’s Cup sailor and Italian one design specialist Flavio Flavini to put the crew together.

Flavini sailed on the previous Esimit Europa 60 footer at the Barcolana last year. The Esimit Europa 2 crew comprises some from the 60 but mostly Flavini’s AC buddies, as well as Volvo and Olympic sailors. They include Francesco Rampetti, the former Alinghi boat captain, Tiziano Nava, Flavini’s right hand man on the Melges 24s and 32s he sails, well known America’s Cup and round the world sailor Stefano Rizzi as well as the likes of navigator Silvio Arriabene and Claudio Celon. There is even one Brit in the mainly Italian crew in the form of Jon Warburton.

“The first idea was to find from each country the most important sailors,” says Simcic. “Then we were very short of time and with my skipper Flavio Flavini, we decided to put on the boat a team of people who already know each other from the America’s Cup, people coming from BMW Oracle , Alinghi, Prada and Mascalzone Latino - the people who don’t have problems understanding each other, so we can start in a short time to have a very high performance.

“The second goal is - we are trying in the near future to involve different Olympic medallists, not as part of the regular crew, but to invite them for one regatta and in this way to connect these countries with our boat and the European idea. So one or two people for each regatta.”

As a start, a regular crewman on board is Slovene Vasilij Zbogar, who has won a silver and a bronze medal in the Laser at the last two Olympics.

For Flavini, best known for his success in one designs such as the Melges and the America’s Cup, as a past Mascalzone Latino helmsman (and is still with Vincenzo Onorato's team under the new Gavin Brady regime), Esimit Europa 2 is a slight departure. “I have sailed maxi boats many times – not this big, but 70 footers and 80 footers. This boat is brand new for all of us because it is bigger and faster than usual and is more complicated. So even if the crew is very experienced, this is a totally new experience and there is a lot to learn about the boat – the canting keel and all the systems and electronics, etc.”

The plan this year is for the boat to compete in the Giraglia Rolex Cup (where she won line honours – ironically Neville Crichton’s newer mini maxi won overall) and then the Palermo-Monte Carlo Race, the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Sardinia and the Middle Sea Race. So not that ambitious. However plans for 2011 could well include getting out of the Med and competing in the Fastnet Race.

The problem, we put it to Flavini is the absence of any super-maxi competition in the Mediterranean. “This is exactly right. For us, first we have to learn how to sail the boat and then it would be good to face Leopard. I think they are coming to Sardinia and to the Middle Sea Race. So it could be a good test.”

As to the Sydney-Hobart, Flavini reigns in. “That is the end of December. It is a very good time of year for going skiing! I am a skier and so I have never done the Sydney Hobart, but honestly I would like to do it...once.”

Beyond this season and next Simcic says they are contemplating flying the European flag in the Transpac race and if the sponsorship ducks come into alignment then bigger events such as the Volvo Ocean Race or even the America’s Cup become possibilities. With GazProm already on board, one suspects this is no pipe dream.




Latest Comments

  • kris4ocean 01/07/2010 - 08:51

    With immortal words of Michael Palin from monty Python's Life of Brian: Damn do good-ers... But now honestly, does anyone buys that PR nonsense about promoting EU when you see a bunch of shrewd businessmen backed by the russian gas giant?!?
  • schooner 30/06/2010 - 14:50

    GazProm...pipe dream - thank you James.

    Add a comment - Members log in

    Latest news!

    Back to top
      Back to top