Sam flanked by Roger Capitaine and Philippe Daré of Saveol
Photos: Vincent Curuchet
Sam flanked by Roger Capitaine and Philippe Daré of Saveol

Sam Davies back in the Vendee Globe

The British skipper discusses plans for her campaign with new sponsor Saveol

Tuesday December 6th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

Sam Davies has confirmed her entry in next year’s Vendee Globe – bringing British participation up to three. Respectible, but still not quite the seven that competed in the 2008-9 event.

In a last dive to get to the start line, Sam has hooked a sponsor in the form of Saveol. If that name is familiar, it is because they have until now backed the Figaro campaign of Romain Attanasio, Sam’s partner and father of her child.

“It is very frustrating for Romain, because it means he is not going to do the Solitaire with Saveol next year,” Sam told us. “But it was Romain who suggested to Saveol that they should be doing the Vendee Globe. So it is his present to me! Romain is doing the Transat AG2R next year with the CMB Voile boat with Anthony Marchand, who had the Challenge Espoir boat last time, but has now moved up to take Thomas Rouxel’s place on the Credit Mutuel boat. He had already been recruited for that.”

According to Sam, when they spoke to the President of Saveol in the summer, he was saying that they hadn’t been happy with the results of a TV advertising campaign and were looking for other options. “So Romain said 'you would be stupid not to consider doing the Vendee Globe with Sam.’ And they thought very seriously about it and through what Roman has been doing with them over the last two years, they have really got into sailing and it reaches the right people. He does lots of sponsor sailing with them as well, with all the people that work there - it is a like a big family.”

So Saveol is title sponsor of Sam’s campaign and if you are wondering whether this company is into software, property development, insurance, defence, etc, in fact it is a Brittany-based co-operative principally of tomato growers (although there are some strawberries, cucumbers, etc involved too). Sam points out that Saveol tomatoes are not your every day tomotoes, (nor the tinned variety that Jean le Cam’s old sponsor Bonduelle might produce), but are decidedly upmarket, their range including green tomatoes and the stripy variety, popular as gourmet cocktail party fare. And they are sold in the UK.

In fact Saveol is a competitor of Lionel Lemonchois’ sponsor Prince de Bretagne. “That is another reason that they wanted to do something better. Obviously it reaches the right market, because both companies have the same kind of needs and they are both very happy with sailing sponsorship.”

From left to right: F.Chaigneaud of Mat de Misaine, Project Manager Xavier David, Grégoire Sentilhes, Sam Davies, Philippe Daré and Roger Capitaine of Savéol

Unfortunately building up to this has been something of a chicken and egg situation. Saveol has put in just over half the required budget, but to make up the war chest necessary to compete in the Vendee Globe, Sam is in the process of enticing other co-sponsors into backing her campaign. She has only just got enough additional backing to encourage Saveol to sign on the dotted line just over one week ago.

“I have managed to find a title sponsor and a lot of co-sponsors to put together a small budget, but a budget that will enable me to be on the start and to sail properly and safely and have fun and hopefully do a good result as well," says Sam. "I had to persuade and find enough co-sponsors to set the ball rolling and get Saveol to give the green light, because they didn’t want to say ‘yes’ until they knew the project was going to work and I wasn’t going to cut corners if they gave me a small budget and I didn’t find enough to complete the budget.”

Finding additional sponsorship, Sam stresses, is still on-going (more info here). “We have done a lot of hard work recontacting people I have already seen, who were interested in the project, but couldn’t do it for certain budgetary reasons or timing. And I did a lot of networking to see who else could join in.”

Among those she has signed up is clothing company Mat du Misaine, which is putting money into her campaign. As Sam explains: “The President of my fan club is the Mayor of Saint Gilles Croix de Vie in the Vendee region, where Beneteau is. He has a good network and so he managed to get together his contacts, which is how I was put in touch with Mat du Misaine. They do dockside sailing cloths - quite classy and stylish - and they want to create a new Sam Davies range of clothes for next year! They are actually hiring new stylists and they are going to create a new range. They are hiring a stylist, so it is like being a star with their own new clothing brand - just like Kate Moss, although I am not sure that my clothes will ever get sold in Top Shop!”

Aside from Mat du Misaine, Sam already has several other sub-sponsors from the Vendee region signed up thanks to her helpful mayor friend.
“At the moment it is so difficult to raise the funding for a project, that the only way to do it is with multiple sponsors. I have a lot of small sponsors, which make a big difference to the project - even if they aren’t putting in huge amounts, they are really keen to be part of the project. They will get advertising, space on the hull and sails and then conferences and various different options to join in the project and to be part of the adventure and the family. It is not going to be easy to run all that, because there will be a lot of sponsors and lots of sponsor sailing, but at the same time it is quite fun, because it means sharing the adventure with a lot more people than if you just have one sponsor.”

For additional sponsors who want to come in Sam says there is still space available on the hull and a number of different packages available, depending upon each company’s needs. At present no UK backing has been forthcoming.

Down to the nitty-gritty and the boat Sam has her eye on is the Marc Lombard-designed, Juan K-breathed on, former Veolia Environnement (the second ex-Roland Jourdain boat now in British hands). She hasn’t bought the boat yet, but is a long way down the road with surveys, etc. This year the boat competed in the Barcelona World Race as Neutrogena, sailed by Boris Herrmann and Ryan Breymaier.

The ex-Veolia will be eight years old by the time she takes part in the Vendee Globe next autumn, however Sam points out this is not the same as when she took the eight year old Roxy in the last round the world race. “The difference with an eight year old boat and a new boat now is nowhere near as big as what it was then – the difference between Roxy and Foncia [Michel Desjoyeaux’s 2008 Vendee Globe winner] for example.”

Sam adds that she isn’t going to spend much time developing it. “That is not going to make the difference in terms of boat speed when you see boats like MACIF and Banque Populaire and PRB on the start line. Now for me it is a last minute project, so I am going to do what I know I am good at. So I am going to take a boat which I know is solid and already well optimised. Then it will be a case of getting to know the boat and pushing it hard and do what I did with Roxy four years ago. It is more of a ‘sail safe and take no risks and don’t hit any corners’ project and try and surprise a few people in the process.”

Initially when it was launched this boat’s keel suffered from ‘flutter’, a destructive resonance in the keel that in the past has been known to afflict aeroplane wings. This was thought to have been fixed, but in the 2004 Vendee Globe problems with the keel recurred and Jourdain was forced to retire. The keel was replaced (read about it here) but during the 2008 Vendee Globe, the boat suffered a collision on the return journey back up the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil, resulting in skipper Roland Jourdain having to relaminate the mast bulkhead. Since then the boat has been fitted with its third keel.

“I have spoken to the guys at HDS [engineers] and to Bilou [Roland Jourdain] and they strengthened it,” says Sam of keel no3. “Although the design wasn’t a problem, it is not a photocopy of the keel that is on there now. And with that keel the vibrations tests that are compulsory for the IMOCA class now, have been done. They did them before and after the Barcelona World Race and they were identical.”

While Sam’s budget is tight, she says it is enough to be competitive and it will include a suit of new sails, for example, otherwise there is no point in doing it. “And Saveol wouldn’t want me to go either.”

A significant difference compared to four years ago for Sam personally, is that she is now ‘with child’, having given birth to son Ruben this summer. “It will be a lot harder to leave next time, but I can’t wait to go sailing again,” she says. “Definitely it is a bit of a change. My phone bill will be a bit bigger next time! I’ll have to do a few more Skype calls. Luckily broadband is a lot better than when we were on the Fleet 77 four years ago.”

Sam adds that she is also nowhere as fit as she was four years ago. “Another big part of the challenge is to get back into shape. Luckily I managed to sail half of last year, albeit maybe not 100% pushing as I would have done if I hadn’t had a big fat stomach. I managed to do all the Figaro training and the first races of the season in the Figaro, so that was quite good to get back into close action with other boats, and competitive singlehanded sailing, but definitely I don’t have the muscles I had four years go. So I have to get sailing as soon as possible next year and get back into it.”

While the IMOCA class is to hold its Europa Race next year, Sam’s campaign doesn’t have the budget to do this, nor does she see the point as it is a fully crewed event. So it is likely the Vendee Globe will be her one and only big event in the class, unless, as has been mooted, the final leg of the Europa Race is to be sailed singlehanded (starting from Portsmouth on 3 June, bound for La Rochelle). “In that case I would like to get down there and hook up and see if they would accept me to do the last leg with them. That would be a good training ground and a qualifier as well.”

In fact Sam reckons that because she has raced in the Vendee Globe before and as the boat has completed the Barcelona World Race, she doesn’t have much qualifying left to do. “But I do want to do some singlehanded offshore stuff and it is more fun if you have an objective and a course and a start date to go out and race on. Psychologically it is better for the skipper and for the team to do that.”

The Saveol deal has come together quickly and Sam obviously has some final hurdles to cross to finish raising her entire budget. “It is pretty full on, particularly as I am still breast feeding Ruben. I spend a lot of time sitting in front of my computer with Ruben on my lap feeding and complaining because I am not concentrating 100% on him and I should be apparently...”




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