Denis Van Weynbergh (Photo © Bernard Gergaud / EyeSea)

 

The new owner of Nandor Fa’s IMOCA, the Belgian skipper, Denis Van Weynbergh hopes to be able to compete in the Globe Series and reach a climax by taking part in the 2020 Vendée Globe. While for a long time, he has divided up his life between being head of a company and ocean racing, he is now dedicating all his time to his IMOCA project with the aim of becoming the first Belgian sailor to complete the Vendée Globe. He recently launched a highly original, artistic crowd-funding campaign. We met up with him to find out more

Denis, when did you first feel that you wanted to take part in the Vendée Globe?
“It suddenly came to me in 2001, when I was preparing for the Mini Transat. During a delivery trip, I moored up in Bénodet alongside Michel Desjoyeaux’s PRB, which had just won the Vendée Globe. My Pogo 6.50 looked a bit like that IMOCA, but on a much smaller scale of course. That’s when I started to imagine competing in the Vendée Globe. At the same time, it seemed to me to be a crazy idea and beyond my reach. Before thinking seriously about it, I needed to complete my first solo offshore race, the Mini Transat. I managed to do that. That race was a milestone for me and the Vendée Globe remained in the back of my mind. I then continued to gain experience on various types of boat, in particular on Class40s. I completed the Route du Rhum in 2010, the Quebec Saint-Malo in 2012, the Transat Jacques Vabre in 2013, the Fastnet Race in 2015…”
Denis Van Weynbergh

Denis Van Weynbergh (Photo © B. Gergaud / EyeSea )

What really led you to move to the IMOCA class?
“In Belgium, ocean racing is not as popular as in France. We only have 40 miles of coast and no real sailing culture. I tried to find some help in the market in Belgium for the 2016 Vendée Globe, but firms were not that keen. In fact, I understood that I needed to find a strong concept, an original idea, something creative. Last year, I met the photographer, Edouard Janssens, who has specialised in the creation of works of art based on photos of the iris, the coloured part of the eye. One thing led to another and the project, ‘Eye Sea’ was born? The aim is to offer partners the opportunity to acquire one of the 250 personalised iris photos that will form one single giant iris on the sails of my IMOCA. We’ll therefore be creating a work of art while working together in this crowd-funding project. A work of art that will go all the way around the world.”

Once you had defined the concept and set up the crowd-funding campaign, you had to find an IMOCA that was available. Why did you choose Nandor Fa’s former Spirit of Hungary?
“In late 2017, I was strolling around Les Sables d’Olonne on the Vendée Globe pontoon and I noticed that boat. From the outset, she seemed to me to be simple, solid and reliable. Exactly what I was looking for in my project, she suits my personality and my goals. I wanted a boat that had already completed the Vendée Globe without any major problems and that was the case for Nandor Fa’s boat, which finished in an honourable eighth place in the last race. I quickly got in contact with the boat captain, then Nandor. The deal was signed last June.”

Did your first sailing trips on her live up to your expectations?
“Yes. I had never sailed an IMOCA, but I knew everything was huge on these boats. That was confirmed during the first trips I was able to carry out. Everything is faster and is more physical on an IMOCA. You can’t carry out the slightest manoeuvre without planning ahead. You have to be methodical. Nandor Fa really thought about this boat with details that simplify life aboard her.”

For a long time, you managed to reconcile your professional life and ocean racing. Was that too complicated when dealing with a project as big as an IMOCA?
“Exactly. Preparing for the Vendée Globe is a full time job, when you look for the funding and do all the preparation on land and out at sea… particularly as for the moment, I’m taking care of the project alone. To dedicate myself entirely to the IMOCA project, I sold my delivery business PN Express World, in November 2017.”

What is your programme for the months ahead? Do you intend to compete in all of the races in the IMOCA Globe Series?
“Yes. The boat will be going into the yard in early November and is due to be relaunched in late January. In 2019 and 2020, I want to clock up as many miles of racing as I can. I can’t see myself taking part in the Vendée Globe and sailing in the Roaring Forties without having sailed fifteen to twenty thousand miles on my IMOCA. On the other hand, I won’t be competing in the Route du Rhum this year. My job for the moment is to find sponsors.”

So where are you in terms of the funding?
“My first partner has entered the adventure, the Belgian company, Pranarôm (which specialises in essential oils). They have brought around 15 % of the total budget that I estimate to be 2.5 million euros. The goal now is to start to sell the iris photos to individuals and companies. Ideally, I should have a headline partner, who would give their name to the boat, associating it with the name of the concept: ‘Eye-Sea… X or Y’.”

You can find out more about Denis Van Weynbergh’s project here:

Transat Jacques Vabre Le Havre  Jean-Marie Liot  DPPI TJV13

Strong wind in the Transat Jacques Vabre village in the Vatine Marina in Le Havre (North France) on October 28, 2013 – Photo Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI/TJV13

Young British duo Sam Goodchild and Ned Collier Wakefield are expected in Le Havre this Tuesday after a tough battle to have their new, recently launched Jason Ker designed Class 40 fully optimised in time for the start of the race. They may have been pressed for time, but have left absolutely nothing to chance. After being cruelly forced to retire from the last Transat Jacques Vabre just after they had taken the Class 40 lead, overhauling Aquarelle.com, and battling through the last big storm of the race, they discovered some delamination in the front sections of their boat and had to abandon and head to the Azores. But they report that they are in good shape, ready to make the short hop from Hamble to Le Havre.

“We are waiting for the wind to die to get going, we still have 40kts but it is dropping fairly quickly and we should get going fairly soon. We have been watching the weather very closely”, Co-skipper Ned Collier Wakefield reported this morning.

To make sure nothing untoward happened on their final night in their home marina at Hamble Yacht Services before leaving for Le Havre, Collier-Wakefield decided to sleep on their boat through the storm force winds.

“I got a little sleep. I was more worried something would come crashing into us during the night. Actually I probably got better sleep than I would at sea! Otherwise we are getting there and will be ready to go shortly.”

“Race Direction have been very understanding. To be honest we just ran out of time. We had to get new spreaders made in Cape Town at the last minute. There has been some work to do with the rig and rudders. Andy Meiklejohn has been great in helping us set up the rig. We have had a few problems with the kick up rudders but have a good solution now. They have had a good test now and we are confident.”

Concise 8 has had ten days of trialling at sea including a tough sail down to Ushant and back from Hamble.

“We are incredibly impressed with the boat. We brought her back upwind in big seas and did some proper slamming. The performance is especially good reaching, I am sure we have one of the quickest boats when the wind is between 95-130 degrees especially. And we have had some great sailing under the big kites.”

The new Concise has a much more inboard chainplate position, which allows them to set big upwind Code Zero sails, especially potent for pushing through light wind transition zones, like in the Doldrums.

“The boat has the Transat Jacques Vabre and Route du Rhum as two key events. We looked at a lot of historical weather data for the races and developed a potent hull form. The rig is a little heavier for this set up, but we did a lot of work with the sail and rig development, with Chris Williams and Scott Ferguson and so it feels like we have a proper closed loop, grand prix set up.”

Collier-Wakefield is confident he knows their new boat better than any of his rivals, having been in the yard in China throughout the build.

“Yes we have not had the time we might have wanted on the water but we have had great guys involved all the way through.”

Living the Dream, Taking A Chance
And while the young English duo are on the ascent as professional sailors, looking to make their mark at the front of the fleet, so Class 40 of the Transat Jacques Vabre is also where many of the most committed and talented amateur sailors will compete, living their dreams. Some of them have limited expectations of winning, looking to get to Brazil safely and to sail to the best of their ability. Budgets and racing experience may be correspondingly less than their professional rivals but these amateurs are no less enthusiastic.

 

There are osteopaths, project managers, emergency doctor, company directors but now they are taking time out from their wage paying careers to take on the adventure of the Transat Jacques Vabre.

“It is really not easy to find time to prepare. I delivered the boat from Marie Galante with a friend who could barely sail. Let’s say it was a real baptism of fire!” recalls Dominique Rivard (Marie Galante ).Australians Michelle Zwagerman and Pat Conway on the Class 40 are also living their dream.

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Doctor Damien Rousseau skipper of the Class 40 Mr Bricolage engaged in the Transat jacques Vabre in Le Havre (North France) on October 28, 2013 – Photo Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI/TJV13

“It started last year in April. We bought the boat and have done it all ourselves. For us, it is a huge challenge”.

Christoph Petter (co-skipper on Vaquita), is an Austrian entrepreneur who set sail on his adventures five years ago and enjoys offshore races, but the Transat Jacques Vabre will be his first big one.

“We feel both excitement and fear”, says Michelle Zwagerman. “We’ll have to control our anxiety during gales, but most of the time, it will be fantastic. Dolphins, the moon, the stars, I am looking forwards to some great moments.”

Tough budgets
And even making it to the start of Transat Jacques Vabre requires great perseverance and tenacity.

Damien Rousseau explains: “I started without money but wanted to realise a childhood dream. I took the big chance and plunged into debt. I thought it was no worse than buying a nice car but I finally also found myself a sponsor who has helped me do it a bit more comfortably.”

Rousseau has been able to race in various events in preparation including a good ninth place in Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables . But, in contrast, without a sponsor Dominique Rivard has had to draw on his own money: “I took a bank loan to buy a boat at EUR 250,000. Everything is very expensive, I have put another EUR 80,000 euros in the pot since, and I have worked 70 hours a week.”

All of these sailors are on a break from their daily lives and careers: some see it as big step towards new adventures, others a unique one off experience, like Pat Conway: “Our boat is already for sale and once we have completed the Transat Jacques Vabre we return a normal life in Australia.”

Village life
Closed since 2000hrs Sunday night due to the storm force winds the village of the Transat Jacques Vabre will reopen tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 1000hrs.

All of the technical teams have remained on high alert around the village of the Transat Jacques Vabre. Buses and lorries were parked along the perimeter to protect the tents around Paul Vatine dock.

2011 Title Defenders
Monohull 60′:
Virbac-Paprec
Jean-Pierre DICK & Jérémie BEYOU
15days 18h 15min 54sec

Multihull 50′:
Actual
Yves LE BLEVEC & Samuel MANUARD
17days 17h 7min 43sec

Class 40′:
Aquarelle.com
Yannick BESTAVEN
& Éric DROUGLAZET
21days 17h 59min 8sec

2013 Participants

MONOHULLS

Class40

  • 11TH Hour racing  – Hannah Jenner, Rob Windsor
  • APRIL / DELTACALOR -Lionel Regnier, Tim Darni
  • BET1128  – Gaetano Mura, Sam Manuard
  • Campagne de France  – Halvard Mabire, Miranda Merron
  • Caterham Challenge  – Mike Gascoyne, Brian Thompson
  • Concise 8  – Ned Collier Wakefield, Sam Goodchild
  • Croix du sud  – Michelle Zwagerman, Patrick Conway
  • DUNKERQUE – PLANETE ENFANTS  – Bruno Jourdren, Thomas Ruyant
  • Eärwen  – Catherine Pourre, Goulven Royer
  • ECOELEC – FANTRONIC – Eric Darni, Florent Bernard
  • ERDF – Des pieds et Des mains  – Damien Seguin, Yoann Richomme
  • Fantastica  – Stefano Raspadori, Pietro D’Ali
  • GDF SUEZ  – Sébastien Rogues, Fabien Delahaye
  • Groupe Picoty  – Jean-Christophe Caso, Aymeric Chappellier
  • Mare  – Jörg Riechers, Pierre Brasseur
  • MARIE-GALANTE  – Dominique Rivard, Wilfrid Clerton
  • Matouba  – Bertrand Guillonneau, Sébastien Audigane
  • Mr Bricolage  – Damien Rousseau, Matthieu Alluin
  • Obportus³  – Olivier Roussey, Philippe Burger
  • Phoenix Europe  – Louis Duc, Stéphanie Alran
  • Proximedia – Sauvez Mon Enfant  – Denis Van Weynbergh,
  •                                                               Jean-Edouard Criquioche
  • SNCF – GEODIS  – Fabrice Amedeo, Armel Tripon
  • Solidaires En Peloton   –  Victorien Erussard, Thibaut Vauchel-Camus
  • Tales Santander 2014   –  Alex Pella, Pablo Santurde
  • Vaquita    –  Christof Petter, Andreas Hanakamp

IMOCA

  • Bureau vallée    –  Louis Burton, Guillaume Le Brec
  • Cheminées Poujoulat   –  Bernard Stamm, Philippe Legros
  • Energa    –  Zbigniew Gutkowski , Maciej Marczewski
  • Initiatives-Coeur  –  Tanguy de Lamotte, François Damiens
  • MACIF   –   François Gabart, Michel Desjoyeaux
  • Maitre CoQ   –  Jérémie Beyou, Christopher Pratt
  • PRB  –  Vincent Riou, Jean Le Cam
  • Safran   –   Marc Guillemot, Pascal Bidégorry
  • TEAM PLASTIQUE  – Alessandro Di Benedetto, Alberto Monaco
  • Votre Nom Autour du Monde  – Bertrand de Broc, Arnaud Boissières

MULTIHULLS    MOD70

  • Edmond de Rothschild   –  Sébastien Josse, Charles Caudrelier
  • OMAN AIR – MUSANDAM   –  Sidney Gavignet , Damian Foxall

Multi 50

  • Actual  – Yves le Blévec, Kito de Pavant
  • Arkema-Région Aquitaine   –  Lalou Roucayrol, Mayeul Riffet
  • FenêtréA Cardina  –  lErwan Le Roux, Yann Elies
  • Maître Jacques   –   Loïc Féquet, Loic Escoffier
  • Vers un monde sans SIDA  –  Erik Nigon, Samy Villeneuve