A handful of day’s before the close of inscriptions for the 34th America’s Cup, France’s biggest sailing media, Voiles et Voiliers, had a very long and exclusive interview with Bertrand Pacé. The French America’s Cup veteran talks about Aleph France, one of the three challengers from France, but also the Cup in general.
Although his team has “very good contacts”, Pacé admits they are not yet funded but also goes on to claim that with the exception Oracle Racing, Artemis Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand all of the entered teams are in the same situation. Even Team New Zealand hasn’t yet secured the involvement of Emirates Airlines beyond 2011, always according to his claims.
France is now the most-represented country in this edition of the world’s sports trophy with three teams, Aleph Team France, Team Energy and ALL4One. However, in Pacé’s view this is not “healthy” because all three are “hunting” for the same sponsorship funds.
Voiles et Voiliers: The question everybody is asking. Have you found a partner for the 2013 America’s Cup?
Bertrand Pacé: No, not yet. We keep exploring in order to find a partner. We have very good contacts. We are working very hard, we are making advances but nothing is done today.
Voiles et Voiliers: But you do hope it will lead to something quite soon?
Bertrand Pacé: What is sure is that I have a very good idea of what has to be done in order to be in the loop. I’m especially frustrated because we are ready to go. The economic situation is really difficult and the dramatic events in Japan don’t make things easier. Moreover, what we have to sell is not fully known, because there is a lot of things in limbo. In short, it is not easy!
Voiles et Voiliers: Yet, there is a deadline, March 31st: the final entries?
Bertrand Pacé: Yes, but we must be lucid. It will most probably be April 30 or later. The deadline is the day you start your boat in the yard, that is in September 2011. That is the real deadline, if we want to go and win!
Voiles et Voiliers: Does having the FFV (Féderation Française de Voile – French Sailing Federation) label and the support of the Ministry of Sports help?
Bertrand Pacé: Yes, of course. This proves that our project is serious and well constructed both in the managerial as well as in the technical part. Inevitably, thanks to this label, we are more likely to make it.
Voiles et Voiliers: Do you think that the move from monohulls to multihulls is an amazing chance for France?
Bertrand Pacé: The Cup will always be the Cup. The change of boat is a step. We see anyway that adapting to the new yachts, including the transition from a monohull to a multihull, is not really a problem for the major players. The multihull may be something else … but basically, it’s the same people that have the Cup knowhow and find themselves in challengers such as Team New Zealand, Oracle and Artemis…
Voiles et Voiliers: Do you mean that when we hear that the French have never been better armed because they have a commanding lead in multihulls we have to put things into perspective?
Bertrand Pacé: Let’s say that from a technical and design perspective, it is a certainty. But it stops there. I think that from a sports point of view, the time that separates us from the Cup (two years) will allow the crews that have never sailed on a multihull to catch up without any problem. Dean Barker, for example, should not take a long time to get at the required level. A multihull, even with a wing, is still a sailboat. The complexity lies in designing a fast boat. Then, all crews will make them work, even if they require some time to adapt. On board the BMW Oracle’s trimaran that won in Valencia last year the initial crew – apart from Thierry Fouchier – didn’t frankly include any multihull specialists, whether it was at the bow, the trimmers or the tactician …
Voiles et Voiliers: So, we should stop emphasizing the French advantage?
Bertrand Pacé: Be careful, today, from a technical point of view, France retains a number of people that have undeniable expertise. At the same time, the rest will not wait for us! Within a syndicate, there must be people that have multihull knowhow, of course, but it’s not because you have “Mr. Somebody” that you’ll win the Cup! It is the interaction between the design and sports teams that will allow you to design a fast boat. So it remains in line with what has always been the case in the Cup, that is build a boat that is faster than the rest.
Voiles et Voiliers: Now that you mention your design team, can you tell us anything more on it?
Bertrand Pacé: We have a moral agreement with a renowned French office to work together on the design of the first and/or second boat. There is mutual respect, but also the fact that we are on the same wavelength. I really want to work with them – Alain Gautier, too – and I think it’s mutual.
Voiles et Voiliers: What’s your take on the “generic” VPLP design?
Bertrand Pacé: It’s certainly an interesting alternative, just the way Bruce Farr did in the Volvo Ocean Race, especially when the VOR 60’s came, by proposing a set of “basic” designs. You should know that VPLP was hired by ACRM to make a “generic” boat that would eventually sold to teams interested in buying this “package”.
Voiles et Voiliers: We would then get closer to some type of one-design.
Bertrand Pacé: Yes, in a sense, but that does not mean that you could not change at a later stage the you design would buy from VPLP.
Voiles et Voiliers: How are you organized within the team?
Bertrand Pacé: Today, Fabrice Levet leads our the sport part, Alain Gautier the technical and design parts and I oversee a bit of both. We are all three highly complementary.
Voiles et Voiliers: You are now attacking your 7th America’s Cup. Is you objective to helm the boat?
Bertrand Pacé: No, no! The point isn’t that I absolutely have to helm. My goal is that the boat goes as fast as possible and is in the right place. I’m now part of the sailing team, but without any claims. Anyway, it is too early to say, even if those decisions aren’t taken the day before. There are several options, including with young sailors who have a multihull culture, but not yet that of match racing. This will inevitably be a mix between specialists in multihulls, match racing and the America’s Cup. It is imperative to have these three skills, especially in the afterguard (helm, tactics, navigation). I have two names respectively, Alain has almost two, and we have at least one in common.
Voiles et Voiliers: And what are those names?
Bertrand Pacé: I can’t give you any names for the moment. In my view I would be a liar. I don’t want act the same way some people do when they announce names without even asking their opinion…
Voiles et Voiliers: What is your view on Team Energy of the Peyron brothers?
Bertrand Pacé: I know I could work with Loïck. I have already done it for over a year. We always have a good complementarity, as I have with Alain. [Note: Loïck Peyron and Bertrand Pacé tried to form a challenger in 2004 for the 32nd America’s Cup called Team France but had to abandon due to lack of a title sponsor]
Voiles et Voiliers: Three French syndicates, including the Franco-German one headed by Stephane Kandler, isn’t that a bit too much, given the circumstances?
Bertrand Pacé: Of course. We are all “hunting” on the same grounds. That’s not healthy.
Voiles et Voiliers: You were forced to create your own yacht club. Yet the Yacht Club de France with whom you were discussing, eventually chose the Peyron camp?
Bertrand Pacé: I won’t make any comment on that…
Voiles et Voiliers: It is rumored that Kandler, that has just been joined by Kersauson, is now fully funded.
Bertrand Pacé: I have no idea.
Voiles et Voiliers: Let’s get back to the sailing team. How many people will it have?
Bertrand Pacé: Around 18. It requires 4 or 5 people in the afterguard – at least one navigator, one or two helmsmen and one or two tacticians – for three positions. For trimmers – the wing and the headsail – I plan to have four people. Then, you need grinders … and there you need at least five – three of them on the boat – to cope with possible injuries. These are boats that will require great strength and power. On the bow, it will not be easy, because you need guys in great shape. I plan to have four people. On these boats there is plenty of apparent wind and the maneuvers will hence be very physical. Finally, in the sailing team, there will be a sports director, Fabrice, and inevitably someone in charge of the racing rules. From my previous experience, especially with Team New Zealand and BMW Oracle, crew replacements are needed, but not too many. As of today, we have compiled a list of about thirty people.
Voiles et Voiliers: How many people in total will such a challenger have?
Bertrand Pacé: Reasonably, it is 65 in total. But it is difficult to answer precisely because it depends on whether you integrate or not all sub-contractors, those that work in the design and structure offices, those who will build the platform, the wing and the more conventional headsails.
Voiles et Voiliers: How much would you evaluate is a budget for the 34th America’s Cup?
Bertrand Pacé: It depends a lot on the number of teams. To do something that will allow you to aim for the finals, if there are ten teams, you have to count on a budget of 60 million euros, but today, as there are still few teams – between 4 and 5 – it is closer to 40 million. With such a budget, you do things the right way … But it is clear that wages will never be at the 2007 levels.
Voiles et Voiliers: Have you sailed on the new AC45’s?
Bertrand Pacé: Precisely, no! In order to be able to sail you first have to pay three quarters of the boat in order to have one week in Auckland with your crew.
Voiles et Voiliers: Do you mean that it isn’t possible for someone like you to try it before deciding to buy one?
Bertrand Pacé: Well, no, it’s not possible. An AC45 costs 650,000 euros excluding taxes. It’s not cheap! In fact, you have to deposit two checks: one for 25% of the boat that validates the order and another one for 50% to assure them that you will buy the boat at the end!
Voiles et Voiliers: It is a bit shocking!
Bertrand Pacé: Oh yes, you can say that!
Voiles et Voiliers: Do you know who has already ordered a boat?
Bertrand Pacé: They are four today. Boat number 0 is the demonstration one, number 1 is of the Swedes (Artemis), number 2 of the Kiwis (Team New Zealand), number 3 of the Americans (Oracle) and number 4 of the Italians (Mascalzone Latino)… but everybody says that it is Oracle that bought it for Mascalzone! Boat number 5 is about to be sold, but we do not yet know to whom…
Voiles et Voiliers: So, in mid-March, none of the three French syndicates has therefore ordered an AC45?
Bertrand Pacé: No, none.
Voiles et Voiliers: Wasn’t however Alain Gautier due to sail one day as a guest?
Bertrand Pacé: Yes, it was scheduled during the Challengers meeting in Auckland… but it was planned for the day they had a breakage. He has therefore only seen the boat and he says it is very well built and rather focused for the 12-20 knot range rather than the 0-8.
Voiles et Voiliers: Alain Gautier is a hell of an asset for the team.
Bertrand Pacé: Absolutely. Alain has the experience and the ability to properly analyze a boat and give his feeling. People like that, there are very few in the world.
Voiles et Voiliers: From your own experience and the feedback you get do you think the AC45 is a good platform?
Bertrand Pacé: It was necessary to launch such a boat, even if only to assess the wing and the logistical problems associated with it. This transition seems very interesting. This boat will certainly be fun and nice to use, but for the Cup, the yachts will not be 45 feet long, but 72!
Voiles et Voiliers: Can you do the Cup without doing the AC45 circuit?
Bertrand Pacé: Yes, absolutely … And if in this circuit there are ten AC45’s it will be impressive, but if there are only four, I’ll let you judge … What is certain is that America’s Cup is at a turning point, which is extremely important, very serious. To date, there are only three teams that are funded (Artemis, Oracle, Team New Zealand, ed.) In addition, from what I know, Emirates has not yet confirmed its commitment for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Voiles et Voiliers: Do you think the evolution towards multihulls was inevitable?
Bertrand Pacé: I personally think we will have an idea of next Cup on multihulls will be, the day it is raced! Today, it is difficult to have a true opinion. This is clearly a different way of sailing, this is not sailing in its purest form, it is another thing. Voilà.
Voiles et Voiliers: Do you spend a part of your time meeting the bosses of France’s biggest companies?
Bertrand Pacé: No, it’s not my job, and in addition I do not know how to do it… My intervention in the search of partners is anecdotal. It is Philippe Ligot – CEO that deals with all that, with Hugues Lepic – president. But it is true that we are several times a day on telephone contact.
Voiles et Voiliers: Is your enormous experience, especially abroad, a plus?
Bertrand Pacé: It’s true. I now speak fluent English and, besides my engineering hat that allows me to fully understand of what a boat must consist, I have a very good knowledge of the people in the sector, including the technical part. It is this aspect that interests me more than anything, the development of the yacht and the technical challenge for the next Cup, both great and very exciting. However, I’m afraid the sporting challenge is a bit tarnished, because the Americans want to have an event very appealing to the media, more of a show than a real regatta. We will only know at the end whether this is successful. Nevertheless, I do think that from a show point of view, it will be impressive.
Voiles et Voiliers: Where will you be geographically based?
Bertrand Pacé: I can not say officially today … But it will be in the Mediterranean. The city that will host us doesn’t want us to announce it as long as we are not funded. I can only say that it is the ideal sailing course to prepare the new Cup format.
Voiles et Voiliers: Listening to you it seems you are technically very advanced.
Bertrand Pacé: Right now, yes, we know exactly where we want to go, and the project is very advanced. But there comes a point where you really can not go further without telling stories. We can not go any further, because we have no money, the necessary partner or partners.
Voiles et Voiliers: Do you really think that if you get the necessary funding you can finally get the best result ever achieved by French?
Bertrand Pacé: This time, thanks to several factors, including the French design, we can have a performing boat, capable of competing with the best, and able to do something really good … That is a certainty.
Voiles et Voiliers: Don’t you think that when the organizers say that the AC72 will be able to sail from 0 to 33 knots (!) they are exaggerating?
Bertrand Pacé: [Laughs] I fundamentally think we can not navigate beyond a certain wind speed! 33 knots at six meters of height, that makes 39 knots at 36 meters, the height of the wing. I don’t believe it. At that point there will be many capsizes … And more simply, it will probably be impossible to leave the port.
Voiles et Voiliers: Do you sail on multihulls?
Bertrand Pacé: No, not on multihulls. I had requests. In particular, I called tactics on the ORMA Grand Prix with Franck Cammas and then Karine Fauconnier. I try to sail as much as possible. I have just qualified, last weekend, for the opening event of the season’s World Match Racing Tour to be held on J80’s in Marseille in May. I also competed in the inaugural Tour of Arabia on the Farr 30 New Caledonia, a few weeks ago. [Note: Pacé won the inaugural Tour of Arabia]
Voiles et Voiliers: But you do hope to race on AC45’s with Aleph 45?
Bertrand Pacé: Yes, of course. If it works out, the logic is that Alain would initially helm and I would call tactics.
Voiles et Voiliers: Assuming you do not find the budget before the end of summer 2011, what will you do?
Bertrand Pacé: I have two sporting projects in the pipeline … but my priority is more than ever to do the 34th Cup. I repeat again, our project is coherent.