The IMOCA skippers in The Ocean Race by the sailors who know them best
The key players on each of the five entries in The Ocean Race are the skippers – five individuals who have each been instrumental in getting their campaign off the ground and then leading their team on the water.
Winning The Ocean Race requires drive and competitiveness, an ability to take difficult decisions under pressure, but also patience and excellent management of people in what is one of the longest and most arduous events in all sport.
It is also a huge responsibility – looking after the safety and welfare of teammates operating in some of the wildest and most inhospitable sailing waters on the planet, on the most extreme boats ever to take part in this classic race.
It all adds up to a tall order. To find out a bit more about who will be leading on each IMOCA in this race, we asked some distinguished fellow sailors to tell us about the skippers they know from shared time on the water.
Skipper: Kevin Escoffier – Holcim/PRB
by Charles Caudrelier, Escoffier’s skipper in the Volvo Ocean Race (the former name of The Ocean Race) on Dongfeng Race Team.
“Kevin has everything. He has experience of the Volvo Ocean Race. Kevin is also a designer. He is one of the only sailors who can design, build and sail a boat, so that makes him very versatile. He has sailed a lot in his life, but not as much as people think because he has spent a lot of his time in the design office. But he has spent so much time doing that, and thinking about boats, that he very quickly understands what are the good modifications to make, to improve the speed and he has a very good mind.
Kevin is very well organized. He has clear priorities and he is really one of the toughest guys I have seen on board. There is nothing more difficult on a boat than to be a bowman in the Volvo Ocean Race and he has done two races in that role. When the conditions were really tough he was always the last one to have the energy and he did some amazing things for Dongfeng Racing when we were in the South – he was the first one to go on the bow.
I think he is a leader – a natural leader because he’s funny and he has a very good spirit. He has lots of qualities to be an amazing sailor because he is also is a very good driver and a very good trimmer. Probably his weakness is that he is very ambitious and he puts a lot of pressure on his own shoulders because he wants to win. He wants to be involved everywhere. Sometimes he wants to do too much. It could be a weakness, but it is the only one I can think of with my experience of Kevin.”
Skipper: Boris Herrmann – Team Malizia
by Pierre Casiraghi, Team Founder and Vice-President of the Yacht Club de Monaco.
“Boris is very good at bringing people together around a project, by giving responsibility to each team member. He believes that establishing a good balance between men and women helps the team a lot and Boris always wanted that. I also think that having a multinational team is something that brings different perspectives and ideas on how to solve problems.
Boris knows how to have fun with the team – sharing nice moments as a group helps us to feel that we are all working together towards the same goal, and that everyone can rely on everyone else. On board, it’s great because Boris is very calm and safe, always wanting to preserve the boat and to finish the race. He is very respectful of our competitors and we also have a lot of fun on the boat – when all is working well, he always likes a good joke. I think Boris will cope very well with this race. He has a lot of experience sailing around the world with many teams and on many different boats, whether it be the crew on Maserati (Multi70), or racing with Francis Joyon on Idec (Ultime), or many others.”
Skipper: Charlie Enright – 11th Hour Racing Team
by Simon Fisher, team navigator.
“Charlie’s a very good man – he’s a good man. You don’t do two races with people if you don’t get on with them – that’s for sure.
For starters, he’s an incredibly driven individual. Super-competitive – he’s one of those people who make stuff happen, which is evidenced by the fact that he’s now on his third Ocean Race campaign.
Charlie and Mark Towill, (co-founder and CEO), started off on a whim and a prayer, with a dream. Now we’re probably one of the biggest teams in the race and that’s by no short measure down to how hard Charlie works, his attitude, his belief in making things happen. It’s impressive to see how he does that, but all in a very down to earth manner – he’s very approachable and very much a team guy.
All the best leaders I’ve worked with are guys that appreciate that they have surrounded themselves with people who they think are the best at their job, so the management style is typically flat. Charlie fits that mould – he lets people do their jobs and work to their strengths and is always happy to give everybody enough space to do what they do best.
The mark of a good leader is also knowing when to step up and make the decisions, and he’s not afraid to do that either. And certainly skippering these boats, knowing where to draw that line, is always really important, and he’s done a good job of that.”
Skipper: Benjamin Dutreux - Guyot Environnement-Team Europe
by Annie Lush, member of the race crew.
“I first sailed with Ben during The Ocean Race Europe when he was our navigator. Actually, he has already grown a lot. It’s a year-and-a-half since we did that – he had just come off his first Vendée Globe and he was a kind of rookie on the scene. But in a very short space of time he is running a boatyard, has a brand new boat and a big campaign, so he is really pushing himself – he is accelerating very fast.
A great sign of how much he is trying to improve himself and push is evident in the fact that he wants to do The Ocean Race. He did his first Vendée, then bought a pretty fast boat. He saw from sailing with a team how much he could gain in learning the boat and making it faster for his next Vendée Globe. So I think he is a really forward-thinking guy who is open to using any opportunity to push himself and go faster, which is a great quality.
On board, Ben is very open to ideas and trying new things – if you are saying ‘I’m not sure if this is better, or that,’ he is always like ‘OK, let’s have a go,’ which I think is a great attitude. He’s quite emotional sometimes, and that is something he has been trying to work on, but that’s also a good thing. I have sailed with a lot of skippers now and the best ones always have a bit of fire in them – when I see that, I know it means we are going to go fast.
There is no doubt this is a huge challenge for Ben. It’s not just managing the sailing team, but the shoreside too. This race is huge with a big shore crew and the logistics behind that. Obviously we have people for it, but fundamentally Ben is leading that. I think he is amazed at the scale of this race, which is so different from the Vendée, which starts and stops in the same place. But he has this open attitude to learning and moving forward and, when we de-brief now, he is always thinking further ahead and I think it is important that he maintains that. We have got to give him enough time and space so that, whatever amount of stress there is, he can sit down and think rationally, because when he does, the results are really good.”
Skipper: Paul Meilhat – Biotherm
by Sam Davies who sailed with Meilhat on Initiatives-Coeur in the 2019 Transat Jacques Vabre
“One of the biggest qualities you need to skipper a crew in The Ocean Race is a burning desire to go and do that race and win it. And I can 100% confirm that Paul has that quality, because he has made it to the start line pretty much against all odds.
And I think that’s probably one of the biggest strengths that you can have, especially from the point of view of the crew. Obviously your crew are looking up to you, and you are leading by example, and I think Paul’s put so much effort and enthusiasm in and I know he has pretty much built his boat himself. He’s not just some lucky person who has got loads of money and someone has handed him a boat. He has created this himself and I think that is really inspiring for his crew – when you see that effort, then naturally you will give 100% to that person.
Time will tell how he gets on leading his team, but I am pretty confident. He wants to go round the world and have fun, enjoy it and make the most of this opportunity. He hasn’t had the time to build a team, through team-building exercises or training, he is arriving at the last minute. So he is using people he knows really well, and people he has already sailed a lot with, and who have the same approach to the race as he has. Like all good leaders, he has surrounded himself with the right people. I am sure there will be ups and downs – it’s a long way and a very long time – but, as I say, I feel confident.
On board, Paul gives it 100%. That was something that I really appreciated when I sailed with him. From the minute he steps on the boat until the minute he gets off it, all his energy and everything he does goes towards making the boat go as fast as possible and in the right direction. But at the same time, he enjoys it – not making it complicated. With all the effort he has put into this, that enjoyment factor is probably going to be even higher than what I saw when I sailed with him a few years ago.”
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