The Elysee Palace on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the official residence of the president of the French Republic since 1871, was the gaudy, gilt laden setting for a fabulous presentation last night that says everything about France’s connection to sailing and its sailors. Emmanuel Macron was on duty with his glamorous wife Brigitte, for a Legion d’Honneur awards ceremony honouring Jean Le Cam and Yannick Bestaven – truly the most outstanding single-handed offshore sailors of the day.

©Vendee Globe

Le Cam was pure Gallic cool with a nonchalance that only the greats adopt – hands in pockets, he’s far more at home cooped up in a carbon shell, weather plotting, sail trimming and chopping onions for the evening’s ‘degustation’ than Palace formalities…Bestaven was the epitome of modern-day athlete – chic, fit, healthy, charming and stylish. Both were humble, grateful and utterly worthy of the ultimate award in French society and you’d have to be cold as ice to not thoroughly approve of their recognition – Le Cam for his stunning rescue in the dead of night of Kevin Escoffier and Bestaven for his ultimate victory in the Vendee Globe.

President Macron got it spot on in his speech for Le Cam, loosely translated as: “Jean Le Cam, free. Free in the head, in the words, in the actions. You marked the race with your talent and your panache, then chained the president. You made us live everything: joy, fear, sadness, loneliness, happiness. I repeat to you the pride of all French people for your heroic act, for your courage. You have led us in the wake of your dreams.” Quite.

And after the gongs had been awarded, Bestaven reflected on this moment of his life saying about the President’s words: “It stirs. There is Cape Horn and the president’s speech, I had tears in my eye. How touching. He loves the sea, the maritime world and ocean racing. It is an honour to be distinguished this evening. It is very moving.”

Congratulations to two of the most thoroughly deserved award winners of this year’s sailing Oscar season – heroes both.

©Thomas Lovelock for SailGP

And the news came thick and fast all day yesterday as sailing resets for 2022 and I have to say I was blown away by the SailGP announcement. I was privy to some of the detail ahead of schedule but not the full breadth of the ten race season announced with genius long-term venue commitments, surety and professionalism. The pro-sailors must be thanking their lucky stars for SailGP.

New Zealand gets a firm commitment to Auckland and Christchurch in alternate years from 2023 and the timing of that couldn’t be better. Russell must have been chuckling. But it’s huge for New Zealand and where better to hold sailing events?

© Bob Martin for SailGP

Chicago was another eye-catcher. That’s going to be brilliant. The ultimate sports city guarantees big breezes and a perfect amphitheatre – chilly yes (it’s even cold in summer there) but that will be electric racing in Larry Ellison’s home town.

Copenhagen gets the nod for the Danish grand prix and that too will be something very, very special in that wonderful waterfront Capital on the islands of Zealand and Amager. Plymouth is the venue in the UK after its fabulous hosting this year, quite rightly although Cowes would have been better (just saying), and St Tropez is a no-brainer for the French grand prix – what’s not to love about the summer in the South of France? Bermuda and Cadiz add massively to the spectacle – Cadiz was possibly the stand-out venue of the 2021 season – but the real talking point was Dubai, scheduled for mid-November 2022.

©Ian Roman for SailGP

Dubai’s significant for a number of reasons. Firstly where are the howls of protest from everyone from the competitors to the armchair admirals? They’re just not there. SailGP lands for a weekend, does the racing and packs up again.

No big deal – it’s just a stop on a circuit, similar to Formula 1, cricket, golf, soccer, athletics, gymnastics, equestrian, swimming, motoGP, boxing, polo, cycling, triathlon, karate, judo, squash, rugby…shall I go on? The management of SailGP made no song and dance about it, just stated it as fact alongside sponsorship already confirmed from P&O Marinas and the sailors will simply get on with it – by the crucial business end of the season in November, boycotting on human rights issues will be suicidal to series ambitions. It will happen and it will be stunning.

Good for SailGP. And I have to think that Dubai may well have sneaked this one onto their burgeoning sports roster well ahead of the America’s Cup having looked at SailGP, as many existing and potential sponsors alongside possible team franchise buyers will, and said: “we’ll have some of that, thank you very much.”

And for their riyals they get a heck of a show with none of the politics – I tell you, SailGP is where it’s at right now. And the only big announcement left is Rolex taking the title sponsorship of this truly global series and fantastic sailing jamboree. ‘Rolex SailGP’ – it’s got a ring to it, right?

©Photo: Matt Knighton for SailGP

Good news all round and I read the press statements with the overwhelming thought of: ‘That’s how you do it.’ Brilliantly stage-managed just ahead of the Sydney grand prix with fabulous imagery of top class international sailing and a social media presence to die for – SailGP’s Instagram was the place to be yesterday. Real sailing. Not theoretical sailing. Action, intrigue, suspense and more drama than you can shake a stick at – the Cup organisers must be crying tears bigger than October cabbages.

SailGP is getting it so right for the times we live in. The Cup looks dated in comparison.

Be warned. But get excited. It’s happening.

15 thoughts on “Panache

  1. Fantastic news about SailGP, but I just hope that they do something about the umpiring.
    Even if it isn’t the intent, the appearances and the outcome are that it is being stage managed to keep the competition open right to the last round. This year that approach has turned F1 into a fiasco, please don’t let SailGP fall into the same rabbit hole.
    It needs the management of SailGP to look at this in detail and come up with a system of umpiring that is transparent and even handed, perhaps simply the way that other sailing does. ie OCS = restart, other infringements = 360 or retirement as per existing rules. F50s are developed enough now to be able to perform a 360 and stay in the race.
    This year we’ve seen Phil Robertson black flagged out of an event arbitrarily (is there a rule anywhere that says this is the penalty for not keeping clear?), there was the ludicrous mark room penalty that lost Ainslie the Denmark event, then later he had series points deducted for a start line infringement that he’d already taken a penalty for.

    This stage managing is great for whipping up media controversy but it detracts massively from the sporting contest. My real worry is that it is becoming the accepted norm and have the same effect on the Americas Cup. We’ve already lost the fundamental match racing principle of “carrying” penalties which is a massive shame.


    1. I agree with you! Those 2 Point Deduction on the Overall Season Championship may cost Ainslie a shot at the Grand Final in San Francisco next year. That isn’t fair! Ben basically had to take a Double Penalty there.


  2. “I haven’t complained” =/= “Nobody has complained”.

    I know I’ve commented with my opposition to Dubai on the social media pages where I follow SGPx, and given that the announcement was less than 24 hours ago, I think predicting that nobody else at all will complain is a bit premature.

    And of course, seeing as you have this major platform, if you’re aware of the issues, why not raise YOUR voice and protest yourself instead of going “tisk, tisk, nothing to be done”?

    Isn’t SailGP, after all, suppose to be showing a better way than That Other Event?


    1. Did I not say as such two days ago when I said: “I have to say, I came away from watching all four days of the F1 coverage a bit disappointed and it rather changed my view on Jeddah as a possible venue for the America’s Cup. The thing with the Saudis and in particular the ruling elite parading around in their dish-dash’s is that they do show very well but it’s a show that’s just a bit too obvious, shallow, antiseptic, soulless. It’s a show-by-numbers – big fireworks, light displays, glad-handing, smiles behind clenched fists, nothing-to-see-here, trash glitz, faux glamour.”


      1. Exactly, but in this post you were entirely positive and said only:

        “ No big deal – it’s just a stop on a circuit, similar to Formula 1, cricket, golf, soccer, athletics, gymnastics, equestrian, swimming, motoGP, boxing, polo, cycling, triathlon, karate, judo, squash, rugby…shall I go on? The management of SailGP made no song and dance about it, just stated it as fact alongside sponsorship already confirmed from P&O Marinas and the sailors will simply get on with it – by the crucial business end of the season in November, boycotting on human rights issues will be suicidal to series ambitions. It will happen and it will be stunning.”

        Not that you were concerned, that it would be soulless or shallow, that the thought of SailGP banners put up by modern slaves was upsetting, that it was counterproductive to the Race For The Future initiative, that you hoped they would reconsider, etc.

        “I hope nobody complains, it will be stunning!” is not a statement of opposition.


      2. It’s a big issue but is boycotting sailing events in the Gulf states the right thing to do? Lewis Hamilton wore his Pride helmet this weekend in Jeddah – and will probably do the same in Abu Dhabi this coming weekend. Are we better to go and by going, raise issues or are we better on the sidelines as a sport whilst everyone else attends? I don’t have the answer but I do think SailGP is doing the right thing in having an event there – and that’s my personal viewpoint.


      3. Um, yes! We are absolutely better leading by example and demonstrating to other sports that a better way is possible— ideally, by publicly rejecting unacceptable venue and sponsor bids that make overtures to leagues and explaining very clearly what they would have to change to be approved.

        Even if Jimmy Spithill were to write “end forced labor” on his helmet, wearing it while stepping ashore into a Race Village put together by slaves would be nothing but hypocrisy.


      4. I am in favor of event organizers (in all sports) assessing the social and environmental records of proposed venues and sponsors (from and in any country) on a case-by-case basis and whether it is likely that their event’s infrastructure will be constructed under hazardous conditions by forced labor. And then determining whether they are comfortable with such suffering in their name.

        And, I am in favor of fans, athletes, sponsors, and other groups critiquing, petitioning, and if necessary boycotting events which do not meet these standards.


  3. Magnus,
    Grant Dalton did say that there could be a “Not yet known Venue” in the mix to host AC37. One of the possibilities could certainly be Abu Dhabi (who had to Volvo Stopovers in 2012 & 2014/2015) and Dubai.

    What do you think?


  4. On a less-contentious note, I am very happy to see Jean Le Cam being honored for his rescue of Kevin. He might not have gotten to be World Sailor of the Year, but at least he is receiving one of his nation’s highest honors.


  5. Did my VG comment get eaten? I wanted to say that on a much less contentious note, I’m glad to see Jean Le Cam be honored for his heroic rescue of Kevin Escoffier. It’s a shame he wasn’t nominated for World Sailor of the Year, but he absolutely deserves the Legion d’Honneur.

    Yes We Cam!


      1. I like that even when we disagree, you are still so polite and friendly to your commenters. It’s something of a lost art on the Internet.


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