On the 17th of May, the official launch day for the Ulysse Nardin Diver The Ocean Race, I had during breakfast another discussion regarding sustainability. After the dinner from the previous evening (read about the launch even and speeches here), fellow guests had the same internal struggle on what is a marketing stunt versus a genuine event about sustainability. So we walked from the hotel to The Ocean Race Headquarters to meet again the famous Diver (the presentation is available here) and have a day full of surprises.
A walk in the morning through the beautiful Alicante is a lovely experience for a guy that lived most of his life in the deep continental climate where the difference between summer and winter can exceed 70°C (I personally experimented with -32°C in winter and +42°C in summer in my hometown). But in the last 10 years, that 4 seasons years transformed into more of two seasons with extreme colds in summer and extreme heat in winter (in comparison with the normal medium temperature for the area).
The joint interview of the German press
First thing first, at 9 o’clock, the German press group: Antje Heepmann (ITP Media Group/Watchpro), Stephanie Nickl-Krieger UN), Wolfgang Winter (Uhrenkosmos), and myself had a long hour talk about The Ocean Race, FIL&FAB and Ulysse Nardin with the most relevant people of the moment: Anne-Cécile Turner (Sustainability Director at The Ocean Race), Jean-Christophe Sabatier (Chief Product Officer at Ulysse Nardin) and Théo Desprez (Président Fil & Fab s.a.s).
Please hear below our unedited conversation (I am sorry for the audio quality, it was recorded outside with a lot of background noise and a lot going on around us):
After the interview, I had a moment of intimacy with the Ulysse Nardin Diver The Ocean Race, presentation available here.
The next activity in the program was the visit to the Ocean Race Headquarters, their museum and the place where everything is, if not in control, at least known…
The Ocean Race Headquarters
If you are visiting Alicante, it is worth doing a detour for this museum. One got the chance to understand the history of the race that started as an adventure by some passionate people and grew and extended to be the longest sports event in the world. The museum is an interactive exhibition covering almost 50 years of the race’s history.
The museum offers the chance to better understand the yachts, their design, the implication of wind and weather over the race and sailing in general, how the contenders are living their months-long life on board, and the past and present technologies used.
The visit to the museum is free and includes a tour of the race control, where every aspect of the race is monitored. Years ago, having complete communication in the remote parts of the ocean was not even a dream but now, the sailors can have their daily dose of social media and for us a chance to stay in touch with them.
The control centre is filled usually with up six race managers, there is a race director, a meteorologist and a full technical department. All the communication is done over the control centre. The information is displayed on the screen with a 10-second refresh rate from everywhere in the world. Inmarsat is fully supporting the race offering even satellite time in case of need. Well done Inmarsat!
Paella and a steak lover skipper
After the full of information visit of the museum and the race control centre, we were served at The Ocean Race with traditional Spanish Paella. At our table has joined Gerwin Jansen, skipper of The Austrian Ocean Race Project. Lovely dutchman with a keen for a good steak. Like the curious and annoying person I am, I questioned him during lunch, leaving him almost no time to eat during my questions. Sory Gerwin!
Andrei: What is the dynamic of the group? Friends or enemies?
Gerwin: In between ourselves, we are not enemies, for sure not…
Andrei: But everyone has his/hers own role and the roles are kept?
Gerwin: In our team wear are close to friends and we respect each other. For instance, Oliver, our boat captain is really good with his hands and at fixing things. So if it is an issue with the boat, I am 100% trusting him on fixing it and if he cannot fix it, maybe it is just broken, unrepairable… And he is respecting my role as well.
Antje: But do you discuss the issues together?
Andrei: Like a team effort?
Gerwin: Yes, sure. But in the end, I count him responsible for the boat like I count the navigator responsible for the navigation. As a skipper, you have the odd role to lead and assure they are doing their work well, as expected.
Andrei: How do you build a dream team? Do you just gather people together or it is something that grows over time? Like in a pop band, searching for the best…
Gerwin: You are always looking for people that have skills and the sailing world is not that big. So normally you already know the people, raced together or against each other… You look for skills but also personality, ’cause you need to be sure the personalities fit together. You sit 6 months in a boat, people need to get along.
Stephanie: Did you always plan to be a skipper?
Gerwin: No, to be honest, no. But I grew into this role and I really enjoy it and I found it comfortable. But was not my dream when I was fifteen.
Antje: How do you prepare for the race?
Gerwin: As soon as the race is approaching, we have everyday training.
Andrei: What was the scariest moment you had? Of course, one can die. but there are some situations where fear of dying has nothing to do with being scared.
Gerwin: Honestly, on this boat, I have never been scared… It is a super strong and solid boat built for the ocean crossing. There are some small accidents on the boat but we know what we are doing and we are prepared.
Andrei: What was the most spectacular encounter you had with nature? Waves, whales?
Gerwin: Spectacular in a negative way was hitting a whale. Something not very nice for the animal. But my personal favourite was near Australia and we were in the middle of a feeding session: birds, fishes jumping – it was truly special. Something that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Andrei: The Ocean Race is all about the ocean, saving the ocean and sustainability, you were at some point thinking that humanity is doomed? Because of the things we did badly for the ocean… Do we still have a chance?
Gerwin: I was one time in Malaysia, we had a race at Port Klang (south of Kuala Lumpur) and all the dirt of Kuala Lumpur was thrown in the river and came out there at the port. So we had full-time people with a stick pushing all the dirt from the boat. That was the moment I thought that this is really, really bad. But the strange thing is, 40 miles out, the ocean was clearer, but still a lot of rubbish floating around.
Andrei: What was the strange garbage found in the ocean? Something that made you though: I never expected to see that here…
Gerwin: Close to Malta, big palm leaves tight together, some kind of booby trap to scare the boats. It was strange and clearly, something man made.
Andrei: What is your favourite part of the planet?
Gerwin: For me, Holand is still my home. When you travel around the world you see that we leave in a happy country, even if we complain sometimes. But I have a special thing for Australia…
Andrei: The bear and the barbecue?
Gerwin: (laughing) also the sailing, it is nice in the summer…
Andrei: I’ve heard that you are eating astronauts’ food on the board?
Gerwin: Yes! But is getting better and better. There are some brands that are really bad and some that are actually quite ok. The problem is that after 2-3 weeks on the ocean, all start taste the same…
Andrei: What is your favourite food on the land? And where’s the best?
Gerwin: Steak, definitely steak! I would say that I enjoyed at best the ones from South America…
After finishing our lunch and talking about the food from various parts of the world, we had a small break before embarking on the next adventure.
The Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) experience
While part of our group has left for the sailing experience on the VO65 Yacht, I continued my discussions with Patrick Pruniaux. We talked about the sustainability concept – a very important pillar for the future of the brand, about the current world situation, disrupted supply chains and what the future will bring. When asked what is his biggest fear for the future, he replied shortly: microeconomy!
I embarked afterwards on a fast RIB and was given a tour of the Alicante from the coast. We proceed to meet the Ocean Race boats that were relatively close to the coast but in a kind of simulation race. We did several tours arround the yachts.
An interesting exercise was boarding the yacht from the RIB, where the skills of the driver and the sailing team are crucial since the boarding is done during the sailing at the actual boat speed.
The Ocean Race experience
I embarked on the Austrian Ocean Race Project boat and meet again with Gerwin Jansen and get to know other members of the team (see the team picture above). The scope of the activity was not just a lovely under the sun “walk” on the sea, but a complete experience. We’ve learned how the sails are used, and how the team is spending time and we participated in the actual tasks.
Even if the wish was always there, there was no female contestant in the race, but then it became mandatory to have gender varied teams. While there is usually a physical disadvantage for the “girls”, they increased the good spirit and motivation at the board. The general state of mind was improved after the introduction of this rule.
Seeing and experiencing, just for a short period of time, even for a few hours, was enough to make me understand that what these people are doing goes beyond passion. One must be specially built for this life: away from family and friends for a long time, away from your comfortable sleep and eat program, away from the civilisation of any kind… I have the utmost admiration for those able to do this. And my respect is increased tenfold when I know that the scientifical data they collect make us, the rest of the world, understand the gravity of the ocean pollution and how strong the degradation is.
Conclusion: for the World Environment Day and for The World Oceans Day
For Ulysse Nardin, The Ocean Race and FIL&FAB – please don’t stop. Beyond marketing, beyond the recognition of the masses, please keep going. Humanity is too naive and too ignorant, so we need people like you, that fight beyond passion to educate us, bring us the right products and offer us a better future, or at least, not such a disastrous one.
I have to admit that before starting to support through the Watch I Love Magazine various campaigns (of various brands, organisations and foundations) for the health of the planet, regardless of oceans or land, I was pseudoconscious about my actions and style of life. I was politely trying not to overconsume and recycle. But since I started this, I have given up my dreams to swim with the dolphins in the southern waters, not to be one of the idiots flying there, stressing animals and polluting in various ways just for my personal fun. I started to explore more behind the screen, to be careful with what I buy and what lands in the bin. I have invested in smart lighting at home so I use it only when I need and how much light I need. We all can do a little something, because the devastation is so profound, that every gesture count.
Give oceans a voice, give forests a voice, give nature a voice!
Note: I would like to thank UN, TOR and F&F for these experiences.