Conrad Humphreys regrets the TRANSAT move to France

In an interview published in Tip and Shaft, Conrad Humphreys expressed his disappointment at the move of the Transat start to France.  The Transat was part of Plymouth’s 400th anniversary celebration of the sailing of the Mayflower. It was to link Plymouth to Charleston which in turn is due to celebrate its 350th anniversary and its links to England. Some of Conrad’s views:


Looking at the media reports Conrad it sounds like it was a big shock for people in Plymouth to learn the Transat has gone to Brest?

From what I understand they had about 12 hours notice. And I think Charleston did not get any notice that Plymouth are out. And that is why I believe they are so frustrated. They were due to sign a deal that Plymouth was the start. They have their 350th anniversary and Plymouth have their 400th anniversary. There is a major UK-US anniversary celebration and I think the political situation was signing up to a race which linked the two. The fact is that the city has been working for two years on the arrangements and The Transat was central to the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower. It was to be the centrepiece of the celebrations.

Did you have any direct knowledge of the race, were you involved in any capacity?

I have not been involved since 2008. After the 2004 race which I sailed and finished fifth I got involved in order to move things forwards and helped find the funding, £150,000, from the local regional development agency to effectively secure the city as host venue. The 2008 race was just before the ‘crash’. Artemis were the title sponsor. We had 30 IMOCA sixties and got them into Sutton Harbour for the first time. We had a huge event village with tens of thousands of people passing through and all eyes were on Plymouth. I can remember having conversations with the Volvo and America’s Cup organisers and them saying ‘what an incredible backdrop’. That was my first foray into event management. The America’s Cup World Series followed suit, landing at Plymouth’s feet pretty much and it is remembered as one of the highlights. I have not been involved since but I know plans this time were well advanced. It always seems to then be the fault of the host city, but event owners and managers need to look at what the city are trying to achieve. That is the fundamental here. Something has gone wrong. You have a city which is prepared to secure the future of the race but politically needs to prioritise what it needs to do. In France that may be different.

We have to take it at face value and the organisers need to go where the most money is?

I am sure that is the case and you have to be pragmatic and not argue the semantics. It leaves Plymouth with the OSTAR and Twostar which should get some more attention and put them back into the limelight they deserve. My personal feeling is that moving the race to Brest it becomes a completely different race. Going to Charleston the course will go south and that is very different to the what Chichester and Tabarly and all the greats set out to do on the North Atlantic. Maybe there is space on the calendar now on a North Atlantic route but with a more Corinthian style of race going north and the pro element going south.

Can you see other options or opportunities to fill the void?

If there is a market where I would guess the Class 40s are maybe paying €10,000 to do a Transatlantic and the Ultimes maybe €30,000-40,000 then you would think there is a demand for a Transatlantic like the OSTAR where the entry is more like three or four thousand and the history of the race lies with the original course. Maybe there is a market for another race. But if not the history of The Transat is lost and the new course cannot claim the history and legacy of the race. It is in effect a new race. Entries will go where sponsors and media return is, that is a fact and that is what makes France a success. And being honest the North Atlantic was never a great course for IMOCAs looking to the Vendée Globe, with capsizes and broken masts.

It is, however, indicative of the lack of joined up thinking in the UK, the general lack of new initiatives in offshore sailing when we compare to France?

There is a real lack of public interest. Some events buck that trend, the Fastnet and double handed events are tremendously popular. I think races like the OSTAR and Twostar are run by yacht clubs which might be struggling for survival. They are not commercial and not professional marketeers but and therefore their ability to resource and raise the profile of these events have a knock on effect with everything else. But that could change quite quickly with some resources, maybe Plymouth could step in with some help here.


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