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Posted by on Jul 25, 2013 in Boating Lifestyle, Sailboat Racing, Sailing, UK, US |

Digital Vagabond: Amateurs bring spirit to Tour de France à la Voile

Amateur teams like Normandie enter the Tour de France à la Voile for the fun and the experience — not for the money.

The following is a French-to-English translation from a press release about the history and tradition of the Tour de France a la Voile. I haven’t touched it:

The 27-year old Jean-Yves Le Hir was lively, hairy and a key character of the Tour de France à la Voile. He not only sailed 14 editions as a skipper — finishing 10 times in the 10 first and winning several times the point ranking when it was still a time ranking. He also taught tens of crew members about sailing and partying. ‘Bléo’ was not only a remarkable sailor but also a remarkable party boy. One night, his friend Carlos and him hung themselves from the ceiling of the bar La Pilotine, causing it to collapse over the clients. He celebrated properly all his victories and the Dunkirk team would also be part of the party. “We were better when hangover,” explains Jean-Yves, who misses the time when there was no shore team and when racer cruisers were sailed by beginners.

The Tour de France à la Voile format is akin to allowing a handful of university basketball programs into a finals bracket with the NBA’s best. I prefer following the amateur teams for the same reason so many people swear by March Madness. The young guys — and girls — bring so much spirit to the race. It’s just more fun.

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A lack of corporate sponsors allows amateur sailors to find and partake in the serious after-parties.

The program costs are staggering. A program like Gruoupama or Sodebo will spent more than 500,000 Euros in a year. The amateurs barely scrape by with 100,000 Euros.

The amateur programs aren’t paid. Some sleep in tents. They sail for the opportunity and the experience. Not the paycheck. And when the sailors don’t have a corporate sponsor, they can afford to act like sailors, in the traditional sense.

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None of the professional sailors moved onto a bar called La Boussole, where the event organizers and younger sailors crowded both sides of the counter, shoulder to shoulder with the bartenders.

Which is why I kept close to Team Normandie at the crew party in Dieppe. In honor of Jean-Yves.

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“We were better when hangover,” explains Jean-Yves, who misses the time when there was no shore team and when racer cruisers were sailed by beginners.

Not only did everyone make it to the boat, but team Normandie raced their best offshore leg of the tour, finishing fourth overall from Dieppe to Deauville. Right behind Franck Cammas/Groupama.