Jorg Riechers:"I also like being the underdog. Nobody is expecting us to do well"
Everything in the garden was rosy for German skipper Jorg Riechers. His IMOCA 60 project had momentum, he had a good boat in the Farr design which Michel Desjoyeaux had won the 2008-9 Vendee Globe and which had finished runners up in the 2010-11 Barcelona World Race with Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez.
He had it substantially upgraded and modified and was heading towards participation in the next Vendee Globe, the logical step up from the Mini650 and Class 40 in which he has been very successful. Then the call came that his long time sponsor was withdrawing from his project. The rug was pulled from under his feet. Life has been a bit tougher since then, but Riechers has battled through and is looking forwards to sailing the 2014-15 Barcelona World Race with the tall, powerful Seb Audigane at his side. But, somewhat bizarrely, he finds himself on Renault Captur - the only Finot-Conq design in the fleet (ex Brit-Air) pitted against against his own well opmtised boat which as Cheminees Poujoulat is in the hands of Bernard Stamm and Jean Le Cam,
Jorg, those must have been difficult times when your project faltered?
" It was difficult. Not easy. But now it becomes worthwhile now. So we lost one year of work that we did on the boat, a lot of modifications to the boat, all the sailing we did on the boat. So that was all lost in one day, one one decision."
And now you find yourself racing against the boat you worked so hard to optimise?
" Yes that is right. It is a strange world. Actually I am a little cut in two. I am gutted because of all the work and modifications have made the boat quicker, it was a lot slower before, so now we are racing with a non-modified boat. So it is good to see the modifications working and the boat faster, but not so good now we are racing against it. So I am a little bit between the two stools. I think the Farr designs nose dived a little before the modification. When we sailed this Finot-Conq design down here in 30knots it was very easy to sail downwind. It is a really nice boat. Everybody forgets that Armel sailed this boat to second in the Vendee Globe, it was second in the Route du Rhum and second in the Transat Anglais, it is basically a good boat. It is the only Finot design which went light, the others which did not do so well had 8,8tonnes displacement and 38tm righting moment. This boat is 7,9tonnes and has got 30tm. So this boat is lighter and more down the route Safran went down in 2008. The hulls shape is closer to that of Safran than the Farr designs. It is a super boat. I think in boat design you don't have to go with the herd all the time. There is a vogue, a fashion."
How do you like the boat?
" I think this boat will be OK. Alex Thomson's boat is one of the fastest of the newer generation boats, and it has been modified to the new rule and so it would be a miracle if we were faster. I think, in my eyes, Cheminees Poujoulat can be a little bit faster than us, because of the modifications. Neutrogena has a new keel and we still have a carbon keel so we are a little bit heavier. We are lighter than them and than GAES. But I think that ourselves, GAES Centros Auditivos and Neutrogena will be at about the same level. It is hard to judge the different levels of ability. We look at the others for sure, and we think. We look at their strongpoints and weak points. Our strengths are we are quite fit and strong as a team. But the bad point is we were late. When we go to do this race the only thing we can do is sail our own race, do our own thing. We can't sail directly against them. When you do a long ocean race around the world like this, you set up your goals and your strategy. Here we just set out to sail the boat at a good percentage of its polars, eliminate the down time. If we execute that in a good way then, in my eyes, we should be good for a podium finish."
How long have you actually had the boat, in fact there is a slight bonus because its owner Bertrand de Broc had to retire from the Route du Rhum early on, and so you got the boat a littlet earlier than schedule?
" We have had the boat one month. It is unkind of us to say it but it was fortunate for us that Bertrand had to abandon the Route du Rhum because it gave us more time to prepare the boat. So we are more confident in the boat. As a team Seb and I are good together. We sailed some Class 40 races, so the chemistry and knowning each other is perfect. We are happy with the boat. I have a good feeling about it. If you see what Alex did in the Vendee Globe, who would have had him finishing third with an older boat? I also like being the underdog. Nobody is expecting us to do well."
What do you see as your strengths?
" Our strengths are we are both good drivers. I think actually is a little bit better than me at driving. He is actually one of the best helmsmen I have ever sailed with. He is outstanding and sails by feel and numbers. We both work very hard. Weaknesses? I can be overmotivated and can be attracted by risky options. As you can see in the past. We tried in the Azores race to beat the faster GDF Suez by doing something different and failed in a royal way, that was a good lesson to us. But we came out stronger as a team. There is no hierarchy, no boss. He has more IMOCA experience. In the south he has done more and I have never been down there."
What else is important?
" The human factor is important. How many teams will crack? It is not just about the pure performance of the sailors or the boats, it is about the performance of the human side of the sailors, if they can work together until the end. We are not really killer characters. Some sailors are killers. So when you have two strong egos on the boat it can be hairy. When it is cold and your are miserable and not feeling good and there is a big ego with you, then you can clash. We are pretty laid back. That can be a weak point too and we have talked about that. If somone is not happy with the other's behaviour then we say something. It is dealt with and we are glued together as a team. We talk about these things all the time, when we are sailing, when we are eating, in the pub. We have not been to marriage guidance together. For example when you see that the other is over tired - there is a point where you are so tired you dont realise. And Seb, as a human being, is adorable, a really, really nice person. He is a team player, which is unusual in the sport of solo and shorthanded racing. We are good freinds. We have known each other since the end of 2012. I knew what he had done before and so when he proposed we did this project together, I said yes, super."
The level of the race?
" I think the level is good. There are five boats which can be on the podium. The quality of the race is not defined by the number of boats in it, but by the quality of the boats."