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The record breaker-a conversation with Ryan Breymaier

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 20 Apr 2016
World Sailing Speed Record Breaker Lending Club 2, driven by Renaud Laplanche and Ryan Breymaier, during the Cowes-Dinard passage. Lloyd Images
Ryan Breymaier has been making a strong name for himself as a highly skilled singlehanded and shorthanded skipper, both on the IMOCA 60 and maxi multi-hull circuits. Breymaier is unusual in that he’s an American with aspirations to race in the Vendee Globe, the singlehanded, nonstop-around-the-world race that starts and ends in France, and which is almost entirely a French affair. Breymaier has lived in France for years and has become a part of the IMOCA culture but, sadly, his Vendee Globe dreams for 2016 have been curtailed by a lack of sponsorship, despite a world-class sailing resume.

If Breymaier was French, there’s little question that he would have a strong sponsorship program and a now-generation IMOCA 60 behind him for this year’s Vendee Globe. Instead, Breymaier has been focusing on obliterating longstanding distance-racing records, including the Newport to Bermuda record and the Los Angeles to Hawaii record, both of which he smashed while skippering Lending Club 2, the 105-foot trimaran that now bears Idec livery.

This year, Breymaier has signed on with John Sangmeister’s Tritium Racing program (Breymaier had sailed with Sangmeister and the Tritium Racing program in 2013 for an attempt on the Transpac record, which they narrowly missed), and together the team plans to attempt to break three West Coast records, namely the Newport to Ensenada Race, the Swiftsure Race, and the Race to Alaska aboard their highly modified ORMA 73 trimaran. I caught up with Breymaier to learn more about his plans to sail in the Pacific Northwest this summer.

Can you give me some background on the Tritium Racing program?
Tritium is the brainchild of a guy named John Sangmeister, who is a restaurateur and former America's Cup sailor, who lives in Long Beach. We have been working together since before the Transpac in 2013. John actually called me up out of the blue in Europe saying he wanted to find a big multi-hull to break the Transpac race record with, and could I help him with that. One thing led to another and I ended up sort of taking care of the project for him, putting the boat back together and all that kind of stuff. So, that's the very background story.

We tried to do the Transpac in 2013, and missed the record by two hours, due to a lot of collisions with stuff in the water on the way to Hawaii. Since then, the boat has kind of been in a state of suspended animation, if you will, sitting in Richmond in California, and we've just put it back together now to try to do these other three events this year.

So what inspired you guys to come up to the Pacific Northwest?
John is a big fan of [the late, great] Steve Fossett and he's trying to get some of his West Coast records. The Ensenada Race and the Swiftsure Race are both records that Steve Fossett holds in the multi-hull, so our idea is to break those. When John heard about the Race to Alaska, he couldn't resist, he likes these kind of crazy things. It all sort of worked out with the schedule, had a nice, early season for us and it makes it worthwhile to put the old boat back together again.

Does John come race with you guys?
Oh yeah, all the time. He's 54 years old, [and] he's in good shape. He's a former America's Cup guy, so he knows what he's doing.

For Swiftsure, do you guys think there's a pretty good chance that a new record is in the offing?
You know, I think we do if we have the perfect weather. Just like all this stuff, it's weather-dependent. We've got a pretty quick boat, so we really have to move quickly, but our boat is a lot more modern [than Fossett’s] I would say, and for that reason I think we have a good chance, assuming we have good conditions.

What conditions are you guys looking for?
Breeze. Lots of it!

I would assume that the prevailing conditions are probably in or out of the Strait there, but if we had a nice Northwesterly or one of those [weather systems that] come down over the northern shore there and fill in enough that we wouldn't have to tack all the time, then that would make things a lot easier.

So last year in the Race to Alaska, Team Elsie Piddock on an Ian Farrier-designed F25-C, turned out a really impressive time that a lot of people don't think could necessarily be broken easily because of how they made it through Seymour Narrows. How confident you guys are that you can break their that record?
Well, we haven't done the race, so it's really hard to say, but 750 miles on a 72-foot multi hull generally, no matter what point of sail you're on, does not take four days! So I think we have a very good chance of breaking the record.

For us, this is more about the challenge of being able to go up there and sail the boat around without a motor, which I think is really the spirit of what the organizers are looking for as well. It's not very often that you sail these boats around without a tender to drag you off the dock and a motor to help and all the rest of it.

So we're trying to do something cool with the boat that we have, and the record…it's a goal, but it's not the main goal. The goal is to go up there and have fun in the spirit of the race.

Last year, all the Race to Alaska finishers that I talked to were very clear that having some means of human-powered propulsion was really critical for dealing with lulls. I'm curious, what will you guys use to get out of Victoria Harbour [sic], where you're not allowed to sail?
We've ordered two 1,000 foot long pieces of line to put on some lightweight anchors, and we're going to have two sea kayaks, so we're going to kedge as they used to do back in the tall ship days. You basically put one anchor out, pull yourself up so you have minimum scope and then the other kayak goes away out to the length of that line, drops the other one. You pick up the first one, pull yourself to the second one and repeat until you're where you need to be to get sailing.

So that's our plan for the moment, we're also planning on connecting the propeller of the boat to the pedestal so we can have six people drive the propeller, but that's not going to be very easy. A human doesn't generate very much horsepower and the 37 horsepower motor doesn't do a very good job as it is, so I think it's going to be quite hard for us to accomplish a whole lot in that respect. We'll mostly be relying on kedging with the kayaks.

Another thing is for all those smaller boats, they don't really move in light air. [On Tritium Racing] even if it's only blowing three knots, [we will] probably be doing six [knots]. You only need a human form of propulsion when it's a pure [calm] and when you can't [sail].

So how tough do you think it's going to be to short-tack Tritium up Johnstone Strait?
I've been looking at the charts [and] it doesn't look that terrible. There's only certain short areas where it's very, very narrow. If we have to short tack, we can, we can just leave the two boards down into the main sheet and the thing will tack very simply. The boat is well mannered in terms of maneuvers as long as you don't put the main sheet on, and there you wouldn't anyway. So hopefully we can just make it happen. We have a good crew of people who are previously experienced multi hull sailors, so that should be enough to get us around the racetrack.

What about Seymour Narrows?
I looked at it on YouTube. I've seen the whirlpools and the cragginess, and I looked at the tide chart, which is showing 14 knots of current. We have a little bit of a secret weapon, John the owner's father-in-law cruises up there all the time. Now it's in powerboats since he's older, but he used to be in sailboats. We were sitting at dinner the other night and he says, “Oh, you know there's like three places on each side [of Seymour Narrows] where you can stop before you get to the Narrows if you need to wait until the tide changes and the current changes”. Since I'm probably going to be navigating, I'm going to sit down with him and figure out exactly what spots we can stop and…anchor before we get there. Unless it's really windy, there's no point in trying to buck 14 knots of current, you're not going to go very fast.

Could you actually buck 14 knots of current if you got the right wind?
Yeah, in the right conditions, the boat will do 35 knots; so 14 knots of current isn't the end of the world if you have plenty of breeze from the right direction. If we're going upwind, that's about the same speed we'd go upwind or maybe we go a couple of knots faster if need be. It won't be easy, that's for sure, if we're going upwind through there. Just like everybody else, that would probably force us to go and anchor somewhere and wait, I don't think that's really a problem.

So what aspects of this Summer's Pacific Northwest sailing program you're most excited about?
Well all of it, because I've never sailed it. That's one of the reasons that I agreed to come back this year and help John put this whole thing together, because I've never been up there. The Race to Alaska sounds like a great challenge, a lot of fun to do, and all of it. Especially for me, I really don't like being hot, so I don't think I'm going to have an issue with that.

No, you won't!
It's cool enough to keep me happy. My brother lives in Seattle as well, so it will be nice to see him and to do some sailing in an area where I've never been. Everyone says it's beautiful and the greatest cruising grounds on Earth and all the rest of it, so I'm going to go and test their theories.

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I don't think you're going to be disappointed! Last question for you; is there anything else you'd like to add for the record?
These programs wouldn't exist without our sponsors. We have Garmin and Switlik, Marlow Ropes. Sperry is going to help us out and Fisheries Supply has been working very hard to help us out a lot with the refit of the boat. Saying thank you to all those people is very important. We're getting some really nice dry suits from Switlik that are used by the helicopter rescue pilots all over the world, so that kind of thing goes a long way to making sure you can perform when you need to. That's basically it, I think.

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