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An interview with Jean-Pierre Dick about the ETF26 Series

by David Schmidt 10 Nov 08:00 PST November 10, 2020
ETF26 racecourse action © Adrien François

Simply put, foiling is spectacular. But if you like sailing on fully crewed platforms and don't have the kind of war chest that allows you to build an AC75 foiling monohull and challenge for the 36th America's Cup (March 6-21, 2021), it can be tricky to find the right boat. Enter the ETF26, a high-performance foiling catamaran that was conceived by Jean-Pierre Dick, a four-time Transat Jacques-Varbe winner, and designed by Guillaume Verdier, who designed Emirates Team New Zealand's winning catamaran for the 35th America's Cup (2017).

ETF26 catamarans are three-person foilers that are powered by soft sails and are capable of achieving speeds 2.5 times greater than the true windspeed. Better still, these ultra-light, ultra-fast boats are raced on a circuit that draws international teams and top-shelf talent.

While these metrics are impressive, even more impressive is the fact that one doesn't need to have Jimmy Spithill's or Peter Burling's (the winning helmsmen of the last three America's Cups) driving skills to put an ETF26 through its paces.

I checked in with Dick, who founded of the ETF26 class and who regularly earns podium finishes with his ABC Arbitrage-Ville de Nice teammates, via email, to learn more about this high-flying race series.

What was your inspiration to create the ETF26 series?

I was impressed with the performance and extraordinary racing experience you get on foiling boats and thought there was a gap in the racing season that the ETF26 series could fill with exciting, competitive events, with fast boat speeds of 25-30 knots.

With a crew of three, it's modern and immensely enjoyable compared to classic, fixed-keel monohull racing.

How competitive is the racing in the ETF26 class compared to other high-level classes that you've competed in?

In my experience, this stands up next to racing the IMOCAs. Foiling in the ETF26s is extremely competitive and the level is high.

This season we attracted top international sailors such as SailGP's French skipper Billy Besson, who won the ETF26 2020 series, and the Danish SailGP skipper Nicolai Sehested. The two British teams had to pull out due to the current quarantine measures, but I hope they will be coming back next year.

Do you see ETF26s are a gateway to bigger events such as SailGP, or do you think the ETF26 series will flourish and grow into a highly competitive class that attracts full international attention? And, are these mutually exclusive?

This is a gateway for SailGP or The Ocean Race, and also a great proving ground for the next generation of professional sailors.

The fact that we've got world class sailors taking part, to train for other events, shows that we can coexist. You are able to focus on the essential skills a top sailor must have such as trimming and being a helmsman, which are absolutely relevant to other classes.

What kind of sailors is the ETF26 class currently drawing? Moth sailors? Multi-hull sailors? Also, how big of a prerequisite are foiling skills in order to sail these boats?

I wanted to attract people from different areas of the sailing world—dinghy, offshore, Moth, IMOCA, SailGP and monohull sailors that want to discover a new class have all been made welcome.

You don't have to be a foiling expert to take part. [Foiling] has become an integral part of professional sailing so you need to be able to practice and we offer that. People like Armel Tripon and Billy Besson have joined ETF26 to do this.

Can you give us an idea of the kind of budget that's necessary to compete and win in this class? Also, what does that budget include, and what does it not include?

It's 150,000-200,00 euros [Ed note: ballpark $175,000 to $240,000] for a boat ready to race, with a crew of three, then you need a budget for new ropes and new sails every year or two. They're easy to set up plus transportation by trailer is relatively cheap compared to moving bigger boats around.

It's a relatively small outlay overall when you look at other classes, such as TF35, where boats cost more than 1m euros.

What teams do you have your eye on podium finishes for the 2021 season? And do you expect any newcomers over the winter who could shake up these predictions?

I expect new competitors from SailGP's Europe-based teams sailors to join, alongside other professional French sailors, which will make the battle for podium places even more fierce.

We're attracting the best sailors in France because they want to foil in regattas and we can offer this at affordable prices.

We're going to decide the venues for next season in November and hope to include more international locations, but the base will remain in Brittany where we have a wonderful racing spot in Quiberon.

Do you and the other organizers have any plans to try and lower the environmental impact of the ETF26 series for the 2021 season? If so, can you please tell us about these initiatives?

I had a partnership with French ocean health foundation Pure Ocean over the summer where we raced from St. Pierre et Miquelon to Lorient, beating the time set by Eric Tabarly over 30 years ago. This raised awareness and funds for [Pure Ocean's] work, and I would like to explore doing something similar for the ETF series next year.

As an offshore sailor it's important for me to try to do what I can to highlight issues affecting the marine environment and to inspire others—we need a collective effort to save the planet.

Anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

ETF26 isn't just for top sailors, we have amateurs joining the teams and The Youth Foiling Team, all up-and-coming sailors, placed third overall this year. They have impressed a lot of professional sailors and even beat some of them which is an incredible feat. I would like to have another youth team joining us and more women sailors involved in the next series.

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