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An interview with David Sussmann on the Bermuda-Lorient Challenge

by David Schmidt 4 May 08:00 PDT May 8, 2022
Pure Ocean aims to raise environmental awareness and action by sponsoring events such as the Lorient-Bermuda Challege © Image courtesy of Pure Ocean

New distance races and rallies are a relatively rare thing, and we at Sail-World are always excited to shine the editorial spotlight on new opportunities for people to get offshore. But, when the race or rally in question is also aimed at raising people's environmental awareness, we're all ears. Enter the Bermuda-Lorient Challenge, which is set to begin on the waters off of Bermuda on May 8 and will take the fleet across the Atlantic to Lorient, France.

The event is being organized by Pure Ocean, and it's being billed as a challenge, rather than a race or rally. This leaves the door wide open for cruisers or racers who are more interested in sailing the historic course as a rally, while crews that are motivated to push hard and rack up the daily mileage can enjoy some friendly competition.

Pure Ocean (www.pure-ocean.org) was founded by David Sussmann and is based in Lorient and Marseille, France. According to the organization's website, the group's mission is to raise public awareness about the ecological challenges that our planet—and our species—is facing, and to redirect this awareness towards support for ambitious projects that help protect biodiversity and delicate marine ecosystems.

Cooler still, Pure Ocean partially accomplishes this by promoting offshore races such as the 2020 Route Saint-Pierre Lorient Pure Ocean Challenge (www.sail-world.com/news/230024/David-Sussmann-on-the-2020-Pure-Ocean-Challenge), and now its successor, the Bermuda-Lorient Challenge.

I checked in with Sussmann, via email, to learn more about Pure Ocean's latest offshore event.

Can you please describe the culture of Pure Ocean and the Bermuda-Lorient Challenge to readers who have not had the chance to sail this course?

There's a great history to the race from the 1970s and 1980s, which captured the imagination of sailing fans but despite several attempts there hasn't been a race between Bermuda and Lorient for quite some time.

At Pure Ocean we believe in the power of sports, and sailing for raising awareness about the need to protect the ocean, which is why we're restarting the Bermuda - Lorient, along with our partners Absolute Dreamer and Lorient Grand Large.

We are keen to welcome a range of boats to resurrect the iconic race, challenging sailors to beat the race times that took the sport to a wider audience around 40 years ago.

The monohull Fernande, in 1979, skippered by Jean-Claude Parisis and Olivier de Rosny won, and [in 1983,] the catamaran William-Saurin, with Eugène Riguidel and Jean-François le Menec at the helm, set the fastest time for the crossing of 12 days 23 hours and 16 minutes.

What's the competition (or rally) like, and what kinds of sailors can one expect to meet on the dock before the start?

We are hoping to attract a range of both professional and amateur sailors who may be heading back to Europe for the summer racing season following the Caribbean regattas such as Les Voiles de St. Barth. We have been talking to a range of boats about taking part, including multihull and Class 40.

Of course, it's going to be a competitive race for those dedicated to offshore racing, but we also want the sailors to help us spread the message about ocean conservation.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year?

We aim to have several boats taking part this year with a view to cementing and expanding the event in the future as an annual fixture of the sailing calendar. There are some boats that are unable to take part this year but have already expressed an interest for next year, which is great news.

We are also proud to have four-time Transat Jacques Vabre winner Jean-Pierre Dick onboard as an ambassador and his JP54 will be taking part in the race this year.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter in the Atlantic in May? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

In May the weather is warmer with long hours of daylight, which makes for good sailing conditions. If we get the right depressions that will whisk the boats across the Atlantic in fast times, maybe beating the record, then it will be a good crossing.

The best scenario is to have a depression that brings us directly from Bermuda to Brittany with good winds, and the worst is if there are anticyclonic conditions on the route with light winds forcing us north to find some more downwind conditions.

Are you eyeing any perennial favorites for strong finishes? What about any dark horses?

I don't want to make any predictions and jinx anyone before we've even started but with veteran sailors like Jean-Pierre Dick involved it's going to be a fast and competitive race.

What was the reason for changing the course from St Pierre et Miquelon—Lorient (2020, 2021) to Bermuda—Lorient for 2022?

We organized two editions out of St Pierre et Miquelon, which were successful, but [St Pierre et Miquelon's] geographical location, so far north, makes it difficult to attract many sailors. Shifting the start line much further south will make it easier to increase numbers as there are more boats sailing around Bermuda, and in the Caribbean, that intend to head to Europe for the summer.

Do you suspect that European-based boats that are racing on the Caribbean circuit might join the rally as a fun/safe way to get their boats home?

That's absolutely the idea, as mentioned earlier. They can not only take part in a boat race but also do something positive for ocean health.

Our longer-term vision is to have racing boats create specific "charters" where a mix of professional and amateur sailors who maybe don't have the level of experience can take part in an exciting and impactful adventure and maybe break a sailing record too!

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the race's environmental wake?

We aim to keep the footprint of the race in Bermuda as small as possible. When the boats arrive in Lorient, we have organised a series of events that will convene key stakeholders to discuss ways in which we can work together to restore ocean health.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

If anyone who reads this is inspired to take part, please contact

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