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An interview with Scott Shawyer on his offshore racing ambitions

by David Schmidt 1 Sep 2022 08:00 PDT September 1, 2022
Scott Shawyer onboard his new IMOCA Open60 race yacht `Canada Ocean Racing`. Pictured here training on the teams first run offshore with mentor Alex Thomson © Lloyd Images

Canada is many wonderful things and is home to many wonderful people, but, given that the nation borders both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, it's interesting that the country hasn't turned out more around-the-world singlehanded sailors. (Yes, we know that Joshua Slocum was born in Nova Scotia.) Fortunately, this could be about to change thanks to Scott Shawyer's recently announced plans to take on the 2028 Vendee Globe, and to build Canada Ocean Racing into a sustainable business that will hopefully help put a Canadian skipper on the winner's podium of a down-the-road Vendee Globe.

If this sounds like a pipedream, consider that Shawyer has hired Alex Thomson, a man who isn't exactly known for being gentle to his boats (ahem) or for tolerating anyone who doesn't work at least as hard as he does, to help him flatten his learning curve.

Shawyer is a lifelong sailor, skier, and adventurer (he's trekked to the North Pole), and a successful businessman who recently wrapped up a 26-year leadership position (president and CEO) of an industrial technology outfit. Shawyer has sailed extensively aboard his Antrim 27 and just completed his first Atlantic crossing, however he freely admits that the Vendee Globe will be a significantly bigger offshore undertaking than anything else that he's taken on (to date) in the sailing world.

(Fair, given the Vendee's reputation for sending sailors like Thomson back to shore with broken boats.)

If successful, Shawyer will be the first Canadian to complete this typically French-dominated offshore contest, which is widely regarded as one of sport's hardest challenges.

I checked in with Shawyer, via email, to learn more about his plans to take on the 2028 Vendee Globe and to build Canada Ocean Racing.

How did you get into offshore sailing? Also, how long have you been eyeing the Vendee Globe?

I'm just beginning my journey into offshore sailing. I've sailed dinghies and small keel boats since I was a kid, but this is a new realm for me and I'm really excited to learn all the aspects of the sport. It brings together a lot of different dimensions from weather, to fitness, to engineering which match a lot of my personal interests—it's quite a complicated and fascinating sport when you get into it!

I started to follow the Vendee Globe closely during the 2020-2021 circuit. It inspired me to want to get out and start truly living again. My spirits were low (from the lockdown/pandemic) and watching these athletes power through and exert true resilience was astounding. I hope to evoke the same feeling and passion amongst my fellow Canadians.

What IMOCA do you plan to sail? Or, are you building one?

We recently purchased an IMOCA 60 racing yacht from Offshore Team Germany. She was built in 2011 and the German team did a fantastic job at refitting the boat with all new electronics and systems just a couple of years ago. She is slippery quick and has amazing grip on the water!

Can you tell me about the learning curve that you and Alex plan to embark upon?

The next Vendee Globe is in 2024 and that's not nearly enough time for me to prepare and learn everything I need to learn. 2028 is just the right amount of time.

For me, it's not just about the end goal, it's about the journey.

Over the next two years, I'm planning to learn the boat and how to sail her both with crew onboard and by myself. I have just completed my first transatlantic crossing and am entering my first doublehanded race in the IMOCA [class] next year.

What do you see as your strengths at this point in your campaign, and where do you plan to aim most of your work in the coming years?

After over 20 years building a business, I have a good understanding of what it takes to build a commercially viable enterprise, and combined with Alex and his team's experience, I think we are well placed to develop a sailing team that can stand alone and be economically viable.

We have spent over eight months planning before we launched publicly, and I am proud of what we have already achieved.

We have a core team of Canadian sailors and our aim for the coming years is put as many miles on the boat as we can, move to short-handed competitive sailing via an intensive training period and to build a platform for Canada and inspire the next generation of offshore sailors to get out there and experience the adventure of oceanic sailing.

What kind of role do you see Alex playing in the campaign? Will you guys be sailing together a lot, or will he be more of a remote/onshore mentor?

I'm looking to build a successful business that thrives long after I've raced, so who better to get onboard than someone who has run a very professional organization in this field for over 20 years?

I approached the Alex Thomson Racing team when I was first starting to seriously consider the Vendee Globe. They are what many would consider the most successful, long running IMOCA team in the world, and Alex's mentorship will create the foundation for Canada Ocean Racing.

This includes both on and offshore training practices together, and let's see if I can convince him to race doublehanded with me!

Given your timeframe, what are your goals for the 2028 Vendee Globe?

Focusing on the Vendée Globe start in November 2028, we've got a busy schedule ahead.

I'm going to enter some of the doublehanded and solo IMOCA Globe series races leading up to Vendee Globe 2024 so [that] I get accustomed to the fleet and the competition before it starts to count. Then, starting in 2025, I'm going to race in the IMOCA Globe Series, which has three to four races each year, and continue to develop my learning and skills up until the big race.

We will train for each of these races and focus on performance improvements through the series.

Do you see this as your first of several Vendee efforts, with the goal of continual improvement as you build your experience base, or is your goal to build Canada Ocean Racing up to being a serious contender for the 2032/2036 Vendees, possibly with a different skipper onboard?

My primary mission with Canada Ocean Racing is to create a sustainable business model that will live on beyond my journey. Of course, I'm hoping to be the first Canadian to successfully complete the Vendee Globe, but it's just as important for us to set a path for Canadians to continue to race in this class going forward, by solving the funding issue that has made the sport elusive for us up to this point.

We are building a sustainable business that by 2032 could have a skipper and a boat that could very well be in contention to win the race.

I notice and applaud your campaign's DEI efforts, but I'm going to push you another step: What efforts are you taking to run as green (read: low-carbon emissions) a campaign as possible?

This is an important area for us, and sustainability is one of our key commitments. That said, we have been heads-down focused on getting our program up and running over the past number of months, so we haven't had much time to fully develop our plans in this area.

I am really impressed with a number of teams's efforts in this area, in particular 11th Hour Racing and Team Malizia. We are planning to learn from what others in the class have been doing and adopt some of the best practices we find going forward.

Having just completed my first Atlantic crossing and getting to play with Mother Nature for two weeks, I have a new appreciation for how absolutely precious she is and taking care of her should be huge priority for all of us!

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

Please show your support by following us on social media and spreading the word to others so they can do the same. We will regularly post stories about our progress, both the ups and the downs, as we attempt to become the first Canadian team to finish the Vendee Globe in 2028.

In order to have an offshore program like this in Canada, we must show our corporate partners that this sport is important to people in Canada.

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