Around the World – One Step at a Time

IMOCA 60 in toronto Richard Mardens 400

 

By John Morris

Scott brought the team’s IMOCA 60 to Toronto to share the project. Photo: Richard Mardens.

“Wake up Scott!!  We’ve got a couple hundred litres of water in the back of the boat, and I don’t know where it‘s coming from!” Alan Roberts, the other hand in Scott Shawyer’s doublehanded racing debut, the annual Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) Transatlantic Race from Lanzarote to Grenada looked very concerned.

“It was 6 inches deep and the bilge pump wasn’t reducing it.  If we’re sinking, we’re in the middle of the frigging Atlantic Ocean! The exhaust pipe from the cooling system was awash because we had over-pressured it but that was a bit of an ‘Oh shit’ moment,” Scott recalls.

In torinto harbour Mark Lloyd 400Learning the perils of offshore racing firsthand was just one aspect of Scott Shawyer’s inaugural venture, but he views it as a building block. Two years ago, his program to take on the Vendée Globe in 2028 wasn’t even a seedling – this was just one of many milestones along a long and demanding road.

In Toronto Harbour. Photo: Mark Lloyd

In the Vendée, a leak or other failure will be his to solve all alone; the race is singlehanded with a lot of ocean to cross and no port stops involved in the three-month circumnavigation.

Some might call him impulsive or even crazy, but the far more appropriate adjectives would label Scott as Driven, Competitive and Thorough. He knows tackling the most challenging race in the sailing catalogue is a colossal undertaking. He knows that only two Canadians have tried – Gerry Roufs in 1996 and Derek Hatfield in 2008 – and neither completed the race. He knows the race runs on powdered space food while cramming the sleepless skipper into a working space of about 8 tiny feet of the 60-foot boat. He knows that his mentor, Alex Thomson, who has run eight around-the-world campaigns is hanging up the famous Hugo Boss’ mast climbing suit that kept his sponsor sweet and thrilled the internet. His boat encountered structural problems in the mid-Atlantic during the 2020 edition.

trimming never stops 400Scott’s painstaking plans includes funding the campaign sufficiently, so corners don’t get cut causing problems or catastrophic failures. Compromising on upkeep and attention to maintenance or equipment is not in the plan.  “There are lots of bad places to screw up.”

Trimming never stops – RORC Transatlantic Race.

There are already important signs that this is the real thing. A record breaker on the first try!  On this maiden outing of 3000 miles, Canada Ocean Racing’s IMOCA 60 crossed the line in 9 days 12 hours and 26 minutes, finishing in the top echelons of the fleet and breaking the doublehanded class record by more than eight hours. Wow!

Let’s start at the beginning

How did all this come about? What leads someone to race singlehanded around the world?

Scott learned as a kid to relish Georgian Bay‘s heavy weather by sailing Lasers and catamarans as well as kite surfing and later keelboats. He admits to being very competitive in his sailing, and is a triathlete and ski racer. He’s a highly successful entrepreneur, captaining his industrial automation solutions and robotics company over 25 years to 15 locations and some 300 employees.

“The inspiration came during Covid.” During 2020’s lockdown, a would-be partner tried to acquire part of the company. while Scott was on interminable calls with New York private equity groups and subsisting on indoor air, he watched the start of the 2020 Vendée Globe and realized, “these people are on their boats, not wearing masks, they’re sailing around the world and here I am working like a slave in my house. I live in beautiful Collingwood with a mountain in the backyard and I haven’t been outside in weeks. I really am doing something wrong”

minimal accomodations 400Scott undertook to really understand this world-circling event and determined that while there are a lot of great sailors in Canada, the issue is funding a multi-million-dollar program.  But, as a businessperson on top of being a sailor, he saw an exciting opportunity to combine the two. He contacted a number of teams including Alex Thomson who subsequently, in October 2021, announced he was not participating again.  Discussions around assisting Canada Ocean Racing started.

A 60-foot yacht with minimal accomodation.

Scott stepped away from his new but challenging financial partnership and with Thomson onside went full tilt. Meanwhile, ocean racing was exploding in popularity and suitable boats were increasingly hard to come by but getting on the water was essential both to gain sea legs and to complete the four years of the many preliminary IMOCA (International Monohull Open Class Association) Globe Series events required to qualify. Offshore Team Germany was tight on sufficient funds needed to allow COR to acquire that boat.

Plymouth UK to Halifax was Scott’s first exposure to the Atlantic. Once the boat was in Canada the publicity tour took it to Toronto, Montreal and back to the ocean last fall. After refit and checking in Portugal, Alan Roberts stepped onboard as co-captain and the campaign launched with its first, ultimately very successful, transatlantic mission, which was completed last January.

finishing 2nd in grenada 400 working by the companionway 400

Above left: Finishing 2nd in Grenada with Alan Roberts.

Above right: Working by the companionway and ready always for trim.

 

Next steps to 2028 

With one major accomplishment achieved, there is little time to bask in the great finish and new record. Next, the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race is a 1200-mile sprint held in Brest, France is flashing on the May calendar, then the Défi Azimut – Lorient Agglomeration in September. That event is a four-day festival of speed, highlight by a 48-hour offshore sprint race.

Alex Thomson 400Multi-time Vendee veteran (Hugo Boss campaign), came to Canada providing mentoring and support for Scott. Here he explains the cold realitites of round the world racing during a tour of the boat. Photo: Richard Mardens.

To balance competition and a devoted family, sensible Scott has promised one week a month of campaign and three weeks of Collingwood, a schedule he appreciates even more, coming home after sailing a vast, lonely ocean a couple of times.

The resources behind his campaign permit paid crew, paid tech support and the assistance of Thomson. Those additional team members help guide race planning, maintenance and upgrading of the boat, the PR, and commercial aspects. This approach demands funding on a continuing basis – $4-6M a year would do the trick. There are certainly sponsors looking for a successful athlete/businessman’ high visibility campaign but even unsponsored, Scott is committed to starting and finishing the 2028 Vendée Globe.

Lake ontario Richard Mardens 400There are still hurdles, and likely a few blips to overcome; seasickness is being attacked (who knew?), the boat is being refined and sponsor discussions are underway. On the strength of ski race trophies, business success, a solid supporting team and now with an initial winning experience in ocean racing, Scott is optimistic but careful. He is planning the next five years so he can complete the 2028 race then consider taking a shot at winning the 2032 Vendee Globe. 

Lake Ontario. Photo: Richard Mardens

Below: Training and discipline gained in Downhill and Triathlon gave Scott an understanding of extreme campaigns. Photos courtesy Scott Shawyer.

training and discipline 700

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