Ryan Breymaier: An American Vendee Globe Contender?

Published on December 12th, 2013

By Tim Zimmermann, Sailing World
Any ocean-racing sailor knows that the pinnacle of solo ocean-racing (and in my view the pinnacle of ALL ocean racing) is the Vendee Globe: solo, non-stop, around the world. It is arguably the most difficult, brutal, and soul-revealing sports competition on the planet.

And for American sailors and their fans, it has long been a drama that stars other nationalities. Mike Plant was the first American sailor to try and gain an American foothold, but he was disqualified from the first Vendee (1989-’90) for receiving outside assistance (while at anchor to make repairs in New Zealand, he was forced to accept a tow to avoid being swept ashore by heavy weather), and died sailing to the start of the second (1992-’93). It wasn’t until the 5th (!) edition of the Vendee (2004-’05) that an American, Bruce Schwab, finally completed the race. Rich Wilson, at the age of 58, became only the second American to complete the race, finishing 9th in 2008-’09 edition. And that’s it.

But sailing the race with the primary aim of simply completing it, while an enormous feat of adventure that is worthy of respect, is not the same as really RACING the Vendee Globe. And now, for the first time since Mike Plant, comes an American sailor who has the experience and solo-sailing chops to be a legitimate contender for the top end of the intensely competitive Vendee fleet.

Ryan Breymaier has paid his dues, and immersed himself in the culture of offshore solo sailing, moving to France in 2008, and working on Open 60s and Open 60 campaigns, including Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss. Along the way he has perhaps become America’s most skilled all-around, shorthanded ocean racer, accumulating a solid racing resume, and completing the doublehanded, nonstop, 2009-’10 Barcelona World Race.

If Breymaier is ready to take on the Vendee (his goal is to be on the podium of the 2016-’17 race), the big question is whether American companies and sponsors are ready to join him. Finding sailing sponsorship in America has always been a huge challenge (just ask Schwab, or Brad Van Liew, who had success on the Around Alone/5 Oceans circuit, but was always desperately short of money). The reasons are predictable and mundane: Too many other sports, limited public interest, a lack of corporate understanding of sailing, reluctance to take a “risk,” you name it.

But Breymaier offers American sponsors a chance to not just sponsor an oddball adventure, but a chance to sponsor a compelling adventure and a serious racing campaign. Breymaier is nothing if not professional, and apart from the sailing side he (with help from his wife, Nicola) is as responsive and engaging when it comes to media as any sailor I know. He knows what a professional Vendee campaign requires, and he knows what he needs to deliver to a potential sponsor. For any company that does business in Europe, especially France, there are arguments to be made.

So in some ways Breymaier’s campaign is a test of where America is today when it comes to sponsorship and sailing. – Read on for interview with Ryan

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