Simeon Tienpont: Volvo Ocean Race offers the purity of the best offshore sailing

 One of the Netherlands’ highest profile sailors, Simeon Tienpont has twice won the America’s Cup and first participated in the Volvo Ocean Race in 2005-06 onboard the Dutch boat ABN AMRO TWO. After completing his first Volvo Ocean Race in 2005-06, Simeon Tienpont returned to university. Now he is a qualified naval architect and engineer. He is also the leader of the Team AkzoNobel and one of the youngest skippers in Volvo Ocean Race 2017-2018 edition. (The start of the extreme race is on 22th of october 2017.)
The skipper of Team AkzoNobel Simeon Tienpont gave the exclusive interview to MainSail.Ru.

MainSail.Ru: As I know you had an alternative between America’s Cup-2017 campaign and Volvo Ocean race. Why did you choose the second one? 

Simeon Tienpont: After two winning campaigns with Oracle Team USA and when Luna Rossa ended their campaign for the AC35, I got the chance to step in with Vestas in the 2015-16 Volvo Ocean Race. After eight years of America’s Cup it was great to return to the race where I started my career with ABN AMRO 2 in the 2005-06 edition.

There’s a lot I love about the America’s Cup – especially on the engineering and design side – but the Volvo Ocean Race offers the purity of the best offshore sailing in a unique challenge of racing around the world.

Ever since that 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race my dream has been to lead a team of my own in the race. When I saw the opportunity this time of putting a Dutch campaign together I gave everything to make it happen. It’s been a huge challenge, but now it’s pretty satisfying to see team AkzoNobel in the line-up with the start of the race so close.

MainSail.Ru: It is obvious that the race as usual will not be easy for all teams. What strong and weak sides does your team have in front of rivals? 

Simeon Tienpont:  Some of the teams have been together since the last race or even longer, whereas our experience and time together began much more recently. The more established teams had their organization and structure already in place, while we have had to build ours from scratch. That said, I’m immensely proud of the team we have created in such a short time – both on the boat and ashore – and I’m very proud to be leading such a committed team of people on this edition of the race.

In a nine-month race around the world the team that is fastest at the start is not necessarily the one that will be fastest at the finish. The development process doesn’t stop when the race starts. To be in with a chance of winning by the end, you have to keep developing on every leg and in every area: sailing performance, meteorology, navigation, tactics, strength and fitness, team moral, etc., etc.

The other challenge is to maintain the whole team’s focus – sailors and shore team – throughout the race and keep pushing hard along the innovation and learning curve. This is what our team has been focused on right from the beginning. Hopefully this strategy will pay dividends as the race progresses.


MainSail.Ru: What are the strongest points of other teams? 

Simeon Tienpont: This race always attracts fantastic sailors and this edition is no different. All the teams have great line-ups that feature plenty of experience from past years of the race. Certainly, the teams who took part in the last race probably have some very useful Volvo Ocean 65 performance data that will stand them in good stead in the early legs.


MainSail.Ru: What team do you think will win VOR 2017-18 — the most experienced, risky, balanced, physically strong, etc…?

Simeon Tienpont: Like always it will be the team that scores a solid eight out of ten in every aspect of their campaign – on and off the water.


MainSail.Ru: What will be the most difficult leg for your team and all the VOR fleet?

Simeon Tienpont: The double-point legs from Cape Town and Auckland will be very challenging for everyone. When you are racing through the Southern Ocean, and also in the north Atlantic, you need to be very balanced and know when to push and not to. The fact that they are worth twice the points just adds to the pressure. In this very close one-design fleet, we know that after thousands of miles of racing, it can be all won or lost in the last 100m to the finish line.


MainSail.Ru: How did you choose the crew for your team? As a skipper what do you expect from every crew member? 

Simeon Tienpont: I expect everyone to give 100 per cent to the team and to get 100 per cent performance out of themselves. The Volvo Ocean 65 could be sailed with 10 or 12 on board so with nine we are a bit under-crewed. What this means is that everyone on the crew needs to be more of an all-rounder rather than a specialist.

MainSail.Ru: What experience did you get in previous VOR and America’s Cup? Will it help you to achieve the best result in this race?   

Simeon Tienpont: In my past campaigns I was honoured to be trusted with the responsibility of boat captain role for the race yachts. Form that position I learned a huge amount about what it takes to create a successful team, and how to create a racing yacht reliable enough to win races. I have used a lot of that experience learning to organise and structure my own team, both on the water and on shore, to hopefully become a winning team.


MainSail.Ru: What does it mean to be a skipper in VOR? Could you specify for young sailors the way to get up the highest professional level in sailing? 

Simeon Tienpont: The race hasn’t started yet but it has been very satisfying to be able to create something out of nothing and to build a highly motivated team around me, with the common goal of winning together. Actually, #winningtogether has become one of the hashtags team AkzoNobel uses regularly on social media.

It’s been a lot of hard work but one thing I have learned is that all the energy and passion you put in, comes back out multiplied by the team. To young sailors I would say that I always followed my passion. I didn’t have a structured plan when I was young, I just had dreams, but I was fortunate enough to experience working alongside a lot of inspiring people. That was when I began to truly appreciate the joy of this sport and what it is like to be competing with a committed team.

MainSail.Ru: What is the most exciting moment from your previous VOR 2014-15? 

Simeon Tienpont: It was a real thrill to step on board Vestas when they returned to the race after their crash and finish second in that leg.


MainSail.Ru: As a qualified naval architect how do you see the future of VOR classes and professional sailing in general? 

Simeon Tienpont: As a naval architect I love the design aspect of sailing and believe every race boat should be designed for a specific type of racing and to suit the crew. A fast, well-run boat is the cornerstone of a good sailing team and it is important that the crew understand well the design capabilities of their boat.

Innovation is integral to our job as professional sailors. We are always looking for ways to sail faster and smarter. I understand the thinking behind the Volvo Ocean Race one-design principle – to attract more teams who would do the race more often – but I hope in the future that the teams will be allowed to design their own boats once again.


MainSail.Ru: What is more attractive for you in the future — to concentrate more on sailing or boat design? Do you think it is possible to do both?

Simeon Tienpont: For the last 12 years I have been doing both and I hope I can keep continue that way. Sailing yachts are the most fascinating designs for me because of the complexity of the environment they have to operate in. There are so many different aspects that go into making boats go fast and it can become a real addiction if you are not careful.

MainSail.Ru: Who or what inspired you to sail? 

Simeon Tienpont: I grew up as the youngest in a large sailing family and it was them who gave me my first passion for the sport.


MainSail.Ru: To your mind who is the all-time Yachtsman of the World?

Simeon Tienpont: Wow, what a question. There are so many inspirational sailors and people who have contributed so much to the sport. If I had to choose one, I would say Dennis Conner, as he was my childhood sailing hero. Russell Coutts – who I have had the pleasure to work and race with a lot – is someone else who I think has made a huge contribution to sailing and helped me a lot with my professional career.