TEAM AKZONOBEL

Sailing World - - The Volvo Ocean Race -

Simeon Tien­pont is tow­er­ing, strong and square, with a chis­eled face that has yet to re­veal the wear and tear of thou­sands of hard miles at sea. But give it a year. With the stress of lead­ing the Volvo Ocean Race’s most high-pro­file cam­paign, the Akzonobel skip­per from the Nether­lands, now only 35 years old, will surely be sport­ing a few new gray hairs.

This isn’t Tien­pont’s first Volvo, how­ever. At the out­set of his pro­fes­sional sail­ing ca­reer, he pre­vailed through a cut­throat se­lec­tion de­signed to man ABN AMRO’S un­der-30 team in 2005. With ABN AMRO Two, he and wide-eyed peers ben­e­fited from train­ing along­side the pro-laden ABN AMRO One, and even set the race’s 24-hour mono­hull record on the open­ing leg to Cape Town.

Tien­pont’s first lap of the planet, which in­cluded the dev­as­tat­ing death of one his team­mates, par­layed into a pro-sail­ing ca­reer that led him to Or­a­cle Team USA, where, as the AC72’S foil trim­mer, he tucked an America’s Cup feather in his cap. Af­ter­ward, he tran­si­tioned to a ca­reer of grand-prix crew­ing in the Med, but the itch to lead a team was nag­ging.

Nearly 200 board­room pitches later, he found him­self at the head­quar­ters of Akzonobel, an in­ter­na­tional paint and coat­ings com­pany spread across the world. The com­pany was look­ing for a plat­form to rally its em­ploy­ees for a cause, and as luck would have it, Tien­pont came knocking at the right time.

“I gave my­self a date of May 2016,” says Tien­pont about his search for a spon­sor and the six months of ne­go­ti­a­tions that fol­lowed. “I said I wouldn’t do the race if I didn’t have a con­tract signed by then.”

By June, he had his team, the race’s first of­fi­cial en­try, but a mas­sive to-do list. One of his first or­ders of busi­ness? Get a new boat. It was a strate­gic move to buy more time and build a sail­ing team. He tri­aled a younger sail­ing team be­fore even­tu­ally seek­ing out “adult su­per­vi­sion” from Brad Jack­son, a six-time race vet­eran, and one of his men­tors from the win­ning ABN AMRO One cam­paign.

Wait­ing for a new boat came with a trade-off, how­ever. While a few other teams were putting miles on their re­fur­bished hulls and re­fin­ing crew se­lec­tions, Tien­pont left Jack­son in charge and stepped away for a short stint as an America’s Cup grinder with Soft­bank Team Ja­pan.

“We are at the stage now where we are re­ally starting to move for­ward with the cam­paign, with the new boat, the team, and some proper test­ing and sail­ing,” said Jack­son in June, only four months be­fore the start. “We have a bit of catch­ing up to do be­cause we don’t have a lot of guys with pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence.”

To bal­ance what can be con­sid­ered to be an oth­er­wise in­ex­pe­ri­enced team, Tien­pont and Jack­son se­cured an ace with 47-year-old Spa­niard Roberto Ber­múdez de Cas­tro, a six-time vet­eran, and one of the best helms­man off Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the pre­vi­ous race’s win­ning team. Jack­son also brought on board two of his mates from the 2008-09 race-win­ning pro­gram Eric­s­son Racing — nav­i­ga­tor Jules Sal­ter and helms­man Joca Sig­norini — so there’s enough col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence to put them among the com­pet­i­tive set.

“Hope­fully we have a cam­paign that works to get faster and faster in ev­ery area right up to the finish in the Hague,” says Tien­pont. “That’s the cool thing about this race … Joca and Brad re­mind me that’s how they won on Eric­s­son.”

So while the chal­lenge ahead for Tien­pont is that of the many miles and many stops be­tween Ali­cante, Spain and the Hague, he’s em­brac­ing the skip­per’s bur­den of shar­ing the suc­cesses and po­ten­tial fail­ures with the Akzonobel’s 47,000 em­ploy­ees. “That’s what fas­ci­nates me in this,” he says. “Win­ning cam­paigns get straight A’s in all ar­eas, from prepa­ra­tion to cre­at­ing the right en­vi­ron­ment and get­ting the right peo­ple with the right at­ti­tude.”

“Win­ning cam­paigns get straight As in all ar­eas, from prepa­ra­tion, to cre­at­ing the right en­vi­ron­ment and get­ting the right peo­ple with the right at­ti­tude.”

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