Two times New Zealand Olympian Jason Saunders is enjoying his first experience of the Tour Voile. As part of the Beijaflore crew, alternating between bow and tactics or the mainsheet, Saunders is also keen to inspire his Kiwi compatriots at home and in Europe to see a New Zealand team compete again some time in the future.
Sailing with Gemma Jones in the Nacra 17 the NZ duo only just missed out on a medal in Rio, finishing in fourth place. Just as soon as the Tour is over he will return to the Olympic multihull to push hard to do better in Tokyo. Saunders was at Tauranga Boys College at the same time as Emirates Team New Zealand’s winning helm Peter Burling and is a club mate from Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club which has produced more Kiwi sailing Olympians in recent years than any other.
Long term he is hoping that Olympic and other success might forge a path on to Team New Zealand.
Saunders explained his first connection with the Tour, “ I live in La Rochelle and knew a few guys in the team. I asked them if they were looking and they took me on and it has been great. It is very different sailing in a team of three, I have not done that before and it has been a good experience.
We are hoping for a top five, that is our objective but if we are in a position to do better then we will push for it. We want to be in a position to push really hard at the end.
“It is the first time we saw the Diam 24 this year. Personally I have never done anything like this before, so I am excited.”
Of the possibility of a New Zealand team entering the Tour de France à la Voile in the future, he says:
“ There are enough Kiwis in Europe alone who would be interested in doing the Tour. It is a question of getting together and finding some sponsorship support. I would love to do it in the future with a Kiwi team. We have an awesome team with Beijaflore Sailing, I am happy with them. But if there was a chance somewhere down the line to sail with a Kiwi team that would be great.”
“ As for Team New Zealand I don’t really know right now, that would depend on the direction that the Cup goes in. I think that people in New Zealand would be interested. We need to build the reputation of the race in New Zealand and there would be a good chance of something happening.
It is such a cool event and a lot of people at home would love this kind of thing.”
“ After the Tour I will go straight back into the NACRA and push to be in Tokyo but I’d like to do the America’s Cup. It is incredible to see how many people at home got behind the Cup and really followed it. It is cool to be a Kiwi. I know so many of the guys who were on the sailing team and it is awesome to have seen them do so well. I’d love to join them in the future. Doing well in the Olympics would be the best stepping stone, but again it would depend on what happens with the direction the Cup goes in. If it stays in Multihulls I would like to think I’d have a good chance in the future.”
The race village, or the Village Animations as it is known, is a hive of activity, as it should be on a summer Saturday on Dunkirk’s Plage Malo. Temperatures are warm enough to merit a day on the beach but the slightly grey skies mean there is time enough for a family diversion for a few hours in the Tour de France à la Voile’s village where there is something for everyone.
There are about 36 booths, including those of team and event sponsors like Isuzu, Yanmar (engines), SFS (securities and financial services), Pink Lady (apples), Martinique and Guadeloupe Bananas, Poujoulat (chimneys, flues and building products). Physical tests like supervised rope climbing up a Diam mast, grinder challenges, surfboard riding, and simple beach games like shooting basketball hoops, sit alongside ropework displays and teaching, even the Mickey Mouse Beach club’s inflatable giraffe. Most popular of all this Saturday afternoon was the sandcastle making competition where each person had a limited period of time to build a castle in a small sand tray.
Centrepiece of the village is the big screen where live images of the racing can be watched complete with commentary and comment, culminating in the daily live show La Quotidienne, between 1530 and 1630hrs followed by ‘Meet the Skippers’ as they return from the race tracks.
Today was the first day of Exhibition racing which is obligatory for all 29 teams. This is the perfect opportunity for team. Competition is full format stadium racing over five heats with the fleet split into A and B divisions. There are no classification points available.
It is the best chance for teams, the local hosts and institutions, and the organisers to take VIP guests afloat, on to the race course in the full race set up. For the teams, at this very early stage in the regatta, it is a great chance to practice before tomorrow’s first points scoring Stadium Races
by A.S.O./Tour de France à la voile