If France Wants In, Now's the Time

With Aleph Team France, Bertrand Pacé could finally lead France to America's Cup competition.

Sailing World

Pace368

Bertrand Pacé will lead Aleph Team France's bid for the 34th America's Cup.Morris Adant

A few days ago, Bertrand Pacé and Aleph Team France formally announced plans to make a run for the 34th America’s Cup, which culminates in 2013. After many false starts, will France finally field a contender for the world’s most prestigious race?

With Pacé serving as the team leader and multihull specialist Alain Gautier in the crew, it would seem the team has the necessary seamanship skills. Coming up with $50 million, however, represents a real challenge. “The first part of the regatta is about sponsorships," says Pacé. "During the past two months, we are on the right track."

He remains cautiously optimistic about the team’s prospects to secure the requisite funding. “Our announcement does not mean everything is in place yet," says the 49-year-old Cup veteran. "But we remain reasonably upbeat."

Pacé is confident that the team's first-rate marketing team will secure the necessary funding. “We are confident that we will have 60 million euros," he says. "But we will not have the same salaries that the team members of BMW Oracle do."

The process will not be long and drawn out, either. “We will probably know within two months whether or not we will compete or not,” he says. “The next two months will be key.”

In 2004, Pacé attempted to build a French team for the America's Cup with Loick Peyron, who served as helmsman for Alinghi in the match against BMW Oracle last February. Peyron is teaming up with his brother Bruno for the next Cup, though they have not yet submitted a formal challenge.

With the backing of the Fédération Française de Voile, Aleph Team France becomes the third challenger for the next Cup. With the selection of 72-foot catamarans, it's a now-or-never moment for France, which has a deep pool of multihull talent. French sailors have excelled in multihulls since Eric Tabarly won the OSTAR in 1964. They dominate races like the Vendée Globe and the Route du Rhum. In fact, in the latter's Ultimate multihull class this year, every single competitor was French.

Pacé is no stranger to the America’s Cup, having crewed for BMW Oracle in 2007 and called tactics for Team New Zealand in 2003. Gautier brings a wealth of multihull sailing skills to Aleph Team France. In 1992, he won the Vendée Globe race, sailing non-stop solo around the world in 110 days.

Along France's west coast, there are at least four boatbuilding sites with the expertise to design and build an America’s Cup-class boat, an Aleph Team France spokesman said. Engineers from French aviation firm Dassault and Airbus—which is both French and German—can offer engineering expertise for the boat’s wing design.

So could this be the turning point when France finally joins the Cup? Do they have a real shot at the trophy?

"In France, we have a rich history in multihull sailing and can make the claim that we have a lot of expertise for this regatta category,” Pacé said. “A French team has the best shot at entering the race than at any other point in history.”