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SMA fully commits to Paul Meilhat for the next Vendée Globe !
- A new and ambitious IMOCA programme that will run from 2015 to 2018 with the 2016 Vendée Globe as the main objective

- Paul Meilhat to take the helm of the most recent Route du Rhum and Vendée Globe winner

- A technical and sporting project managed by two-time Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux and his company Mer Agitée

Following the success of their 2014 collaboration on the Figaro circuit SMA has today announced its intentions to take their skipper Paul Meilhat to the next stage of his offshore racing career. SMA, a leading French Mutual Insurance Group, has committed to an IMOCA racing programme that will include all the main races between 2015 and 2018. For SMA the IMOCA circuit is an important ‘next step’ in their ambitious and long term sports partnership programme and one of the pillars of the company’s long term global communications strategy.

SMA wants to firmly place sailing into the group’s DNA and along with its 3000 collaborators and 150,000+ clients, sustainably share the human and sporting values of a sports discipline that resonates with the group’s own core values, based around risk management. For SMA beyond the purely sporting aspects, offshore racing yields enormous networking and team-building opportunities alongside the huge associated media coverage potential. This new extended commitment will allow SMA to develop its new business directions whilst being the company’s public face, ambassador, spokesperson and external identity.

Skipper Paul Meilhat, 32, finished fourth in the 2014 Figaro season and will now take the helm of Francois Gabart’s Vendée Globe and Route du Rhum winning boat. The VPLP/Verdier-designed CDK-built and Mer Agitée-managed boat has an almost perfect racing record to date and will shortly undergo a refit and livery change to be ready to sail at the beginning of April 2015 in its new SMA colours. Meanwhile Meilhat will sail three of the pre-season Figaro events before moving across to the larger boat to compete in the early season French regatts. During the summer of 2015 Meilhat will take SMA to the UK to race the Artemis Challenge and the Rolex Fastnet Race in August. Meilhat’s main sporting objective is the singlehanded offshore race of reference for any solo sailor, the 2016 Vendée Globe. Over the next four years of the partnership Meilhat will also participate in two Transat Jacques Vabres (2015 & 2017), the 2016 Transat and the 2018 Route du Rhum.

Michel Desjoyeaux’ company Mer Agitée has been contracted to manage the sports, technical and administrative aspects and bring its unique combination of experience and competence in this refined area of racing to bear - a record which over the last 15 years has seen four winning Vendée Globe projects emerge from the Mer Agitée racing stables.

Meilhat, a four-year veteran of the Finistere Couse au Large-Pole Port-La-Fôret training center of excellence, will use both structures in training to tackle the mental, physical and technical rigours of racing non-stop around the world alone.

Didier Ridoret, President of SMABTP : « We wanted a reliable organisation to help our skipper concentrate on his sporting priorities. The collaboration with Mer Agitée was a simple decision. The decision is even further justified when one considers the presence of Michel Desjoyeaux who is a reference in the world of shorthanded offshore racing, not only on the sports side but also on the technical side, a discipline where he always seems to have an edge. To delegate the preparation of the SMA boat to his team means that we will have an impeccable platform for the beginning of the 2015 season. »

Patrick Bernasconi, President of SMAvie : « The 2014 Figaro project confirmed not only the legitimacy and the pertinance of our choice to move into the sports territory already understood by other insurance groups, but also to realise that it was a perfect fit for our group’s values and the brand’s identity. For us, just as for offshore racing, the human dimension of this project is primordial and essential, not only for the individual but for the collective. The common values for success in our two seperate worlds can be summarised with a few key words, key words that are powerful as they are now within our DNA and our daily lives - a human story, team spirit, culture and risk management, taste for a challenge. I can summarise the values that we share by saying : « Risk is our business, challenges are our passion. »

Paul Meilhat, skipper SMA : « It has been less than a year but we have the impression that we’ve been together for a long time! SMA is a partner that is investing heavily in a long term strategy and I already feel huge support from the entire group not just the group’s directors. The Figaro project was put together at short notice and it worked well. And then things accelerated even more! SMA let me concentrate on my sports programme in 2014 before they asked me about the future. What I like about this project is that it has developed completely with SMA. Everyone is involved, a whole team has been mobilised, SMA people taking care of some aspects, collaborators, presidents and directors and of course the Mer Agitée team. Each person and group in their own sphere of competence is contributing to the performance and success of the project. Alone there is no way that one could achieve this. It is wonderful to see and I’m trying to feed on this aspect of the project now to use when there will be difficult moments ahead. The Vendée Globe for me will be a first and an exciting major step into the unknown. But I’m inspired by everyone around me. Many skippers who have passed before me have been through the Figaro ‘school’. The fact that I train at the Pole Finistere training centre in Port-La-Forêt, prepare with Mer Agitée and am surrounded by a team of people who are the best at what they do removes a huge part of my apprehension. »

Michel Desjoyeaux. Two-time Vendée Globe winner and Mer Agitée proprietor: «The goal here is to bring my knowledge of 60 footers and my experience of singlehanded offshore racing on these boats to help Paul save time and avoid errors. I’ll be wearing my coach’s hat to make sure that Paul doesn’t waste time ashore or afloat ! »

Marcus Hutchinson. Project Manager SMA : « I got to know Paul during my recent years managing young British and Irish solo sailors on the Figaro circuit in France. I’m really excited to be able to take one of the best current Figaro sailors to the next level and prepare him and his project to be competitive non-stop around the world. »

Photo : V.Bourdon / SMA
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