Are French sailors really anti-American, or is the assumption a US prejudice?

Here’s a funny thing. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the controversy over Steve Fossett’s round the world record and why, after a disagreement with French sailing counterparts, it never earned him the Jules Verne Trophy. As result, he appears now to have been written out of French sporting history.

The story was picked up by US Scuttlebutt, where it attracted some comments. Finally, the editor bookended the debate with his own conclusion, writing:

‘With the Jules Verne Trophy deeply rooted in French culture, it is my understanding that there was resistance for a wealthy American and his Kiwi-built boat to take this Franco prize.’

Now, I don’t agree that this was the underlying reason or that there was (or is) some kind of anti-American bias in French sailing. I’ve never seen it. So I sent a reply.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t published. So here is the email I sent and my bit of heartfelt cheerleading for French races and French sailors.

“Regarding your comment today that maybe there is a Franco-centric, or rather anti-American, twist to the tale of Steve Fossett and the Jules Verne Trophy, personally I don’t think so.

“Maybe there was a clash of personalities, but at the back of it all, as I wrote in my blog, I think it simply boiled down to money. The Jules Verne Association wanted more; Fossett, ever the businessman, wouldn’t cough up.

“I’d hate anyone to think that an anti-American or anti-foreigner attitude prevails in Jules Verne or French sailing circles because that is definitely not my impression or experience. I think everyone would be delighted to have more international contenders.

“On a side note, having covered a lot of races in France I’ve always found the welcome there, the openness of sailors and teams and their engagement with the public something really special. French sailors are very approachable. They take the trouble to learn our language are happy to talk freely in it.

“There is a respectful and collegiate style, which often extends to sharing specialised insider knowledge and expertise with sometime rivals and with ‘foreign’ sailors. In oceanic circles especially, yachtsmen from other nations are cherished as part of a seagoing band of brothers.

“Hopefully there will be a French America’s Cup challenger, so I think it important to emphasise these great aspects of sailing culture. They would be terrific ingredients.”