The new all-British Open 60 with the right pedigree but no solo racing track record - yet


Yesterday the dark horse of the next Vendée Globe was launched in Southampton. It happens to be an all-British yacht with a British sponsor and skipper, a project with plenty of good pedigrees but no sure clue as to how their combination will do in solo racing.

The boat is Artemis Ocean Racing 2, designed and project managed by Lymington-based Simon Rogers. She is Rogers’s first Open 60, and the project is unusual on a number of fronts.

Normally, a skipper’s team selects the designer and runs the project. In this case it’s the other way round. Simon Rogers, together with the team’s manager Howard Gibbons, set up a company called Blue Planet to find sponsorship, design and project manage the build of the a boat, and they employ the skipper and sailing team. Rogers cheerfully admits: “If it all goes wrong you can blame me.”

The campaign does have a lot of catching up to do. With only 33 days to go to the start of the Transat race, the last solo qualifier for the Vendée Globe (officially, but that’s another story), Artemis is an unknown quantity and one of the latest new boats to ‘go live’. Unlike most other designs, there are no sisterships or close cousins to learn from. If Artemis is like all the new Open 60s, there are bound to be a deal of costly teething problems. With another keel and a spare wingmast in build, the team is clearly anticipating some changes.

It’s also a big step up for the skipper, 32-year-old Jonny Malbon, despite a long and thorough apprenticeship. The former Global Challenge training skipper has been boat captain of Ellen MacArthur’s Kingfisher and prepped the maxi catamaran Maiden 2 for the Oryx Quest.

Malbon knows plenty about Open 60s and how they work and has consistently done well in crewed races. In this respect, his background is not so far removed from Vendée Globe winner Vincent Riou’s. He comes across as mature with just the right amount of confident gravitas (he’s the son of a Vice-Admiral who is the Lieutenant Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Jersey).

Malbon, however, has yet to do a solo race. He concedes he has a lot to prove and comments: “It’s the start of a massive learning curve, but I’m not worried about that. We are fully aware that we are not as race ready as we’d like, but the key for the Transat is to make the boat safe and get from A to B. If we go fast, that’s great.”

Don’t miss the first detailed look on board the new Artemis in our next (June) issue.