Solar cell specialist Sunergy are backing the Australian entry

Grant Wharington and his Premier Challenge syndicate have announced that they have secured the funding to enable them to sail out of Vigo, Spain, bound for Cape Town and begin their race around the world.
Their Australian designed and built Volvo Open 70 yacht will be re-named “Sunergy and Friends”, and will be crewed by an impressive list of mostly Australian sailing professionals. Barney Walker, a long time sailing partner of Grant Wharington, will be on board and will take up his pivotal role as Sailing Master and Watch Captain. They are joined by New Zealander Jeff Scott, another around-the-world stalwart. Both Walker and Scott are well known for their no-nonsense approach to offshore yacht racing.
For the entire team, the start of the Volvo Ocean Race marks the finish of an arguably more arduous race against time to make it to the start line. Only just over a week ago Rotterdam-based Benno Wiersma, founder and shareholder of Sunergy, which specializes in solar-cell technology, decided to sponsor the Australian entry and keep the boat in the race. By sponsoring the Premier Challenge, Sunergy wants to put the spotlight on the development of solar technology as an affordable future alternative to fossil fuel.
According to Wiersma, his sponsorship investment carries a serious message. “From the word go we have been impressed by the drive and ambition of this crew to get ready against all the odds. They are an incredibly professional and determined group of guys, and have a strong and exceptionally well-built boat. This mirrors our ambition to let the world know that solar energy is a must. We have to strive to achieve our goals.”
Putting an all-Australian challenge together has been a life-long dream for Wharington, a Rolex Sydney to Hobart winner, and he is delighted that they have made it. “I can’t quite believe it really,” he smiled, “this project has had so many ups and downs and to be here with such an awesome team of guys is a really great feeling. I am so proud of all of them. They have worked so, so hard to prepare the boat under such extreme time pressure.
“It’s been pretty hectic that’s for sure – we have flown, shipped and trucked all sorts of pieces of equipment from all over the world including a lighter, high-performance keel fin.It has been full on.
“To do this is hard enough under normal circumstances but we are trying to do in a week what the other teams have had months to do. We have had to change the configuration of the yacht, prepare all our new sails, safety equipment, freeze dried food and clothing – not to mention comply with all of the tough safety and measurement criteria set by the race organizers. It has been a hard slog.
“Of course we are all extremely excited about our new commercial partner “Sunergy and Friends” and take this opportunity to thank them for moving so fast and believing in us. I would also like to thank all our partners that have stuck by us through the hard times – in particular ING Real Estate and the Victorian State Government. It’s been pretty bleak at times but now we are all looking forward to starting to realise our collective dream together through this new and exciting “Sunergy and Friends” project.”
The yacht has some final checks to be made by the Chief Measurer, James Dadd, at lunchtime today to ensure that “Sunergy and Friends” qualifies as a Volvo Open 70, but Wharington is confident that Australia will have their first Volvo Open 70 racer on the start line on Saturday.
He nods and smiles, “I am sure that it will all be worth it when we sail through the start on Saturday to start this world-famous endurance race. Then the race will really be on and we can’t wait. Bring it on!”