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Bruno Troublé has been involved with the America’s Cup for over 40 years. He started as a skipper back in the 1970s. He brought Louis Vuitton to the game and is now a part of the PRADA Cup organising team. He kept the event alive when it was going through its turbulent times. And what is probably his biggest legacy, he has always pushed for the America’s Cup history to be at the forefront of the event, not only preserving some incredible stories but also contributing to the creation of a prestigious and unique world-class sporting event.
At the age when most people enjoy their retirement, Bruno is still the face of the Cup. We caught up with him and he shared some of his life stories with us.
Where are you from and how did you get into sailing?
I’m French – nobody is perfect! (laughter) I think I had sailed even before I was able to walk. We lived in Paris, but we had a summer house in Antibes, on the south coast of France, near Nice. We spent there our summer holidays and sailed a lot. So sailing is my life. And I’ve been enjoying it every day!
Bruno Troublé – Photo Supplied
Prior to your America’s Cup sailing days, you competed at a couple of the Summer Olympics?
I sailed at the Olympics in Mexico (1968) on Flying Dutchman, and in Montreal (1976) on Soling. No medal though! I finished in the 6th place in 1968 and even worse in Canada, in the 7th place. So I decided to stop competing at the Olympics! (laughter)
From the Olympics you moved onto the America’s Cup.
I was a skipper on the French boat in 1977, 1980 and 1983 America’s Cups, all in Newport, Rhode Island.
In 1977 and 1980, the French campaign was funded by Baron Marcel Bich (the founder of Bic, the world’s leading producer of ballpoint pens). When he first put together an America’s Cup team, he was looking for a skipper. He owned four old America’s Cup boats, including Constellation and Intrepid, and two British boats, Sovereign and Kurrewa.
He organised a mini ‘’in-house’’ America’s Cup in the South of France, on these boats, and invited me to steer one of them against other three potential skippers. I don’t know why he asked me to join this event, I think it was because of my experience at the Olympics. But I won that mini America’s Cup and the Baron offered me the position of the skipper.
My favourite America’s Cup of the three I skippered was in 1983 when Australia II won. We, the French, were eliminated in the challenger series, but then I joined the Australian team. I sort of became an Australian – I was wearing the boxing kangaroo shirt, and I was training with John Bertrand (the skipper of Australia II), to help him and his team improve their starts. I enjoyed a lot steering the back up boat Challenge 12 and be part of that team!
I also really enjoyed my first two America’s Cups. Baron Bich was always sailing with us, even during the Challenger Series. He was not a sailor, he just loved being on the boat. He always wore a silk white jacket with gold buttons. Sometimes he would just be watching and observing, another time he would take the steering wheel over from me, even though he didn’t know how to steer well. The discussion we had was always the same. “Trouble (my nickname in sailing), we are going to win this race, aren’t we?” I said “Yes, we have two minutes on those guys, I think we will win.” “OK, I want to steer through the finish line”. And he took over the helm. There were all the photographers and he was steering the boat with his head high, like this (mimicking steering the boat). But then the next day we were behind. And he said “Trouble, we are not going to win this race, are we?” I said “I’m afraid not. We are behind. No wind changes. I think we will lose.” “Trouble, if we are going to lose, I can do it myself!” (laughing and mimicking again how Bich took the steering wheel from him). I loved this man! We were not professionals back then. We were just young passionate sailors and students and we were only training for a few weeks every year!
Bruno Troublé – Photo Supplied
Louis Vuitton’s involvement in America’s Cup is one of the longest partnerships in any sport to date. Over 30 years! You are the one who brought Louis Vuitton to the Cup.
In 1977 and 1980, the French syndicate was funded by Baron Bich and money was not an issue. The Baron provided us with everything. In 1983 the Baron decided to quit the America’s Cup, however he encouraged me to continue. He gave me the boats, tenders, masts, sails, everything. And he said “Trouble, please find a way to continue.”
I convinced a movie producer to become our supporter for the 1983 challenge, however the organisation didn’t have enough money. So we struggled. We went to Newport with the same boat we used in 1980! The same boat with the same sails. We just couldn’t afford anything new.
When we arrived to Newport, we had a meeting with the other challengers, the Brits, Italians, Australians and others. They asked me to pay my share for organising the challenger selection series. Back then the challengers had to pay for the process of selecting the best one of them, who will then meet the defender in the America’s Cup match. The defender was only organising and paying for the America’s Cup event.
Since my team had no money, I asked the other challengers, if I could find a sponsor to support the organisation of the challenger series. And they said – while laughing! – “Good luck Bruno, you can look for one.” Straight away I called a man I knew vaguely, Henry Racamier. He was then the chairman of Louis Vuitton. I knew the company, I had worked with them previously through my event agency D-Day. I asked Henry “Why don’t you help run the challenger series?” After a brief chat, he said he will call me the next morning, and he did. And he said yes! So we created the Louis Vuitton Cup, just like that, in less than a day. What it would nowadays take months or even years to persuade a company to sponsor an event, it took me less than 24 hours! That’s when I also switched my roles, from an America’s Cup skipper to a race organiser.
Bruno Troublé – Photo Supplied
In 2009 and 2010 you organised Louis Vuitton Pacific Series that “replaced” the America’s Cup races.
The controversy between Larry Ellison and Ernesto Bertarelli around the 2010 America’s Cup was not good for the event. It was awful! The whole America’s Cup community became hostages in a way. So I came up with an idea to maintain some sort of activity among the rest of the teams. And we created the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series. Why ‘’Pacific’’? Because it was held here, in New Zealand, and because it was also a message of peace to the entire America’s Cup community.
We couldn’t bring boats to New Zealand. It was too expensive for a week-long regatta. So we decided to use two pairs of similar boats. We had a huge panel on the main sail, with a velcro, and we were changing the branding of the teams and their sponsors between every race. We only had about half an hour to do it. Between every race! It was a very fun event and crews loved it. There were 12 teams competing!
It was also very affordable. Teams just had to come with a bag of wet weather gear. (laughter)
The Louis Vuitton Pacific Series was such a success that we decided to do the same in other venues, so we started the Louis Vuitton Trophy Series. We had one event in La Maddalena in Italy, we had one in Nice in France, for example. It was always the same concept, to use the same boats and to change the branding on the sails between the races.
After the litigation between Bertarelli and Ellison had been resolved, teams started focusing on the next America’s Cup event to be held in 2013 in San Francisco, with the big cats. So we stopped. Louis Vuitton was again responsible for the Challenger Series, and we started working on that again.
Bruno Troublé – Photo Supplied
The Louis Vuitton era in the America’s Cup has finished. And we are now in the Prada Cup.
The chairman of Louis Vuitton, Yves Carcelle – a very close friend of mine – died and the new top management of LVMH (the parent company of Louis Vuitton) decided not to continue investing in the America’s Cup. So Prada took over the challenger cup, and I helped them to do so.
Prada has been a part of the America’s Cup for quite a while. They launched a challenge in 1997 and joined the event in 2000. Patrizio Bertelli (the chairman of Prada Group) is a keen sailor himself, he loves and respects the America’s Cup.
I also think it’s good to have a luxury brand as a sponsor again. The America’s Cup has actually been for quite a while a unique event, the only world-size event with only luxury brands and high profile companies involved as sponsors. We were very lucky in that respect. This was the only sport of this magnitude to carry only high-profile sponsors.
Sponsorship is not about finding money. Sponsorship is about offering an idea which will ideally fit the company paying. You have to prove a sponsor that their involvement is good for them. The Louis Vuitton sponsorship was obvious – Louis Vuitton was established in 1854, only a few years after the first America’s Cup in 1851! The brand is about travel, innovation, technology, and about wealthy people. We later also discovered that some key personalities in the America’s Cup had also been clients of Louis Vuitton at the turn of the century – The Liptons, Vanderbilt, Sopwith, Astor and others.
How is Prada and the Prada Cup important for the America’s Cup?
With Prada, we are lucky again that it’s a luxury brand, which brings style and respect to the America’s Cup and to its history. The history is very important!
I think that Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison made a mistake not referring much to the history of the America’s Cup when they organised the events in San Francisco (2013) and Bermuda (2017). The America’s Cup is not just another sporting event. The main, if not the only value of the America’s Cup, is its history.
It’s about all those characters who were involved with the Cup over the past 150 or so years. Vanderbilt, Gardini, Alan Bond, Sir Michael Fay, Sir Peter Blake, Dennis Conner and others. All these guys were huge! Not only financially, they were also huge characters. I’m not here because the America’s Cup is a sailing event, I’m here because it’s one true legend of modern times!
Before this Cup now, many people were sceptical about AC75s, whether they can deliver the show. You, on the other hand, predicted a great show. What made you think these boats will deliver and even exceed expectations of many?
It would be easy to run an America’s Cup on TP52s or similar. But that would not be the America’s Cup. Since the beginning, the America’s Cup has been on the edge, on the edge of technology. Just think of Reliance in 1903 (1903 America’s Cup defender designed by Nat Herreshoff). She was a huge boat with 60 guys on board, wire sheets, cotton sails, massive sails. The boat was totally crazy, the same way the boats are crazy now. Or the J Class boats in the 1930s. Those were crazy boats too. If we sail the America’s Cup on one design boats, or even if we sail on boats like TP52s, it would not be the America’s Cup. it would be just another sailing event. Just another beach event!
The America’s Cup shows a path to the future and it must be on the edge, and AC75s do exactly that!
What is your view of the future of the America’s Cup?
There are a few rules that I think are very important. The first one being “the America’s Cup is a friendly competition amongst nations”. This is in the Deed of Gift, the exact wording. So I am in favour of making the nationality rule really tight. Like the Italian team, there are almost all Italians in it. And so the country supports them, stands right behind them. The nationality rule helps raise interest from the public, which I think is very important.
On the other hand, I think we need to loosen the rule that says a boat needs to be built in the country of a team. That is not sustainable. Here, in Auckland, we now have eight AC75s and if we keep going with this rule, we cannot reuse them in the future to help new teams beginning their quest.
What we are missing in New Zealand are the “fun teams”. In previous Louis Vuitton Cups we had three or four teams who were strong enough to win, and then we had other teams that were there to provide entertainment, a path to America’s Cup to young sailors, to showcase sponsors and countries, etc. They knew they were not going to win, at least not the first time round. Out of ten teams, six or seven of them had zero chance to win. If we continue with AC75s, the current boats could be reused and more countries could join the event.
And I think we should stay on AC75s, or similar boats. I think they are perfect! A lot of people are saying that we should return to “classic” monohulls. Those people are usually just old guys who don’t realise that sailing has changed. Today, kids want to put a helmet on, they want to go to the gym, they want to crash, to jump, to have fun, to go fast. And the previous generation managing the sport of sailing doesn’t necessarily understand that.
You are 75 years old and you are still very active and very much involved with the America’s Cup. What keeps you going?
Life is long enough, just not wide enough. The secret is to maintain your life very wide, to do a lot of things. They often say “Bruno, why don’t you retire?” You retire when you feel you have worked all your life. I don’t feel like that! What I’ve been doing has never felt like working. I never woke up in the morning saying “oh, I have to go to work again”. Never. So why retire? (laughter)
Do you still sail?
I still race a lot. Not so long ago I won Maxi World Championship on Wally’s Magic Carpet Cubed. I’ve sailed a lot on Magic Carpet, the owner is one of my best friends, ex chairman of L’Oreal.
I also sail a lot on J80s. Good boats! I competed in the world championship not so long ago in Newport. There were four of us on the boat and our average age was 64! We finished 9th or 10th, out of 100 or so boats.
I actually sail on everything that floats. (laughter)
You are also very much involved with restoring classic boats?
I have a huge passion for classic boats. Over the last ten years, I organised the rebuilt of famous American legends such as Olympian, Corinthian, Chips, Hayday, Oriole and others. I do that with a small yard in Maine, Anderson Boatyard. I then sell these boats, mostly to people in Europe.
When I look at a wreck, like for example 1910 P class boat that hasn’t sailed for over 60 years, I just start thinking of how to restore her and put her back on the water. It’s very rewarding seeing them sail again!
It’s the same respect that I have for the America’s Cup history. I cannot stop thinking about those guys, 100 years ago, who built these boats, and sailed them. Again they were very strong characters. I love that!
26/09/2020, Saint-Tropez (FRA,83), Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez 2020, Day 1, Training, Finish Yacht Club de France Cup Cannes – Saint-Tropez
What are you going to do after this Cup?
I have to go back to France. I have a six months visa for New Zealand, so I will have to leave after the Cup. I’m not too keen to go back to Europe, although I am looking forward to spending some time in my home in Brittany, and on the water there. I can fish from my window!
I also hope to go cruising in Greece, for the European Summer, I have a Bruce Farr cruising boat there.
Bruno’s Top Achievements:
Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur (France) – French Knight
Officier du Merite Maritime (France) – French Order of Merit
Order of Merit (New Zealand)
Winner of the World Championship Maxi Yachts (2001 and 2003)
Offshore World Champion (1/4 Ton Cup 1985)
8 French National sailing titles
Finalist America’s Cup Challenger Series (1980)
Bruno Troublé – Photo Supplied Bruno Troublé – Photo Supplied Photo Supplied Bruno Troublé – Photo Supplied Bruno Troublé – Photo Supplied Bruno Troublé – Photo Supplied Bruno Troublé wearing a Live Sail Die t-shirt with one of the team – Photo Credit: Adam Mustill, Live Sail Die
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