Route du Rhum: François Gabart’s lawyer speaks before the hearing on Thursday 23 June – Route du Rhum

How will this hearing on June 23 take place?

We took the initiative to sue to enforce the memorandum of understanding that was signed with the class, so we explained our arguments in a citation. Then there is a game of exchange of writings between the two parties. We arrive at the hearing and there, there is always a part of uncertainty because the magistrate has more or less read the file. Depending on the more or less demanding nature of his agenda, his memory can be short or much longer. Since the SVR challenge is in demand, we will speak first and the Ultimate class defense attorneys will speak last.

What is at stake for this audience?

The challenge is participation in the Route du Rhum. Is critical. It would be a real disaster for SVR not to be there. It is a race that only takes place every four years and SVR Lazartigue’s commitment is four years. This race has the most important repercussions, it is a very important sporting issue in the eyes of François Gabart who, last time, was beaten on the post (Editor’s note: by Francis Joyon). This is a fundamental sporting issue for François Gabart and his company MerConcept, but also for Didier Tabary (Editor’s note: CEO of the Kresk Group and owner and sponsor of the boat). Beyond the sporting issue, it is a major economic disaster for MerConcept and SVR Lazartigue. Difficult to book hotels and logistics for the Route du Rhum without being sure to be on the starting line on November 6th.

Will the dispute be about form or substance?

The hearing on June 23 will not discuss the merits. Simply because we do not have time to carry out substantive proceedings compatible with a decision that falls sufficiently early before November 6th. The only way to get a quick response is to have an assignment procedure called a fixed day procedure. We went to a magistrate and explained to him why we wanted a fixed day proceeding with a fixed hearing date without being able to ask for dismissal. We had to justify the degree of urgency and, first victory, the magistrate accepted this request and authorized us to assign a fixed day.

SVR Lazartigue’s plan. (VPLP document)

So it will only be on the form?

Yes, it concerns the execution of a contract, a technical point. These are the minutes of a meeting between the members of the Ultim Class and the SVR Lazartigue Challenge which took place on February 16th. In these minutes, the two parties accept that a request is made to World Sailing and that if a response is received by March 4th, it will be evaluated, but if it occurs after March 4th, the Ultim Class agrees to allow SVR Lazartigue to participate in the Route du Rhum. The decision was issued on 7 March, we have proof of it with the bailiffs’ reports, these documents have been added to the file. We go to court to say that there was a very simple three-page contract that says: “decision after March 4th, automatically, you get François Gabart to participate in the Route du Rhum”. It’s that simple and essential! It is the stupid and evil application of a contract.
This will be the subject of the hearing on 23 June.

When will the decision be made?

We can hope that it will be returned during the month of July.

Is it possible that the decision is not made before November 6, the day of the departure of the Route du Rhum?

It is not something we fear, the decision will be made in July, before the judicial suspension in August. This is the central point of our urgent procedure, the hearing is set. Since the substance of the dispute is simple and is not about respecting but respecting a memorandum of understanding, the decision can be made very quickly. The appeal is not suspensive: this means that once our case has been won, if the Ultim Class appeals, the decision of the Court to force the execution of the protocol will not be withdrawn.

And if the court doesn’t rule in your favor, what are you going to do?

We will call.

How long can this appeal process take?

Difficult to say. It is possible to have a hearing in September-October. The evil is already done. How to calmly prepare yourself when you are a top-level athlete when you have this type of activity over your head.

The Ultimo Class criticizes François Gabart’s trimaran for not keeping up with a precise rule (2): can the other party ask gauges and experts to testify at the helm?

Yes, but they have no interest in doing it because the gauges and experts agree with us. It is written on their report that the boat conforms to the measurement. If they want to go through with it, let them go, we’re super comfortable with that. We have it all to ourselves. Basically, there is just no debate at all. We always won and didn’t like it every time, so they tried to find something else. We have always won, even on the report of independent experts appointed by them. The supervisory committee, an independent body from the class, has also been validated. Since all this does not suit them, they went all the way by going to see World Sailing (editor’s note: international sailing federation), with plans that we know to be misleading, to finally be told that World Sailing was not competent to judge.

The trimaran competed in the Transat Jacques Vabre 2021 thanks to a derogation granted by the Ultim Class: who says that derogation says boat not compliant, right?

No, because we have always said that the boat was up to standard. This exception is explained by the fact that we were not members of the Ultim Class at the time. This waiver has nothing to do with compliance or non-compliance. We have always been very confident about the boat’s compliance. It is clear that the class is playing on ambiguity to trick the field into believing that the SVR’s cockpit is a sealed area when it is a wet area. Frankly, let them come to the technical aspects! They played, they lost: they asked for an expert opinion, they made a mistake.

In case of non-participation in the Route du Rhum, do you intend to seek compensation for the damage suffered by your customer?

This is already the case in the quotation, in the writings that are exchanged. There is a very strong sporting and economic damage. The sporting damage is difficult to quantify on François Gabart’s loss of chance to participate and win. On the other hand, on the pure media repercussions, it is an important topic.

How much damage do you estimate?

We have quantified them but we will not communicate on this subject. We are already talking about all the other topics because we have nothing to hide. We are transparent, there is nothing taboo, nothing secret. The public has a right to know.

On the one hand, a sponsor who speaks of “sporting injustice, unjustified injustice and unjust relentlessness”. Opposite, a Class, owners and competitors who evoke a skipper “who does not respect the rules”: a fun atmosphere, right?

This poses a problem which we have pointed out from the beginning and which concerns the government of the class. The Ultim Class is a small group of shipowners who do not have an independent government and where everything is done in a vacuum, arbitrarily and where everyone is judged and judged. We have three teams that decide and it is full of conflicts of interest. It is a real shame that the class fails to establish governance on the rules.

(1): contacted, the Ultim Class (owners and skippers) and their lawyers did not want to intervene before the hearing.

(2): Offshore Special Regulation 3.11 describing the position of the winches with respect to the deck.

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