In relationships, it’s often said that opposites attract.
That was certainly the case when Dona Bertarelli met her partner Yann Guichard — both accomplished sailors in their own right, but with differing experiences of being at sea.
They are now half way into their attempt to sail around the world in the fastest time and claim the Jules Verne Trophy.
Swiss national Bertarelli, one of Europe’s richest businesswomen — valued by Forbes at $4.3 billion — has a wealth of coastal sailing experience, while Guichard is a decorated offshore sailor.
She has twice won the much-coveted Bol d’Or Mirabaud in her homeland — becoming the first woman in history to do so — and with Guichard co-skippered the 40m maxi trimaran Spindrift 2 team to line honors in the 2015 Rolex Fastnet race, defending their title.
Sailing runs in her family — Bertarelli’s brother Ernesto owned Team Alinghi, which twice won the America’s Cup. Its maiden victory in 2003 was the first time a team had won the trophy on its first attempt, and it successfully defending it in 2007.
However, prior to meeting Guichard, she had never entertained the thought of offshore sailing.
“The ‘why’ (to sail offshore) didn’t come right away,” Bertarelli told CNN Mainsail’s Shirley Robertson.
“I was introduced to offshore sailing through Yann because he was doing that already for a long time — he did the Jacques Vabre four times and he holds two Atlantic records.”
The Jacques Vabre is a race that follows a historic coffee trading route between France and Brazil. Despite Guichard’s expertise on the high seas, Bertarelli said she initially had some reservations.
“I wasn’t ready yet,” said the 47-year-old. “The only thing that we were sure of was that we wanted to do a project together.”
Bertarelli launched her Ladycat project in 2007, and won her first Bol d’Or in 2010 with the Spindrift team on the Decision 35 catamaran. However, it took some time for her and Guichard to decide what their collective project would be.
“He had his career and I had Ladycat and we were seeing each other sometimes during the weekend if Yann was coming to race in Switzerland. At one point we said, ‘Okay, we want to share this passion together, so what can we do together?’”
“At first, the reaction was that we wanted to sail for the Olympics but we soon realized that it would not be possible because he’s French and I’m Swiss and it would take too many years to get the nationality right,” she said.
“So we abandoned that project quite quickly and when Spindrift 2 — which was the ex-Banque Populaire V — came for sale then we said, ‘Okay but what about breaking records, what about offshore sailing?’”.