How will this hearing on June 23 unfold?
We took the initiative to subpoena to enforce the memorandum of understanding that was signed with the class, so we explained our arguments in a subpoena. 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 busy nature of his agenda, the pleading may be short or much longer. As the SVR challenge is in demand, we will speak first and the Ultimate class defense lawyers will speak last.
What is the stake of this audience?
The challenge is participation in the Route du Rhum. It is fundamental. It would be an absolute disaster for SVR not to be there. It’s 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, the last time, was beaten at 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. It is difficult to book hotels and logistics for the Route du Rhum without being certain of being on the starting line on November 6th.
Will the dispute relate to the form or to the substance?
The June 23 hearing will not deal with the merits. Quite simply because we don’t have time to carry out a substantive procedure that is compatible with a decision that falls early enough before November 6. The only way to get a quick response is to have an assignment procedure called a fixed day procedure. We went to see a magistrate and explained to him why we wanted a procedure on a fixed day with a fixed hearing date without being able to ask for a dismissal. We had to justify the degree of urgency and, first victory, the magistrate granted this request and authorized us to assign a fixed day.
So it will only be on the form?
Yes, it relates to the execution of a contract, to a technical point. This is the minutes of a meeting between the members of the Ultim Class and the SVR Lazartigue Challenge held on February 16th. In these minutes, the two parties accept that a request be made to World Sailing and that if a response is received before March 4th, we will look into it, but if it occurs after March 4th, the Ultim Class undertakes to allow SVR Lazartigue to participate in the Route du Rhum. The decision was rendered on March 7, we have proof of it with 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 which says: “decision after March 4, automatically, you let François Gabart participate in the Route du Rhum”. It’s as simple and basic as that! It’s the stupid and wicked application of a contract.
This will be the subject of the hearing on June 23.
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 will not be made before November 6, the day of the start of the Route du Rhum?
It is not something that we fear, the decision will be made in July, before the judicial recess in August. This is the whole point of our emergency procedure, the hearing is fixed. As the substance of the dispute is simple and does not relate to compliance but to the respect of a memorandum of understanding, the decision can be rendered very quickly. The appeal is not suspensive: this means that once we have won our case, if the Ultim Class appeals, the Court’s decision to force the execution of the protocol will not be withdrawn.
And if the court does not rule in your favor, what do you intend to do?
We will call.
How long can this appeal process take?
Hard to say. It is possible to have a hearing in September-October. The evil is already done. How to prepare calmly when you are a top athlete when you have this kind of business over your head.
La Classe Ultime criticizes François Gabart’s trimaran for not being up to speed on a specific rule (2): can the opposing party ask the measurers and experts to testify at the helm?
Yes, but they have no interest in doing so 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 to the bottom, let them go, we are super comfortable with that. We have everything for us. Basically, there is just no debate. We always won and each time they didn’t like it, so they tried to find something else. We have always won, including on the report of independent experts they commissioned. The supervisory committee, an independent body of the class, also validated. As all this does not suit them, they went all the way by going to see the World Sailing (Editor’s note: international sailing federation), with plans which we know are 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 derogation says boat not in conformity, right?
No, because we have always said that the boat was up to standard. This derogation is explained by the fact that at the time, we were not members of the Ultim Class. This waiver has nothing to do with compliance or non-compliance. We have always been very calm about the conformity of the boat. It is clear that the class is playing on an ambiguity to deceive the court into believing that the cockpit of SVR 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 report, they were wrong.
In the event of non-participation in the Route du Rhum, do you intend to seek compensation for the damage suffered by your client?
This is already the case in the summons, in the writings that are exchanged. There is a very strong sporting and economic damage. The sports damage is difficult to quantify on the loss of chance of François Gabart to participate and win. On the other hand, on the pure media repercussions, it is a major subject.
How much damage do you estimate?
We have quantified them but we are not going to communicate on this subject. We are already talking about all the other subjects because we have nothing to hide. We are transparent, there is nothing taboo, nothing secret. The public has the right to know.
On the one hand, a sponsor who speaks of “sporting injustice, unjustified and unfair relentlessness”. Opposite, a Class, shipowners and competitors who evoke a skipper “who does not respect the rules”: funny atmosphere, isn’t it?
This poses a problem that we have pointed out since the beginning and which concerns the governance of the class. The Ultim Class is a small group of shipowners that has no independent governance and in which everything is done in a vacuum, arbitrarily and where everyone is judge and judged. We have three teams that decide and it’s full of conflicts of interest. It’s a real shame that the class can’t manage to set up governance on the rules.
(1): contacted, the Ultim Class (owners and skippers) and their lawyers did not wish to speak before the hearing.
(2): Offshore Special Regulations 3.11 which describes the position of the winches in relation to the deck.