This month I talk to double America’s Cup winner and two-time Volvo Ocean Race competitor, Simeon Tienpont, to find out a little about his earliest sailing memories and what it’s like to be a first-time skipper leading the Dutch ‘team AkzoNobel’ crew in the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race.
Now 35, Tienpont has been in and around boats since he was just a few months old. He says his very first sailing experience came when he was so young he wouldn’t be able to remember it.
“I grew up sailing on the sea in the Netherlands with my family, virtually from when I was born,” he told me.
“My birthday is in January, so I wasn’t as lucky as my brother and sister, who were born in the spring and summer and so were taken on my parents’ boat – a Sparkman and Stevens 36 – when they were about two weeks old. Growing up, I remember we sailed as a family as often as possible – virtually every weekend and all through the summer holidays.
Although he is built like a rugby player – a sport he has played to a decent level – it was sailing that captivated heart and mind, right from those earliest moments with his family. All these years later the fascination remains undiminished, so it seems.
“Sailing is truly unique as a sport,” he explained. “It can be as physical as you want to make it – the top end of sailing is very physical – but at the same time the tactics and strategy are like a chess game.”
Tienpont has no clear recollection of ever having a burning desire to become a professional sailor. He simply recalls that growing up, racing against his friends was: “just great fun” –adding with a wry smile: “it still is, by the way”.
As a young Optimist sailor Tienpont avidly followed the many Dutch teams taking part in the Whitbread Race. He hung their posters on his bedroom wall, covered his Optimist with team stickers and at school he passed around the position reports he had got from his dad’s office fax machine.
He became fascinated with the idea of racing around the world and dreamed of taking part himself one day. No surprise then that at the age of 21 he jumped at the opportunity
to try out for the youth team on ABN AMRO 2 in the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race.
“That campaign was when I really got exposed to the top end of the sport,” he recalls. “I made some lifelong friendships among that crew and it opened some doors that led to my America’s Cup career.”
Two America’s Cup wins with Oracle Team USA later, last year Tienpont was all set up to do his third AC campaign, this time with SoftBank Team Japan. However, when the chance to lead a Dutch Volvo Ocean Race campaign presented itself, he knew in his heart what he wanted most.
“It is certainly a special honour to lead a Dutch team in the Volvo Ocean Race,” he told me. “It’s a race that has a special legacy in the Netherlands and it feels like every Dutch man and woman knows something about it. To be skipper of team AkzoNobel is a dream come true for me and I really hope our adventures around the world will help inspire a new generation of ocean racers in the Netherlands.”
Akzo Nobel AC Skipper by Justin Chisholm
Image credit: Thierry Martinez/team AkzoNobel