Putting the band back together

The team name GUYOT environnement – Team Europe may be a new one to fans of The Ocean Race but in fact the origins of the team date back eight years to a meeting in a German coffee shop between yachtsman Robert Stanjek and music and TV producer Jens Kuphal.

Back then Stanjek was riding high having just been crowned world champion in the highly competitive Star class sailing with fellow German Frithjof Kleen. The pair had hoped to use the title as a stepping stone along the way to an Olympic medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games – but the exclusion of the Star from the Olympic classes roster had cruelly put paid to that dream.

Stanjek had decided to pivot to ocean racing and had his sights set on racing around the world in The Ocean Race. After an opportunity to race with Team Brunel in the 2014-15 edition ultimately came to nothing, he decided to try to put his own ocean racing campaign together. To make that vision a reality he knew he needed both financial backing and organisational support – hence his caffeinated rendezvous with Kuphal.

“We didn’t know each other before we met that day,” says Kuphal. “He approached me because he was looking for some business and management support in Germany to get the campaign kicked off.”

“I have been involved in the entertainment industry in Germany – music and television – for about 35 years. I started as a keyboard player and songwriter and then graduated to producing and working on the management side.

“I’ve been managing artists all my life – some international and some German acts who became international [including Alphaville, Rammstein, and Nena (of 99 Red Balloons fame)]. I have found that managing an artist or a band and managing a sports team is just the same.”

Kuphal is a competitive sailor in his own right and recently won ORC Class B at the European Championship in Norway sailing with Stanjek and fellow GUYOT environnement – Team Europe teammate Annie Lush (GBR) aboard his Landmark 43 cruiser/racer Intermezzo.

In 2017, after realising that they needed to beef up their ocean racing credentials Kuphal and Stanjek – along with their former business partner Michael End – took a leap of faith to purchase a 2012-era IMOCA race boat which they put through an extensive and prolonged refit.

“Our first plan was to do the 2019 Barcelona World Race but that got called off. But we decided to keep on going and when The Ocean Race got involved with the IMOCA class it really helped to motivate us a lot and keep us pushing on.”

The trio made the decision to enter last year’s inaugural edition of The Ocean Race Europe – a three week, three-leg, starting in Lorient, France and finishing in Genova, Italy with stops in Cascais, Portugal and Alicante, Spain along the way – as Offshore Team Germany.

As the only boat in the five-strong IMOCA division to be using straight daggerboards instead of performance enhancing foils they knew they would be at a disadvantage reaching or running on the Atlantic legs. They also knew, however, that on the predominantly light wind Mediterranean legs their lower drag daggerboards could give them a chance to shine.

And shine they did. Having recruited British sailor Annie Lush – a match racing Olympian at London 2012 and a competitor in The Ocean Race in 2014-15 with Team SCA – French solo skipper Benjamin Dutreux – ninth in the 2020-21 Vendée Globe – powerhouse 2016 Finn Junior world champion Phillip Kasüske (GER), along with talented German yachting photographer Felix Diemer as onboard reporter, the German-flagged team emerged as overall winners after a pulling off a runaway victory in the final light airs offshore leg and then holding their nerve to eke out the two points they needed in the nail-biting final inshore race in Genova.

Aside from unexpectedly emerging as victors Kuphal says that taking part in The Ocean Race Europe has been the perfect stepping stone to an entry in the full around-the-world edition.

“Now, looking back at the result, it is still unbelievable what happened – although before the race we all knew that anything can happen in the Mediterranean. Even without the result, our participation in The Ocean Race Europe gave us such a great introduction to The Ocean Race family and is a huge part of the reason we are an entry for The Ocean Race.

The European event also helped cement the relationship between the team and Dutreux who had originally approached the Germans about chartering their boat for the last Vendée Globe before being drafted into the crew.

“Benjamin is very open minded about sailing with people outside the IMOCA community because he realised that it only made him a better overall sailor,” says Kuphal.

“He fitted in really well to our crew and I can reveal that we made the decision to try to enter the race together in this crew configuration and using Benjamin’s new boat – 11th Hour Racing Team’s training boat (originally Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss on which he finished second in the 2016-17 Vendée Globe) – during The Ocean Race Europe prizegiving in Genova.

“It was basically a handshake between Benjamin and I and we said ‘Let’s do this together – with your boat.”

In addition to Dutreux’s tried-and-tested and fully upgraded IMOCA raceboat the French skipper also brought along his long-term commercial partner GUYOT environnement – the innovative Brittany-based recycling organisation. Accordingly the campaign was renamed: GUYOT environnement – Team Europe.

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