In 2016 Switzerland’s Eric Monnin finished 19th in the Star Sailors League Final, sandwiched between Torben Grael (Volvo Ocean Race winner 2008-9 and five time Olympic medallist) and Jochen Schümann (two time America’s Cup winner, four time Olympic medallist and three time Olympic champion). This was not bad company for someone who is technically an amateur sailor from a landlocked country.
In reality Switzerland has almost as many lakes as it has mountains, and most are sailed on. In Monnin’s case he was brought up sailing with his family, including his two brothers, and began racing at an early age aboard the 7.6m long Surprise, one of the most popular Swiss sailing classes. He really found his calling on the water in the early 2000s thanks to an Alinghi-inspired initiative to develop Swiss match racing talent. This comprised qualifying regattas, the winners of which got to race the all-star Alinghi crew, that at the time included the 1995 and 2000 America’s Cup winning champions Coutts-Butterworth-Fleury-Daubney, etc. The first Alinghi match racing event Monnin competed in, he won. Then, in a tale he has been dining out on ever since, he went on to defeat the Kiwi legends. “We beat Russell Coutts in our first match race!” he recalls.
Since then Monnin has developed his skills as a match racer, in the early days sailing with his brothers and joining the World Match Racing Tour in 2006/7. He was a regular competitor on this international circuit, for the next decade, his top result being fifth overall in 2015. With the World Match Racing Tour moving into one design catamarans, Monnin moved back into monohull match racing, where he remains a formidable opponent, winning Match Race Germany on Lake Constance for the last two consecutive years. Again, these results are all the more notable considering Monnin has a job, spends the majority of his professional life working for Sensirion AG, a leading manufacturer of digital sensors.
While he is best known as a match racer, he has also performed well in fleet racing. As a tactician he won the highly competitive D35 catamarancircuit on Lake Geneva aboard Nicolas Grange’s Okalys in both 2005 and 2006. It was his victory in the Platu 25 World Championship two years ago that earned him a spot at that year’s Star Sailors League Final in Nassau.
Being more the size of a 470 sailor, Monnin says he struggled with the Star, particularly as he had never really raced one before. “I was lucky to sail two races in Switzerland beforehand with Enrico de Maria,” he says, referring to the long term Swiss Olympic Star crew. “But the maximum wind we had was five knots. So I only really started to sail the Star in Nassau…”
However one of the skills circuit match racers traditionally must have is being able to adapt quickly to widely differing types of boat that they get to sail at events around the world. However nothing they used to sail on the World Match Racing Tour remotely resembles the Star. Despite this, Monnin says he very much enjoyed the experience, especially the opportunity to race against the world’s very top sailors: “It was very interesting, an honour to be in this fleet and to discover the boat.”
Fortunately Monnin sailed the Star Sailors League Finals with one of the top crews from the venerable Olympic keelboat - Pascal Rambeau, the man mountain Frenchman who won bronze at Athens 2004, crewing for Xavier Rohart. Inevitably, Monnins learning curve was steep and by the time they were about to pack their bags and head home coincided with their getting the hang of it. “Fortunately we had some light winds on the last day - the best result we had was a third in our last race,” he recalls.
Aside from his work, Monnin has been busy recently with his latest project: The Gonet Monofoil is a four-person, 8m long flying monohull, which he has developed along with former Alinghi boatbuilder Damian Weiss of Weiss Yachts, based near Lucerne. Upon hearing of the flying AC75 monohull, the first examples of which are due for launch next year, Monnin and Weiss sped up the development of their new boat, which they managed to launch this spring.
The Monofoil is designed to sail on the Swiss lakes, where typically winds are light. Thus it must work well both as a fully foiling flying boat as well as in displacement mode, when it is too light to foil. Sadly in their first competitive outing, Switzerland’s no1 sailing event, the Bol d’Or Mirabaud, the wind for the duration of the race remained less than the 12 or so knots required for take-off. Nonetheless they still finished within the top 10 monohulls.
While flying monohulls are nothing new these days, ranging from AC75s down to Moth singlehanded dinghies to the French offshore classes such as the IMOCA 60s, Figaros and Minis, the Gonet Monofoil is innovative. Most notable are its triangular foils – these are like the L-shaped foils seen on the AC50 catamarans in the last America’s Cup, but with their tips joined up, making them much stiffer structurally, with little to no deflection, etc.
While it remains early days for the Gonet Monofoil, its development is going well. They have already notched up 30+ knot speeds and last weekend attempted the ‘Blue Riband’ record on Lake Geneva, falling just short of the monohull time on their first go.
When he has the opportunity, Monnin continues to match race, although disappointingly, this year he missed one of his favourite events, the Argo Group Gold Cup in Bermuda. He is keen on the Match Race Super League, which has taken over from the World Match Racing Tour as the leading international series of monohull match racing events. Thanks to their results at Match Race Switzerland and Match Race Germany, Monnin’s team currently leads the Match Race Super League, which this season comprises 18 events. Early next month he intends to compete at the EUROSAF Match Racing Open European Championship in Tallinn and the Oakcliff International out of the Oakcliff Sailing Centre in Oyster Bay on New York’s Long Island.
As to whether Monnin will be back to race in the Star Sailors League in December? “I am still interested, because the format is nice and the boats are special. Last year I did the Swiss Star Championship, but this year I was too busy.” Watch this space.
By James Boyd - SailingIntelligence