Life on the ocean wave

Life on the ocean wave

Valencia is currently hosting sailing's weirdest event. So what is Chivas Regal doing there? Our man went to find out

Travel | 01 Jun 2007 | Issue 64

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It’s like waking up in the middle of a surreal psychedelic nightmare, a strange blend of Teletubbies, Captain Pugwash and a United Nations summit set by the seaside. In front of me a small army swathed head to toe in orange is waddling through the squally rain towards a boat decorated with a dragon and peopled by Chinese sailors dressed in red. And to my right a man with a very strong French accent is trying to explain why the whole scenario makes sense. It gets stranger still when you find out why we are battling a gale in the harbour of the Spanish city of Valencia. We’re here to witness China’s challenge in the America’s Cup, against a Swiss team made up of New Zealanders who have had to ‘borrow’ Spain’s sea to defend their title because they haven’t got one of their own. One of their main challengers is Team New Zealand, from which many of them defected some years ago and from whom they took the America’s Cup four years ago. Following any of this? Thought not. Welcome to the Chivas Life. They don’t do things by half at Chivas. Not content to sponsor snow golf, indoor office golf and elephant polo, they have quite literally pinned their colours to the America’s Cup, sailing’s weirdest event in which millions are spent first designing racing boats and then protecting them from spies hired by the rival teams. Chivas hasn’t gone for any obvious sponsorship and backed the New Zealanders, the Americans or the Italians. Nope. Instead, with a sense of logic bordering on the perverse, they have thrown their weight behind Team China, an oddball mix of rookie Chinamen and grizzly Frenchmen from a previous America’s Cup crew. You can blame Chivas for the orangemen waddling their way through the puddles. These are special guests flown in to have a good close look at an America’s Cup team in action. Trouble is, right now there’s not a great deal of action. Valencia’s been chosen because of its perfect sailing conditions. So naturally it blows a gale throughout our stay. The weather will improve by the time racing starts but before you can say ‘ahoy me hearties’ the wind promptly gives up altogether. Team China will face its own hurdles: a broken spinacre first, and soon a keel that decides it would rather go in a different direction to the rest of the boat. So isn’t this just a step too far for Chivas? A total disaster in fact? “Aren’t you having fun then?” asks a matter-of-fact Jim Long, international PR manager for Chivas as he hands over another cocktail. “This is exactly what the Chivas experience is all about – taking the brand to places it normally wouldn’t be, giving people unusual experiences, doing something a bit different. Experiences like this are what the Chivas Life is all about.” He has a point. In three days we will brave the choppy waters and follow Team New Zealand as they go through their manoeuvres, eat in some of the finest restaurants Valencia has to offer, meet new friends and share several large glasses of fine whisky with people that we would never have met if it hadn’t been for Chivas. And this would seem to be the way forward for a number of whisky companies as they seek to grow their business. Indeed, no matter how entertaining the America’s Cup itself is, it’s a sideshow to the more serious business of opening Chivas to new people and potential new drinkers. Take China. By the time you read this Team China will have been eliminated from the qualifying tournament to challenge for the America’s Cup in June and July. Chivas will have had little exposure on the water at Valencia (though lots in the bars nearby). But the brand will have bonded with a Chinese market where it is already a leading player. More than that, the sponorship will help China develop its sailing base. “Fifteen years ago there were no marinas in China,” one of the team explains. “Ten years ago there were marinas and no boats. Five years ago there were marinas, boats but no outstanding sailors. “Now we have an America’s Cup team. One day we might win it and bring the event back to China.” Back in the port we shelter from the weather and pour ourselves another whisky. Some of the Chinese crew, their work over for the day while their boat is repaired, join us. You just can’t imagine one of Grant Dalton’s New Zealanders doing the same, even on a day off.
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