Dona Bertarelli: Swiss billionaire attempts to break around the world record

Story highlights

  • Billionaire trying to beat circumnavigation record
  • Dona Bertarelli aims to win Jules Verne Trophy
  • She is co-skipper with partner Yann Guichard
  • Record is just over 45 and a half days
Watch CNN's MainSail at these times (GMT): Dec 12: 0730, 2230; Dec 13: 1730; Jan 2: 1730; Jan 3: 0730, 2230.

(CNN)In relationships, it's often said that opposites attract.

That was certainly the case when Dona Bertarelli met her partner Yann Guichard -- both accomplished sailors in their own right, but with differing experiences of being at sea.
They are now 19 days into their attempt to sail around the world in the fastest time and claim the Jules Verne Trophy.
    Swiss national Bertarelli, one of Europe's richest businesswomen -- valued by Forbes at $4.3 billion -- has a wealth of coastal sailing experience, while Guichard is a decorated offshore sailor.
    She has twice won the much-coveted Bol d'Or Mirabaud in her homeland -- becoming the first woman in history to do so -- and with Guichard co-skippered the Maxi Spindrift 2 team to line honors in the 2015 Rolex Fastnet race, defending their title.
    How to sail the world in record time
    how to sail the world in record time snell intv_00005106

      JUST WATCHED

      How to sail the world in record time

    MUST WATCH

    How to sail the world in record time 06:09
    Sailing runs in her family -- Bertarelli's brother Ernesto owned Team Alinghi, which twice won the America's Cup. Its maiden victory in 2003 was the first time a team had won the trophy on its first attempt, and it successfully defending it in 2007.
    However, prior to meeting Guichard, she had never entertained the thought of offshore sailing.
    "The 'why' (to sail offshore) didn't come right away," Bertarelli told CNN Mainsail's Shirley Robertson.
    "I was introduced to offshore sailing through Yann because he was doing that already for a long time -- he did the Jacques Vabre four times and he holds two Atlantic records."
    Sailors seek the most elusive prize in sport
    mainsail jules verne trophy spc c_00025917

      JUST WATCHED

      Sailors seek the most elusive prize in sport

    MUST WATCH

    Sailors seek the most elusive prize in sport 07:21
    The Jacques Vabre is a race that follows a historic coffee trading route between France and Brazil. Despite Guichard's expertise on the high seas, Bertarelli said she initially had some reservations.
    "I wasn't ready yet," said the 47-year-old. "The only thing that we were sure of was that we wanted to do a project together."
    Bertarelli launched her Ladycat project in 2007, and won her first Bol d'Or in 2010 with the Spindrift team on the Decision 35 catamaran. However, it took some time for her and Guichard to decide what their collective project would be.
    "He had his career and I had Ladycat and we were seeing each other sometimes during the weekend if Yann was coming to race in Switzerland. At one point we said, 'Okay, we want to share this passion together, so what can we do together?'"
    "At first, the reaction was that we wanted to sail for the Olympics but we soon realized that it would not be possible because he's French and I'm Swiss and it would take too many years to get the nationality right," she said.
    "So we abandoned that project quite quickly and when Spindrift 2 -- which was the ex-Banque Populaire V -- came for sale then we said, 'Okay but what about breaking records, what about offshore sailing?'"
    How sailing took on Jules Verne's fictional challenge
    mainsail jules verne trophy spc a_00034616

      JUST WATCHED

      How sailing took on Jules Verne's fictional challenge

    MUST WATCH

    How sailing took on Jules Verne's fictional challenge 09:09
    Banque Populaire V is the current holder of the Jules Verne Trophy, having set the leading time of 45 days, 13 hours, 42 minutes and 53 seconds, a record set by Loick Peyron and his crew in 2012. They also won the Fastnet the previous year in a record time.
    When it came to the market in early 2013, Bertarelli says her team didn't even ask to try out the 40-meter (130-foot) yacht -- which is the world's largest racing trimaran.
    "We just bought it and I was just keeping my fingers crossed that I would enjoy it, that I would not be sick, that I would be able to have a role on board which I really wanted, that I would be able to help -- because that was my challenge," added Bertarelli.
    "It was really during the Discovery Route that we did three years ago, doing that offshore sailing and that record. We were 10 days at sea when we arrived back in Miami and I said, 'I want to go, let's go back, I'm ready for some more.'
    "I just loved it and the Jules Verne came just right after that, I said, 'Okay the ultimate challenge, then it's 45 days at sea,' and I prepared for that challenge ever since."
    Around the world in 80 days? These sailors smashed it
    mainsail jules verne trophy spc b_00031704

      JUST WATCHED

      Around the world in 80 days? These sailors smashed it

    MUST WATCH

    Around the world in 80 days? These sailors smashed it 06:20
    To embark on her first real offshore sailing experience -- and one of the most dangerous and grueling in the world -- having a skipper like Guichard, somebody that Bertarelli trusts implicitly, is essential.
    "Yann is a leader but he's the type of leader that uses a smooth leadership, he doesn't use strength or authority to gain power or control," she explained.
    "He doesn't get excited very often, he's calm and he's someone that thinks a lot, constantly and he's always on watch for everybody all the time but he never screams, he never yells, he never gets mad.
    "Sometimes he gets annoyed but he's not the type that is going to make you feel uncomfortable about it, he's going to be talking about it and he's always looking to find a solution and being very positive about what's going on."
    Peyron's 2012 success was the eighth time the record had been set, while there have been 15 failed attempts.
    As of December 10, on Spindrift Racing's approach to Australia, the team was 198 nautical miles behind Peyron's record as it led rival IDEC Sport -- the former Banque Populaire VII, which set the around-the-world record in 2010.
    While tackling such a unique event with a skipper without experience on the route may have raised some eyebrows, especially with names such as Peyron available, Bertarelli had full confidence in her partner.
    "I think it's not the question of pedigree or professionalism or are you mature enough or experienced enough. The experience and the professionalism of Yann is there, he has proved it many times," she said.
    "Now I think in a challenge like this one, you have to go with people that you trust and to me it's very important to be in a team that shares the same values and sail in the same way."
    Bertarelli says that everyone she met, even prior to the couple starting Spindrift 2 together, enjoyed sailing with the 41-year-old Guichard due to his "calm, strong and reliable" nature.
    "He doesn't take any risks which are unnecessary -- he's very 'reflechie' (thoughtful) as we say in French, so he's a very good teacher," she said.
    "He knows how to explain very well what he wants and what needs to be done, and it's very reassuring to have someone who has an eye on everything, that knows how to do everything on a boat.
    "Yes, I think he's a great leader but a calm one, and it's very comfortable sailing with him."