The Bol d’Or Mirabaud welcomes the ICRC to its waters

The key patron of Bol d’Or Mirabaud 2017, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), took part in this not-to-be-missed summer event in which amateurs and seasoned mariners alike put their skills to the test in Europe's largest regatta held in a closed basin. It was an unforgettable experience for the organization's two teams, who took part on the "Surprise" yachts made available to them by the Mirabaud Group.

Conversation with Javier Cordoba, responsible for the department water and habitat on behalf of the ICRC in the Middle East and skipper of one of the two ICRC boats.

What motivated the ICRC to become a key patron of the Bol d’Or Mirabaud?

Working on the ground to respond to the humanitarian needs of people affected by armed conflicts is one of the ICRC’s main priorities. It is also important for our institution to talk about what it does to draw attention to critical situations, and to call public attention to the problems facing numerous populations.

The Bol d’Or Mirabaud provided us with the ideal opportunity to build on this, and so we decided to become the key patron of this event – which, similarly to the Group, the event has Geneva roots with an international reach. We also share a number of values, such as determination, perseverance, entrepreneurship and a constant drive to innovate. Taking part was an obvious choice.

© Nicolas Jutzi

Tell us about your participation in the event.

Two teams made up of members of staff of the ICRC defended the honour of the entire organization aboard two "Surprise" class has Geneva roots with an international reach made available to them by Mirabaud. We set out to fly the colours of our organization. This we did, but maybe for longer than we would have hoped, ultimately finishing 81st and 97th out of the 135 entrants in this category. Our first team finished the course in 14 hours and 5 minutes.

What were your objectives?

The most important objectives for us were to take part, to succeed in completing the course, and to return with smiles on our faces bigger than when we left. We also wanted to share this experience with our entire staff and with the general public who came to see and support us. This challenge was met with flying colours. The ICRC also had a booth at the Club de la Nautique. Lots of people attended, including numerous colleagues who had learned about our participation through various internal channels.

How did you prepare for the race?

I really enjoy sailing and have been doing it for a long time. I am also part of a Grand Surprise racing crew on Lake Geneva. For the Bol d’Or, we put together two teams of enthusiasts from within the ICRC. Since the majority had no experience of competitive sailing, we set up a training schedule to prepare us for the race. This gave us the opportunity to get to know the boat and adjust to the event so we could get the most out of it on the big day.

Can you tell us something about the race?

The weather conditions were excellent, with a brisk cold wind, the ‘Bise’, was blowing from the northeast. Starting in 40th position, we unfortunately dropped back a number of places when we attempted a manoeuvre to take advantage of the Bise, which was still strongly blowing. But we never gave up and we even managed to move up a couple of places. On the return lap, we favoured the French side, which had become more advantageous towards the end of the afternoon, and finished with the wind behind us just as dusk had begun to settle, literally surfing in on the twilight current. It was magical. Between us, on the boat, we experienced many wonderful moments that we will treasure in our memories and in our hearts for a very long time.

© Nicolas Jutzi

What role does sailing play in the work done by the ICRC?

While boats are seen by many as a vehicle for sport and leisure, we should not lose sight of the fact that they are, above all, a means of transport and communication. Maritime and riverine transport has therefore always occupied a special place in the ICRC's activities, particularly when access to areas in need of humanitarian assistance is cut off. For example, the organization chartered ships in 2009 to enable the evacuation of people injured by the war in Sri Lanka, on the Jaffna peninsula; in 2011, we again used boats to help bring home prisoners held in Libya.

Boats are also extremely useful to get emergency aid to areas that are inaccessible by land, for example to Aceh in Indonesia following the 2005 tsunami, to Somalia and to Libya in 2006, and more recently to South Sudan and to Yemen – two countries that are currently facing major humanitarian challenges. Nowadays, cargo transport ships 10,000 containers a year for ICRC, departing from ports across Europe, India and China, and a lot more countries besides, serving more than 80 destinations around the globe.

But water is not only a means of communication...

Most definitely not. Water is a fundamental need and is recognized as such, even if – in practice – this notion is often exploited or abused in times of crisis. Indeed, through no fault of its own, this natural resource frequently finds itself at the heart of conflicts, all the more so because it is vital to the survival of certain populations who are caught in the crossfire of opposing interests, governmental or otherwise. This is the driving force behind the work done by Water & Habitat at the ICRC.  

Our objective is first and foremost to secure essential services for people who are suffering at the hands of conflicts or who are affected by natural disasters. This of course includes the supply and purification of water, but also infrastructure such as electricity, healthcare facilities and irrigation systems.