Story • 6th September 2022
Oyster to a SailGP Team

Fred and Chantal Pye

Oyster 575/25 Janus

Nothing about Fred and Chantal Pye’s story is straightforward. Be it the way in which they discovered and bought their Oyster 575/25 Janus or the background to what started as a second boat and ended with the purchase of an entire Grand Prix racing team. The Pye’s world is a fast-moving one that is taking them to both ends of the sport while laying the foundations for an exciting new future for Canadian sailing. At the heart of the Pye’s world is their Oyster.

Like many owners, spending considerable amounts of time travelling for work goes with the territory and Fred Pye speaks for many when he admits that when it comes to relaxing, hotel-based holidays are not for him. Instead, boats have always been the answer.

But even this is not quite as straightforward as it may seem. His self-confessed appetite and clear enthusiasm for taking with him his work in the fast-moving world of digital currencies when he is cruising aboard Oyster 575/25 Janus, places him at odds with those who head to sea to get away from the pressures ashore.

“During COVID, staying at home and working in a home office environment was new for me and at 62 years old I now can’t imagine commuting 30 minutes to go to an office downtown ever again,” he said.

SUMMARY

FROM BUYING AN OYSTER 575 TO THE PURCHASE OF AN ENTIRE SAILGP RACING TEAM, FRED AND CHANTAL PYE SHARE THEIR OYSTER EXPERIENCE IN AND AMONGST THE DAY JOB.

Fred is clearly happy to mix business with pleasure and while the pandemic has accelerated that thinking, he admits that the change of working practice has been easier than he thought.

“Our attitude to life and to work has changed, as I am sure it has for many people. To take this approach a stage further and onto their boats, I believe that with the right set-up, there is no need to feel that there’s any difference between being on board or being in your living room. We’ve not yet had an issue where we could not be electronically connected. Even in the middle of the Atlantic, we had our satellite and were emailing, uploading, downloading emails every day. So, we were always in contact, and it was easy.”

In the Pyes’ world, there is clearly lots to do, see and accomplish and Fred’s in a hurry. But the Canadian couple have another reason to live life to the max.

“I’ve had health issues my entire life,” he said. “I had a triple bypass on my 43rd birthday, I had a stroke a year after, I’m deaf in one ear and then two and a half years ago, I survived prostate cancer. So, when you’re living on borrowed time, those dreams to sail around the world, or sail across the Atlantic cannot be postponed. And even if health isn’t the issue, do you wait until you’re 52 or 62 or 72 before you start living your dream? I don’t think anybody should be delaying.”

Fred Pye has been sailing all his life. Born in Vancouver to a French/ Canadian mother and a British father, he was raised in Montreal. He started sailing at five years old with his father and smiles as he recounts the annual winter task of sanding and varnishing their Flying Junior dinghy.

At eight, he entered his first club championship, winning a few races and finishing third overall. After that, it was onto 420s and a diet of youth and national championships before graduating into the Shark and his first world championship event. From there the obsession with racing only grew.

“In the 1980s we were sailing the then newly designed J24, and we went to the 1986 World Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. Qualifying for the J24 Worlds was not easy, you had to win multiple national championships and provincial championships just to get there.” His sailing trajectory continued a familiar path through the boats of the day until, in his words, ‘Life took over and the racing stopped.’

“I used to travel an awful lot as I do now, I guess. The result is that I’ve never been interested in taking a vacation in a hotel and have always chartered instead,” he continued. “We’ve chartered all over the world, for the last 30 years or so. We got comfortable with 40 or 50-footers as we knew we could handle boats of this size and I think that was what led us to the Oyster 575, knowing that it could be handled by Chantal and myself.”

But, while many will identify with a pattern of behaviour that starts with charter holidays and ends up with the need/desire to buy a boat, the Pyes’ route to ownership wasn’t conventional.

“I’ve been in love with Oysters for 20 years. I’ve always thought they were the prettiest boats. The new designs are even more spectacular. We discussed buying an Oyster around ten or fifteen years ago but that didn’t pan out. But during the pandemic, we were reading about the Oyster World Rally. To sail around the world has always been a dream of mine, but of course, you need to have an Oyster to take part.

“I knew my brother-in-law’s boss, Domenic Pilla, had an Oyster 575 and that he had just upgraded to a 745 so I called Dominic and asked whether I could buy his 575. He told me that he had already sold it but that he was sitting on board his new boat in the UK and a 575 had pulled up alongside them.

We’ve chartered all over the world, for the last 30 years or so. We got comfortable with 40 or 50-footers as we knew we could handle boats of this size and I think that was what led us to the Oyster 575, knowing that it could be handled by Chantal and myself.
Fred Pye
Fred Chantal Pye

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The two crews got talking and had dinner together, during which time the owner of the 575 said his boat was up for sale and had asked whether Dominic knew anyone who might be interested. I didn’t hesitate to get in touch.

“Meanwhile, we had also met Alan and Sarah Harmer, who were long-term Oyster employees, in fact, Alan was the project manager for Janus. So, Alan became our project manager and gave us the confidence to buy the boat without seeing it. From there, we signed the deal in April 2021 and flew to Falmouth in the UK in May to start our journey.”

Although she too grew up in Montreal, Chantal’s background is different to Fred’s and having Alan and Sarah Harmer on board provided the opportunity to learn and build confidence in handling the boat.

“My parents had a motorboat, so I was exposed to being on the water as a child and I loved it,” said Chantal. “And while I have been a good, competent crew for Fred, it was really nice to have Alan and Sarah on board with us for the first five weeks.

“When we took delivery of Janus, we had to wait for the weather window to cross the Bay of Biscay which gave us a chance to sail the south coast of England. Fred’s grandparents were from Torquay, so we did a bit of an ancestry trip there. Having to wait for that weather window also gave us the time to learn about our boat in more detail.

“Having Alan and Sarah, to guide us through the process meant that every day we learned something new and that was such a big help. Once we arrived in the Balearic Islands, our kids came to spend the summer there with us. I still wanted to increase my learning on Janus, so I did an RYA course in Majorca, a one-week intensive, which was great and I’m now working towards my Day Skipper.

“But what I’ve also learned is that it’s not just about the sailing, there’s a great deal more to contribute when you look at the bigger cruising picture. For example, I research which islands to go to and what is needed when we get there, what the COVID testing issues might be, and the immigration and customs requirements.

I look into the suitability of anchorages and marinas and whether they have sufficient depth. Plus, there’s the issue of what you do when you get ashore. Our family loves sailing but some are more comfortable than others and yet they are all active from scuba diving and snorkelling to horse riding, cycling and hiking so there’s always plenty to keep me busy planning.”

“For me, the big eye-opener has been the wonderful live-aboard experience. In the past, we would only have vacationed for a maximum of two or three weeks aboard a boat, but this time, to spend a year on board and clock up over 10,000 nautical miles has been a very different experience and one that we have both really taken to.

“Once we had arrived in the Mediterranean, we spent three months in the Balearic Islands, going around every single island and exploring all the bays. Our plan was to head further east to Sardinia, Corsica and along the Italian coast. But when we got to the Balearic Islands, we fell in love with them. Plus, Fred was also working full time so we changed our schedule so that he would be able to work during the week and then we would sail our bigger trips on the weekends. Being able to continue to cruise and explore, while still being able to work on the boat, has been the silver lining for us.”

yacht sailing into sunset
at the helm of a sailing yacht

Their next move from the Balearics to Cadiz was another example of their new-found, flexible approach.

“We headed to Cadiz for the SailGP event before moving on to Lanzarote,” continued Chantal. “Fred was still travelling for work, so from time to time Alan and Sarah would deliver the boat for us so that we could keep our cruising programme on the move.”

Talking to both and reading between the lines, it is clear that being able to adapt to changes and demands while still living the bluewater dream has taken them by surprise. At the same time, it’s built their confidence in how they may tackle changing issues during the coming seasons while maintaining their focus and participation in the Oyster World Rally.

They are also conscious that the choice of boat has played a big part in this flexible approach. “For us, the 575 and the 595 would be the biggest,” said Fred. “Not only is this a size that the two of us can handle, but the modest draft means that we can get into harbours and anchorages that wouldn’t be available to us with a bigger boat. I’d love a larger Oyster, but for us it’s all about finding the right size that fits with what we want to achieve and the 575 strikes the perfect balance.

From the Mediterranean, the next step was to cross the pond. “On 4th November, we left Lanzarote to cross the Atlantic,” continued Chantal. “It was an eighteen-and-a-half day crossing, which was very smooth. We could not have asked for better weather and we ended up in Tortola.”

Today, Janus is ashore in Grenada and will be in dry dock until November. After that, the Pyes’ plans are to take her north with a view to getting her to Bermuda and then possibly crossing over to Newport.

“We haven’t confirmed our schedule for 2023 and next summer yet,” said Fred. “But, having been in Bermuda for SailGP, I’d love to have her in Bermuda for the event next year.”

For many, managing their bluewater cruiser and sailing programme would be close to a full-time job, but for Fred, cruising is just one aspect of striking a busy work/leisure balance. Early in 2022, his workload increased again as he became the owner of the Canada SailGP team. And once again, the route to this additional role came from an unexpected angle.

“Philanthropy is something I am interested in, and I started giving money to a charity ‘Wind Athletes’ on behalf of a friend of mine who had passed away. The purpose of the donations was to buy foiling WASZPs to teach kids the next generation of sailing.

“The trouble is that WASZPs are quite expensive and I believe that kids should be learning to sail on the most recent technology. So, I started doing this and I worked with an Olympic athlete, Tyler Bjorn, to watch over the boats and coach the kids.

“And one day he said to me, ‘You know, you’re doing exactly what SailGP does’. I had no idea what he meant so I went away and binge-watched all the YouTube SailGP content and I was absolutely hooked.

horse riding in sea
fishing from bluewater sailing yacht

“Shortly afterwards we went to the Plymouth and St Tropez events. Our negotiations finished in Cadiz, and we ended up with the Canadian SailGP team. What I hadn’t expected was the impact that this created for Canadians in such a short time. It’s been overwhelming how appreciative people have been. But we have taken a very different approach.”

While many in the cruising world may have moved on and bought a bigger boat, Fred and his partners have now bought a racing team, but there was more to come.

“Not long after, a friend of mine said well, now you have two boats. I said, no, what they didn’t tell me when I bought the team, was that while you may have bought an F50 foiling cat from SailGP, now we need a foiling GC32 to practice on. Oh, and by the way, now we need a chaser boat plus one in Portugal as an instructor boat. And then, in Canada we now have eight WASZPs, so I’ve gone from one cruising boat to a full fleet of racing machines.”

So, be it sailing or business, onshore or offshore, Fred Pye has plenty of ideas and projects, but overall, he is driven by a need to deliver on his personal goals as much as his commercial enterprises. He hesitates to mention the deep rooted and personal motivation, but when pushed he is candid.

“I don’t want to sound morbid but, when we were sailing from England to the Med in the middle of the ocean, passing France, I wrote a list of the 28 friends that had passed away before reaching 65. These are people I don’t want to forget who had a great impact on my life.”

Fred Pye is in a rush and it’s easy to see why.

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