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  • Writer's pictureMattijs Willenborg

JPK Pacific on ‘selling success’

Updated: May 18, 2022

JPK Composites’ yachts have taken Europe by storm, and JPK Pacific’s yachts are poised to do the same in Australia.

In part one of this two-part article, JPK Pacific directors Paul Glynn and Mattijs Willenborg talked about about their passion for the JPK brand and partnership with Innovation Composites’ Mark Rowed to breathe life back into production yacht boat building in Australia.

JPK 11.80 bow. Pic – Innovation Composites

The 11.80 (11.8m/40ft) from JPK Pacific costs $485,000. Innovation Composites in Nowra is currently building the first Australian-made JPK hull, which if all goes to plan should be ready in time for the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

In part two, Glynn and Willenborg offer some insights into JPK founder and French sailor Jean Pierre Kelbert.

The star power of Jean Pierre Kelbert

Picture this – it’s the 2018 Paris Boat Show. Huge boat brands with decked-out displays are represented.

In comparison, the JPK Composites stand has a modest poster display. But that doesn’t stop people from flocking there to meet Jean Pierre Kelbert, founder and director of JPK Composites.

At the stand with Kelbert are JPK Pacific directors Paul Glynn and Mattijs Willenborg. At the time, Glynn and Willenborg were in early talks with Kelbert about JPK Pacific.

Four years later, Glynn reflected on the scene with awe. “Holly hell, it was like a bloody religion,” he said of Kelbert’s ‘pulling power’.

On that day, Glynn recalled, Kelbert took eight orders for JPK Composites yachts that hadn’t been built yet, purely based on the brand’s stellar reputation.

The history of JPK

Kelbert, a French Olympic windsurfer in the 1980s, started JPK Composites in the 1990s. The business initially built windsurfing boards, but changed course in the early 2000s to focus solely on yachts. Naval architect Jacques Valer joined the team around that time and has designed yachts for JPK ever since.

“You’ve got this great partnership between Jacques [Valer] and Jean-Pierre [Kelbert],” Willenborg said. “It’s a combination of racers. Jacques is an architect who understands IRC rules and designs the boat to IRC rules with the input of hardcore racers, like Jean-Pierre and [offshore sailor] Alex Loison.”

Racing results of JPKs. Credit – JPK Pacific

Thanks to this winning combination, JPK Composite yachts went on to achieve impressive results in numerous races on both scratch and IRC.

The design of JPKs has also been officially recognised across the globe. Recently, the JPK 39FC (39ft/11.72m) won 2022 European Yacht of the Year in the Performance Cruiser division.

Why JPK?

JPKs rate well on IRC but that does not mean they win races if the crew have not put in the work. When Thomas Kneen’s fully-crewed JPK 11.80 Sunrise won the IRC overall trophy in the 2021 Fastnet Race and came close to winning the 2021 Middle Sea Race, it was a combination of an excellent racing yacht and a hard-working crew that sailed the yacht to and above its IRC rating in all conditions.

According to Glynn and Willenborg, in 2015 the Sunrise navigator at the time (not current navigator Tom Cheney) had to google the location of Fastnet Rock on the night before the race. Fast forward to 2021, where Sunrise managed to beat off fully-crewed professional yachts in a fleet of 181 to claim the overall trophy. This was a huge milestone for the crew, which is predominantly comprised of members who do not sail at a professional level.

And it helped that the JPK was ‘wicked’ fast.

“Tom Cheney on Sunrise said, ‘during that period Middle Sea Race we probably sailed 19-20 knots and then you would go down these big wave and we would get towards the 30s’,” Glynn said.

Sunrise. Source – JPK Pacific

JPK down under

The success of the JPK brand is not just confined to the Northern Hemisphere. The first Australian-based JPK from JPK Composites in France, Simon Torvaldsen’s 10.80 (10.8m/35.5ft), Atomic Blonde, is giving its competitors a run for their money in Western Australia. In May 2021, Atomic Blonde won WA’s Siska Trophy, which is “based on the overall handicap performance in designated day and long offshore racing during the season”.

This just goes to show that the yachts perform well in a range of conditions, especially when a breeze kicks in.

“[JPKs] work well around the cans and equally well upwind and downwind in an offshore setting,” Willenborg said. “In a soft [light wind] race it moves along, it stays in touch, compared to things of its size.

“If the breeze picks up, they’re in their own league. I don’t think there’s any other brand of boat that’s 38ft built of fibreglass that can do that.”

The JPK is also relatively affordable. Willenborg and Glynn are looking forward to giving sailors who are passionate about the sport but put off by the price tags of performance racing yacht such as the TP52, the chance to be equally as competitive with those classes on IRC, if not more.

One of their goals is to see the JPK take off on a similar tangent to the Farr 40 class which skyrocketed in the late ’90s and 2000s, and is still hugely popular.

“When Farr 40s came here [to Australia] and went ‘bang!’ everybody had to get a Farr 40. And, oh my god, that’s where we see the JPKs going in the future,” Glynn said.

Back to the Paris Boat Show on that memorable day in 2018, Glynn asks Kelbert if he wants more posters to jazz up the JPK Composites stand. But Kelbert is quick to decline: “I only sell winning,” Kelbert says. “I just sell success.”

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