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Interview: Will Jones

Will Jones at the helm 8

He’s best known as one half of the Breakfast Show on Riviera Radio but broadcasting is a relatively new career for Will Jones, who admits that his radio career came about quite accidentally.

His first love is sailing and his exploits on the classics circuit as a bosun on some of the most celebrated schooners in the Med have brought him to the very edge of danger, as he recounts with refreshing candour when we meet for coffee in between his roving reporter assignments.

Will arrives on a motorbike and listening to his stories, it doesn’t take long to establish that he is an adrenaline junkie who loves taking risks. He quit his sailing career a year ago and is already missing the thrills and spills of life on the ocean wave. 

‘My girlfriend Gemma, who is also a sailor, was pregnant - we now have an eight-month-old son Arlo - so we both had to give up sailing,’ he says. ‘I’d been working in sailing for seven years but we quit, moved to the Mull of Kintyre which was beautiful and then I landed the job at Riviera Radio so we moved here.’

Will Jones Eleonora 3

Will’s sailing career included stints on Elena, Eleonora and most recently Shenandoah of Sark, the 1902 55m gaff rigged three-masted schooner. ‘I started racing on Elena when she was first launched, and I used to race on Eleonora too,’ he recalls. ‘In fact, I crossed the Atlantic on Eleonora. My time on her was pretty chaotic.

‘We had a head on collision with Lulworth on the start line at Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez which was pretty dramatic. It was 2007 and we were the two biggest yachts in the regatta. I was number two on the bow and the collision was down to poor tactics. You have boats getting to the start line too early and running the start line.

‘It was a miracle that there were no injuries and very little damage to either yacht. Our bowman could easily have been cut in half, yet he was uninjured. The Lulworth crew had tactically retreated to safety behind the mast, while me and Mathieu the bowman were still up forward on Eleonora. The boats just bounced off each other.

Will Jones racing 1

‘Our bow net was ruined but we carried on racing and won the regatta, which I was almost ashamed of. It was the second day in a row we had run the start line on a port tack, which is poor, and the day before, we nearly sank Moonbeam III. It was a bit gung ho and there probably should have been a disqualification.

‘It was pretty hair-raising and scary but that is sport. A lot of accidents are avoidable but sometimes people just want to win too much. I’ve had friends die in avalanches in the Alps, and as much as you try and make things safe, some sports are dangerous and bad things do happen.’

Despite that experience and having survived the season ‘more by luck than judgment’, Will decided to cross the Atlantic on Eleonora in memory of an uncle who died shortly after making a solo Transatlantic crossing.

‘We had a hairy trip through the straits of Gibraltar,’ he admits with a laugh. ‘I was pretty scared at 3am, on deck in a life jacket with all the kit up and a big easterly wind blowing against the current but it was one of my ambitions to cross the Atlantic. Sailing is a pretty exciting way to make a living but you only sail 15% of the time and only a third of that is really exciting and memorable. I have had my fair share of those 5% experiences though!’

Ask about the highlights of his sailing career and he doesn’t hesitate, naming Mariquita as the classic which still occupies a special place in his heart. ‘Everybody thinks they have the most beautiful children in the world or the most beautiful sailing boat but some people are right and some people are wrong,’ he grins. ‘Mariquita is it. Fife boats aren’t the quickest of the classics - American yachts are a lot more successful on the racing circuit - but the French marine photographers all say she is the best.

Will Jones Mariquita crew 2

‘She was a new breed, the first racing yacht made to be an out and out attack vehicle, purely built for racing and nothing to do with owner comfort. It was a bit controversial in the Edwardian era, when you were supposed to build a yacht as a gentleman’s palace on water with an exquisite interior. Her interior is more basic than it used to be, the deck is very minimalist and you are very close to the sea and quite often in the sea when you’re racing, which is exhilarating.

‘The emphasis was on authenticity and gentlemanly conduct rather than winning. We were very safe. It’s a very physical job - there are no winches - and we were all very proud to race the boat. We won a few races and celebrated taking part as much as we did winning.’

Will Jones crewing 2

Born in the Cotswolds, (‘the cheap end,’ he jokes), Will grew up between the UK and Brittany, where his dad ran a pig breeding company and started sailing in the scouts when he was 14. After a year at Grenoble University, he became a ski bum and it was during a season in Meribel that he landed his first radio job.

‘I get bored very easily and realised I didn’t want to wear a suit’, he says. ‘I popped a note under the door of the local radio station at the end of the ski season, asking them to give me a shout if they needed anyone,’ he recalls. ‘I was going to do a bit of travel writing but an on air position became free in Val d’Isere and they rang me up out of the blue. I started the following week. I winged it, and despite the mother of all hangovers, it went well.’

Will Jones in Val dIsere 4

Will spent 10 years broadcasting in English and French before starting his sailing career and admits: ‘I have been winging it ever since. I don’t have a formal radio style, it’s more based around spontaneity.’

He secured his job at Riviera Radio in a similar way, debuting as co-host of the Breakfast Show with Rob Harrison last February.  ‘I wandered in there during the Monaco Yacht Show last year. I knew I was going to leave Shenandoah by then and thought I’d give it a go.’

Will arrives at the Monaco studio two hours after Rob at 6am and they prepare their show before going on air at 7am. ‘The other half of my job is doing all the advertising interviews out on the road or in the studio. Rob and I sit opposite each other in separate rooms because you have to be able to see each other. During Cannes Film Festival, I was sitting in the foyer of the Martinez Hotel and we did the show via Skype so we could get the timing right. It’s a lot easier if you can see each other while you’re doing it.’

Will Jones racing 6

He met Gemma - a talented sailor who has competed in the Sydney Hobart and Southern Ocean races - when they were both were based in Majorca and since the birth of Arlo last April, neither of them have sailed. ‘I miss it, we’d both love to be out there sailing but you can’t do everything,’ he says.  ‘We both intend to get back to racing and my son will be on the team sheet soon, he is already pretty big for his age.

Gemma is very skilled and probably more ballsy than me. She once won a regatta pregnant and driving a dragon, which made the boys in Palma a bit coy and sheepish!’

While he now attends Cannes and Monaco yacht shows as a reporter rather than a sailor, he admits that sailing yachts will always win out over their more expensive motor counterparts.  ‘I wouldn’t want the guilt of owning a motor yacht,’ he adds. ‘The last time I was in Antigua, we were next to A - a Russian owned superyacht - and it took 27 fuel tankers to fill it up. I can’t see the point in motor yachts whereas sailing is a genuine sport. At the end of a day’s racing, you are exhausted after being clipped on all day. It is a passion.’

*Images courtesy of Will Jones

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