Although born in Brittany 52 years ago, Sébastien Destremau is now based in Toulon. After an Olympic preparation in the Flying Dutchman class, he took part in several major crewed races, such as the Volvo Ocean Race and the Sydney–Hobart. He later became a consultant, setting up a video magazine covering race news. It was in 2015 that the skipper acquired the Imoca 60 TechnoFirst-faceOcean built in 1998, which had already clocked up two Vendée Globe races – firstly with Josh Hall (9th in 2000-2001) and then with Steve White (8th in 2008-2009). After a delivery trip from Cape Town to Toulon, Sébastien Destremau qualified for the round the world race by competing in the Calero Solo Transat, between Lanzarote and Newport, Rhode Island. Before the start, the French skipper described his boat as being “ultra simple, like a bicycle without gears”.
This inability to step up the speed was confirmed very early on in the race, when the skipper, whose only goal was to complete the round the world voyage, found himself at the rear of the fleet. He would attempt to take a short cut close to the coast of Africa, but to no avail. In the third week of racing, his starter motor failed and following in the footsteps of Michel Desjoyeaux, he was forced to come up with an alternative method to start his engine to fill his ballast tanks, using a rope and sail power. Destremau was successful in his makeshift technique, but the method was time consuming.
As he approached the first of the three major capes, Good Hope, the French skipper was joined by Catalan skipper, Didac Costa (OnePlanet- OneOcean). The Spaniard, who had set sail four days after returning to the port of Les Sables d’Olonne after problems with his electronics, soon made his getaway ahead of TechnoFirst-faceOcean, which passed the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope on 11th December. Destremau would set off across the Indian Ocean close to Romain Attanasio, who had been forced to sail to South Africa to carry out repairs. By Cape Leeuwin they were joined by Dutch skipper Pieter Heerema bringing up the rear of the eighth Vendée Globe to the south of Australia. In strong winds, Destremau, who felt no real pressure on him, was quite happy to reduce the sail. “Of course, we’re not as quick, but we may go much further than some.” It was in the Southern Ocean that Destremau fully understood what he was accomplishing. “I can hardly believe it. We are just normal guys, but we’re doing something superhuman.” He was also well aware of the dangers of finding himself alone in the middle of the Pacific and so decided to carry out a thorough check with a pit stop off Tasmania from 3rd to 6th January. When he set sail again, he was almost a thousand miles behind Pieter Heerema.
When Sébastien Destremau finally left the Southern Ocean, rounding Cape Horn on 29th January, the first six boats had already finished the round the world voyage. As he sailed up the coast of Argentina, 17th placed Pieter Heerema was some 1200 miles ahead. The climb back up the South Atlantic would take three weeks with Destremau finally returning to the Northern Hemisphere on 19th February, but the voyage was far from over, as it would take just under three weeks more to sail from the Equator to the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne.
During the final fortnight of racing, it was the lack of food that become a worry for the skipper of TechnoFirst-faceOcean. He had to ration himself to one meal a day and his attempts at fishing off the Azores were not enough to provide him with enough food.
Jenny Launay / M&M