Di Benedetto: “ Your support moved me to tears “
On support from the public, his parents and Van Den Heede
Surfing the crowd in Les Sables d’Olonne was much more fun than surfing the waves! And not just the Sables d’Olonne crowd, I really owe a lot to the public’s support, wherever they’re from. All the people who supported me participated in this adventure, in this project. The Vendée Globe is not just for skippers. Some people told me what I did was helping them in a way by making them dream and this is a real satisfaction, I’m very happy I was able to do that. Jean-Luc Van Den Heede is the patron of my boat, and he’s one of the greatest figures in the Vendée Globe history. I hope I made him proud and it’s an honor to be compared to him. Before he dies, my father told me he thought I was going to finish the Vendée Globe because I was conservative enough and I wouldn’t push the boat too much. You learn a lot from your family, too.
On tough times at sea
I did talk about the real hard times I faced, like having to climb up the mast in huge waves, with the risk of getting knocked out or getting injured, or loosing sails. These incidents are part of the race, the Vendée Globe is a tough race, it’s nothing like a regatta near the coast. When you don’t sleep for 48 hours or when you lose important sails, you learn to deal with it, even though I may have finished under 100 days if I hadn’t had those issues. I didn’t complain too much about that because they were not serious life-threatening issues.
On what he learned during the race
I learned so much, it was an amazing experience that taught me more than 15 years on dry land. But the adventure was not just about the race. Developing the project was a unique experience, too. We faced difficult things, jealousy, hard times, but we overcame all that and we shared so much with people, supporters and partners in the process. You know, before the race, I once took patients from a psychiatric hospital at sea, and the strongest on board were not the accompanying nurses, they were the patients, people we call crazy. Experiences like that teach you new ways of seeing things. It’s the same for some of the things that happen at sea.
On becoming a competitor instead of an adventurer in the future
It would be difficult because real competitors start training as such a very young age. Look at François Gabart… I never had that kind of training or competitive experience. I’m not attracted to the Figaro races, for example, I’m more into offshore racing and adventure. So if we do get a budget for the next Vendée Globe, I’d be more than happy to compete in it. But so many things can change in the meantime, the race organisers and the IMOCA will have decisions to make, and I’ll be following that closely. Time will tell us what kind of boat I can possibly sail around the world on in four years.
On sailing around the world against prevailing winds
That is something absolutely amazing but it’s dangerous, too. It can kill you, you know… It’s the most difficult way to sail around the world, and only exceptional people have done it, like Jean-Luc Van Den Heede. I’m not saying I don’t want to do it, I’m just saying it’s very stressful and I don’t feel like doing it now.
On his reaction after crossing the finish line
It makes you feel alive because we often forget that you can die when sailing around the world. The finish was such an emotional moment, especially when you’re greeted by such passionate people, people who love sailing. As I was progressing in the race, I started realising how much support I had behind me. I received so many messages, it made me feel so good, it kept my morale high and sometimes, it would move me to tears.
On sailing on a 6.5-metre boat vs. a 60-foot monohull
I faced many more difficulties when sailing around the world on a 6.5-metre boat than in this Vendée Globe, even though I don’t want to take anything away from the Vendée Globe skippers. On my smaller boat, I wondered if I was going to stay alive several times, I put on my survival suit and faced many risky situations because compared to the size of the waves, the boat is so small. Another difference is how ergonomically complicated it is to stand and move around a 6.5-metre boat. Sometimes you can barely lie down. Obviously it’s not the case on a 60-foot boat. I felt much safer and more secure this time.