Arnaud d’Orange « JP’s Quest for the Holy Grail »
Arnaud D’orange, how would you describe Jean-Pierre in a few words?
Jean-Pierre is to sailing what Jacques Mayol was to freediving, the sea is such an important part of his life. He’s passionate, determined and very much detail-oriented. He sometimes looks like he is in his own world but he is very constant too, in his life path as well as in friendship.
From what you’ve seen how is he feeling, with only a few days to go before the start?
He’s ready, he’s been working on this for ten years and he knows he has everything it takes to do really well. It makes him feel confident and serene, which is what he needs to race in the best conditions, without pushing himself too hard. Three months is a very long time ad he needs to save his energy for when he truly needs it.
What does the Vendée Globe mean to him?
There are four major achievements in sailing: An Olympic medal, the America’s Cup, the Volvo Ocean Race and the ultimate race, the Vendée Globe: One man and his boat around the world. The Vendée is the toughest, the longest and the most technically challenging race, there’s no one out there to help you, you’re on your own. To Jean-Pierre, it is the most important race in the world, which is why he has spent the past ten years exclusively focused on preparing for it. This is his own Quest for the Holy Grail.
« I never call JP »
What was your reaction when he told you he was going to do the Vendée Globe?
His participation in another Vendée Globe was not a surprise to me, I knew JP just couldn’t withdraw in a race and then move on to something else. What I remember well, though, is the day he stopped by my place and told me he was launching a solo offshore race project. I thought he was crazy, because it is such a huge thing, and I thought he was going to go for a crewed race instead. That night, we watched Vendée Globe highlights videos, featuring, among other things, Yves Parlier’s 2000 race. We were looking at this guy fixing his mast by himself, alone in the middle of nowhere in Patagonia, and I asked Jean-Pierre if he could see himself do that kind of thing! Back then, he wasn’t sure he could do it, but since then he’s worked so hard at preparing himself for all possible situations. He can do quite amazing things now. In the 2004 Vendée Globe, his nickname was « Mister Fix-It-All! »
Jean-Pierre has a partner and a child, do you know how they are both feeling about?
His son Ewenn is still very young and he doesn’t realise what is father is trying to accomplish. His girlfriend, on the other hand, will have a very stressful experience while Jean-Pierre is away, because she is both a “sailor’s wife” and the partner of a professional athlete competing in a major event. And it will last almost three months! She knows how to protect herself, though, she’ll be in a bubble. But I know she’ll be looking forward to JP’s return.
How will you communicate with JP?
I never call him, I don’t want to disturb him while in the middle of a manœuvre or a period of rest. He is the one calling sometimes, just to take his mind off things or ask me how I’m doing. He is so thoughtful, and a real gentleman, too. There’s one thing I’m definitely not looking forward to, though: Getting a phone call because something went wrong, like in 2008, on New Year’s Eve, when JP told me it was all over, he had to withdraw because he had hit something with his second rudder. It was such a tough blow. But then there are also happier conversations, like when he had just won his very first big IMOCA race, the Transat Jacques Vabre, and he called right after crossing the finish line in Salvador de Bahia. If only I could get more of those!
What would you like to tell him right before the Vendée Globe start?
Take good care of yourself, JP, enjoy the race and remember, this year is your year!