11 December 2014 - 19:18 • 1826 views

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The Figaro racer, Paul Meilhat will be at the start of the Vendée Globe in November 2016. He will face the tricky task of sailing the boat that holds the title around the world: François Gabart’s former Macif. In other words, the boat that is the best machine currently out there. This will be the first appearance in the Vendée Globe of the skipper and the sponsor: SMA, who will be alongside Paul until 2018.

“It’s fantastic news. I’m on seventh heaven. I know how lucky I am and I know how much work lies ahead.”  Until now, Paul Meilhat has stood out as a Figaro racer. Starting out in Olympic sailing with a 49er, the talented 32-year old has already achieved a number of successes, including finishing fifth in the 2014 Solitaire du Figaro (6th in 2011, 9th in 2012). He trains at the famous Finistère Offshore Racing Centre in Port-la-Forêt and is most famous for his double-handed victory alongside Gwénolé Gahinet in the Transat AG2R which finished in St Barts. In short, although he is not yet well known by the general public, Polo as he is nicknamed on the pontoons is far from being a novice. Just as well, as he is about to face the Everest of the seas. He has moved up to the IMOCA class and can reasonably hope for success in the Vendée Globe. Paul will also compete in the Transat Jacques Vabre, The Transat and the Route du Rhum, with SMA at his side until 2018.
 
With Mer Agitée
SMA, his Figaro partner is therefore moving up at the same time as him, by buying the boat that everyone was after, MACIF, the VPLP-Verdier designed boat that François Gabart sailed to victory in the last edition of the Vendée Globe. Another important detail we should add. It is the Mer Agitée team run by the twice winner of the Vendée Globe, Michel Desjoyeaux that will be taking care of all the technical and race aspects. In other words, Paul is in the perfect position to succeed and he will certainly feel the pressure on him during the four years of this new partnership with SMA. Just like Morgan Lagravière, he will be one of the rookies in the round the world race… but that doesn’t mean he isn’t in with a chance of winning. We just have to think back to François Gabart, who was also a newcomer to the IMOCA class, before smashing the Vendée Globe record in such fine style.
 
Le nouveau SMA en coupe© Design JB EpronA newcomer to the Vendée
Paul Meilhat understands all that. He explains, “The Vendée Globe adventure is something of a discovery for me. It is my first time. A step into the unknown. But I am inspired by all those around me. A lot of skippers have gone down the same route after racing in the Figaro circuit. And as I’m at the Training Centre in Port-la-Forêt, working with the Mer Agitée team and have a solid team around me, the best in their area of expertise, so that takes a lot of the weight off my shoulders.” We can add that SMA has been partner to Paul Meilhat since last May, which means that things have certainly moved very quickly.
The Vendée Globe will not only be gaining a great sailor, who has shown his strengths out on the water, but also someone who is charming ashore… and incidentally knows quite a few sea shanties, which makes it all the more fun. So what’s Michel Desjoyeaux got to do with it? According to the Professor, (one of Mich’Desj’s many nicknames), his role is to make sure that progress is being made. “The aim is to offer my knowledge of 60-foot IMOCA boats and my experience of offshore racing on such boats to save Paul time and to make sure he doesn’t make any mistakes. I’m  wearing my trainer hat here.” Last time, Michel took on this vital role, it was for a certain François Gabart and for this very same boat that is now in the hands of Paul Meilhat. We all know what happened after that.
 
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