Sébastien Destremau: simplicity as a credo

Sébastien Destremau à bord de FaceOcean
© Gilles Morelle

Sébastien, where are you at with your project, faceOcean?
"We’ve had some interesting and tough times of late and now we’re on the home straight. In the past few days we’ve been carrying out some pre-measurement tests. For example, we’ve just completed the 90° test, which went very smoothly. We’ve really optimised the boat so she meets the measurement criteria and we’ve done a lot of work on the measurements and on the mast. The idea is to take action to prepare ourselves as much as possible before hauling the boat out for her final refit, which will extend through until 18 August. At that point, we’ll be in a position to complete the final IMOCA measurement test and relaunch the boat. Then in mid-September, it’ll be time for the delivery trip via the sea to Les Sables d’Olonne. The time will just fly by.”

We’re nearly 100 days from the start of the Vendée Globe. Are you on track?
“It’s never easy, but we’re within a matter of days of our road map, yes, so we’re really beginning to get things on track. We’ve seriously cut the project to shape by doing things a step at a time, setting ourselves precise objectives with two-month time slots. There’s a huge amount of work to do to make the start of a Vendée Globe and that will be a major victory in itself. So far, we’re managing to adhere to the constraints and deadlines. We’re on the right track. We’re sharing the project a great deal too, especially with the schools. I’ve already met 1,275 students, who’ll be following our progress in the Vendée Globe.”

“Absolutely assured of setting sail”

Are you sure you’ll be able to take the start in Les Sables d’Olonne on 6 November?
“Yes. There’s no doubt about it. I’m absolutely assured of setting sail around the world! We’ve secured our budget and we have everything we need. It’s no frills of course, but we’ll increase our level of preparation in line with any additional budget that comes our way. We’ll inform you about faceOcean’s title sponsor and intermediate sponsors shortly; they are in place, but it’s a little early to communicate about that. Once again, we have the means to set sail, with a budget that stands at less than 400,000 Euros to date, in fact it’s nearer 350,000 than 400,000.”

In comparison with the budgets of the big racing stables, which can amount to ten times that, it’s very little. How do you do it?
“Firstly, I’d like to make it clear that I’ve got nothing against the big budgets. I’ve participated in the America’s Cup several times and I love the highly sophisticated and hence expensive boats, so there’s no worries on that score! However, it seems to me that it’s also important to prove that the Vendée Globe can still be an accessible race. If you want to hold onto the Vendée Globe’s profile as an adventure, which is what made it successful, it’s important to show that you can take part in it with a limited budget. How do you do it? It’s easy: you have a massive amount of motivation and you do without anything that’s not strictly necessary aboard. Following on from the transatlantic races that I’ve competed in this year – and notably my victory in the Transat Calero Solo – I realised that our strength was to keep things as simple as possible.”

Can you explain to us the simplicity of faceOcean?
“FaceOcean is as simple as a bicycle without a derailleur (laughs). In a nutshell, it’s just the sail, the sheets and there we go! The boat is staggering in its simplicity compared with the machines of war that are the new foilers. Aboard faceOcean, there’s essentially a few sails and three sheets. No genoa traveller, a fixed keel, no daggerboard, no kick-up rudder, nothing complicated… Added to that, I’ll be setting sail with just six sails, whilst in theory I’m entitled to take nine. I’ll be heading off with one mainsail, two flat headsails - J2 and J3 – and two gennakers. I’m wondering about whether or not to take a spinnaker. Everything is simplicity in the extreme, which, I believe, has a number of assets.”

“The boat is amazing in its simplicity”

What are these assets?
“Everything I don’t have, is one less thing to break! By simplifying things as much as possible, we increase our chances of finishing, which is obviously the primary objective for all the competitors. We’ve even simplified the intake system for the ballast tanks, because it could have ended up being nothing but grief. I no longer have a sail furler on the J3 either. The boat was already by far the simplest IMOCA around and we’ve really pushed that to the extreme. During my solo transatlantic I kept asking myself what I could get rid of and we’ve used that same thought process wherever it was possible. You make the boat lighter and you avoid a great many potential glitches.”

With a restricted budget like yours, was that essential? 
“When you have a limited budget, you’re forced to think like that. You can’t allow yourself to change everything and replace everything with new gear… and ultimately that’s not a bad thing at all! I think I’ll sleep more soundly than I would aboard a war machine. I have no ancillary system for trimming for example, which isn’t a problem as the boat can still be sailed. I won’t be spending my round the world repairing everything. Just a few days ago, Thierry Petitjean, one of Christophe Auguin’s préparateurs told me that, in addition to his talent, Auguin won the Vendée Globe because he was compelled to do away with expensive kit aboard his boat due to budgetary reasons… and in contrast to his rivals, he didn’t have to constantly effect repairs.”

Let’s go back to your preparation. Time has just flown by for you…
“On 31 May 2015, we didn’t have a boat! On 15 August, some eleven months ago, we set off from Cape Town with faceOcean and since that time I’ve covered some 18,000 miles on her. That’s the equivalent of two-thirds of a Vendée Globe! We started out with 43 days at sea to bring the boat up from South Africa. Back in November we suffered a dismasting: it was a blessing in disguise as we had a new mast made at Petitjean Composites, in Fréjus, southern France. They were the ones who made the mast for Auguin’s boat and a pile of other IMOCAs. They’re artists and they did a fantastic job for us. Then there were the two transatlantics, including the Calero Solo, which I won with a three-day lead over Pieter Heerema’s new foiler. I pulled off that win even though I’d set sail 66 hours late, after a last-minute refit in the Canaries to add more lead to the keel so as to comply with the measurement criteria. It was my first solo transatlantic and I took victory despite this handicap… It was incredible and something I’m very proud about! Traversing the Atlantic in race mode isn’t a mere formality and when you have zero experience of sailing singlehanded, as was the case for me, it’s certainly not to be taken lightly. Next up, we were in crewed configuration for the return transatlantic crossing. That equates to a fair few miles under my belt and I feel really at ease alone on the boat now.”

Did you learn a lot during your solo transatlantic race between the Canaries and the United States?

“The best way to answer that is to say that my attitude about the qualifications required to participate in the Vendée Globe has evolved a great deal. Beforehand, I thought Race Management was a bit hard requesting a transatlantic in race configuration… but now, I understand why and I’d even favour a qualification that was tougher still, one which only took into account singlehanded races and not double-handed ones. I think that being in a race on your own, having to adhere to all the imperatives, the conditions and the stress of competition, is very different to setting off on a qualifier, whenever you like, in delivery mode and choosing your own weather window. In a race, it’s no holiday; you don’t do whatever you like. Initially, having such constraints seemed much too harsh to me, but now it seems obvious. Racing singlehanded on one of these boats is quite something…”

Interview by Bruno Ménard / M&M


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