Jean, how do you feel seeing your boat in the water?
“It’s very satisfying, of course. If you haven’t worked directly on the boat, the launch doesn’t really affect you. But when you have been involved like I have over the past few months, it is a key moment. The boat coming out of the shed, the launch and the stepping of the mast are fantastic moments. Today, I have taken another step forward towards the Vendée Globe. The launch is also something of a relief, as we have done quite a few modifications to the boat over the past seven months. After such a lot of work, there is bound to be some uncertainty being felt. You get scared that not everything has fitted into place correctly, that something will go wrong, for example with the keel. But today, everything is fine!”
You said it has taken seven months of hard work on your IMOCA 60’ ‘Hubert’. What have you been doing exactly?
© Kris Askoll“In the last Barcelona World Race (the double-handed round the world race, won with Bernard Stamm, editor’s note), I noted down all the little details that could be changed on the boat. It was a long list, but we worked well with the few means at our disposal. We cut back the daggerboards, changed the engine, replaced the electronics and electrics from top to bottom, checked out the mast and keel... During the Barcelona, the mast track snapped off three times. That gets you thinking… So, we fitted a new track. We also went to Karver hooks for all the headsails. We got rid of everything that was hydraulic on the boat and repainted her. We carried out a thorough refit removing all the unnecessary items from the IMOCA, which has been in the hands of many owners since her first launch. We managed to save 350kg.”
“We weren’t working a 35-hour week”
Did you have a small team with you for this work?
“Yes, two youngsters worked with me, David and Tristan. Recently, Anne Liardet and Damien Guillou joined the team. Anne is in charge of relations with the Vendée Globe, administrative questions and safety. On top of that, she knows how to sail, so that’s brilliant. (Anne Liardet finished eleventh in the 2004-2005 Vendée Globe – editor’s note). As for Damien, he is an all-rounder, like the rest of us in such a small team. We are all specialists in everything!”
You must have had some long days in the yard…
“Obviously we weren’t working a normal 35-hour week. For the past seven months, I have been working 7 days a week. I think I have taken just one or two Sundays off to get some rest. But there’s no choice. If you don’t give it your all, you won’t make it. This commitment strengthens the project. OK, we don’t have a whole lot of means, but it is a very enriching human experience.”
“The money raised from the crowdfunding appeal (140,000 euros, editor’s note) and from my bank, the Crédit Agricole du Finistère, has given a boost to the project. That enabled me to invest in the boat and I would not be here now without that support. I also got some help from suppliers and all sorts of firms involved in paint, batteries, electricity – and other areas. It wasn’t easy every day. But when things are easy, you don’t really learn anything either. It’s a really unusual project. The hull of the boat is pure white, with just a drawing and the slogan ‘Yes We Cam’ on the bow.”
“The Vendée Globe always involves sharing”
You also got the support of the general public, in particular via social networks. Is that encouraging for you?
“Totally. I was really encouraged by the energy of the general public and their enthusiasm fo this project. What happens can only be great, if you share it with others. The Vendée Globe always involves this sharing, with a team and those following you. Otherwise, there’s no point and you might as well stay at home.”
But money is needed here and you’re still looking for one or more partners to be able to line up at the start of the Vendée Globe…
© Kris Askoll“The huge amount of support has meant we have been able to work on the boat and get her back in the water. But now we have to buy the new sails, the rig, insure the boat, pay the team… People probably don’t realise it, but to do the Vendée Globe there are lots of costs you have to deal with. We’ve had the Euro in the football, the Tour du France for cyclists and now the Olympics. I just hope that firms will take a look after that at the Vendée Globe!”
You have taken a lot of risks since launching your project, in particular by buying the boat with your own money. What has led you to return to the Vendée Globe for a fourth time in spite of all the hurdles?
“The Vendée Globe is an adventure, a sharing experience and there are the technical aspects. That’s what my job is. It’s my life.”
What do you think about the line-up for the next edition?
“It is the Vendée Globe of all the extremes. There are all sorts. Some chaps are setting off with 350,000 euros, others are part of teams with budgets of 9 million euros over three years. That is a huge range of budgets. We have never seen such huge differences. I’m somewhere in the middle with a reasonable project.”
Interview with Olivier Bourbon / M&M